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San Salvador de Priesca

World Heritage


The church is situated in the rural town of Priesca, very close to the villa of Villaviciosa, and it is of interest since it is one of the few examples of pre-Romanesque churches that were not sponsored by the Asturian monarchs. The church was dedicated to the Saviour on 23 September 921, and its foundation is attributed to a priest named John, according to several inscriptions that were conserved in the church until the beginning of the 20th century.

At this time, the King and Queen of Asturias had already relocated their royal court to León, after the death of Alfonso III “the Great” in the year 910.

The church of Priesca is mentioned in the Testamentum of Ordoño II to the Cathedral of San Salvador of Oviedo, as indicated in the document collected in Liber Testamentorum, dating from 921, and it figures as a parish in the Inventory drawn up by Bishop Gutierre of Toledo in the 14th century.

The church became the religious centre of a region that, in the era of the Asturian monarchy, was beginning to receive a flow of pilgrims to the shrine of St. James in Compostela, along the coastal route to the shrine.


Its design follows the Asturian basilica model, which demonstrates the survival of the original models for the pre-Romanesque in the rural environment: its architectural structure shows similarities with San Julián de los Prados, namely the floor plan with three naves separated by archways supported on square-shaped pillars, the tribune above the western vestibule, and the wooden gabled roof.

The three-part chevet features chapels with vaulted ceilings, with the central small columns and panels from the chancel screen that separated the holy space intended for the clergy from that of the parishioners. It was equipped with two adjoining rooms or sacristies on the south and north sides that have not been conserved.

Above the central apse there is a small chamber only accessible from outside the building through a window with two horseshoe arches. This type of chamber is typical of the Asturian pre-Romanesque architecture that serves a structural and aesthetic function and might have also had other uses including, for instance, safeguarding relics.

The sculptural decoration in relief, found on the capitals, follows the model of San Salvador de Valdediós, consisting of acanthus leaves, crosses combined with carvings of squares and the typical rope moulding. Another highlight is the decoration of the two panels of the chancel screen with diamond motifs or lozenges, which had been found under the triumphal arch and are currently conserved in the Archaeological Museum of Asturias, to which they were located perhaps in 1942 by the architect restoring the church, Luis Menéndez-Pidal y Álvarez, after the fire set during the Spanish Civil War.

The church was also embellished with frescoes on the wall, situated in the body of the nave and in the chevet. This is noteworthy due to the reappearance of motifs that had already been used in San Julián de los Prados: images of palaces, vessels from which floral motives emerge, geometrical motives of squares and hexagons, crosses with the Alpha and the Omega, as well as a very rough human figure sitting on a throne with arms raised, similar to the representations of the Blessed.

In the 17th and 18th century, the church was subjected to a series of reforms, such as the portico adjoining the south wall, the demolition of the adjoining northern room and the transformation of the southern room into sacristy. In the 19th century, a closed chapter house is added to the south which was used as a parish school.

Declared National Heritage Site in 1913, the church was later subjected to a restoration that unfortunately resulted in the loss of the consecration stones and of part of the original murals.  The burning of the church during the Civil War (1936-1939) destroyed the original wooden roof and damaged the original paintings and chancel screens.

In the subsequent restoration of the church by the architect Luis Menéndez-Pidal y Álvarez in 1942, the roof was rebuilt, and more paintings were newly uncovered and reinforced. During the years 1984-1985 and 1998, the architects Manuel García García and J. Manuel Caicoya Rodríguez made a significant effort to restore the structure as well as the wall murals.

Thanks to their location, the Church of San Salvador de Priesca is one cultural asset connected to the coastal pilgrimage way to the shrine of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, declared World Heritage Site in 2015.

The Church of San Salvador de Priesca continues to operate as a parish in the present day.



Antique photos

Selection of photos of Santa María del Naranco that can be viewed at the following button



Aldea la Quintana 7, 33316 – Priesca, Asturias


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