Santalla de Bóveda

Mª Jesús Esteban Quiñoá   (Photos: Mª Luisa Freire Lodeiro)

The monument of Santalla de Bóveda (former Santa Eulalia de Bóveda) was discovered in 1914 by the priest D. José María Penado Rodríguez, in the times of bishop Basulto, but it was not the latter, but his successor, Bishop Rei Lemos, who presented it to the Comission of Historical Artistic Monuments in Lugo in 1926. It was declared National Monument in 1931 and Cultural Interest Heritage in 1998.


It can be considered one of the most uncommon buildings. In fact, after its discovery, many researchers studied it from different points of view: architectural, archaeological, artistic and symbolic, without reaching an agreement either about its purpose or its chronology. Sometimes, it can be said that each of them gives a subjective vision which satisfies everybody. Scholars have interpreted it to be from a type of baths, "nymph's cave", a temple dedicated to the goddess Cibeles, a temple to some oriental gods, a serapeum, a funeral room, to a temple devoted to Priscilianus following the Roma rite of the goddess Cibeles, or even the very tomb of Priscilianus. This is to a great extent due to the few previous references, to the artistic samples, unique in the whole peninsula and, sadly, to the not very appropriate restorations and preservation works from its discovery.

In a document dating from the 8th century there is a reference to the church of Santalla, and it says it is a double floor building. There are other reports in the 18th telling about the damage in the lower vault when a new church was being built on the ruins of the upper floor.

Both the techniques and the materials, shapes and decoration can be related to the Roman, paleo Christian or High Medieval world.

After its discovery, one of the people who showed an interest in the study of Santalla was López Martí (1934), who found parallelisms with the paleo Christian art of the Roman catacombs, and who dates it as late- Roman, between the 4th and the 5th centuries, with a Christian predominance.

In 1935, German Helmunt Schulnk makes a complete study of the monument and relates it to the oriental sepulchral monuments, such as sarcophagus, having the building been later transformed with different purposes, supposing they could have disappeared to be substituted and used again, “something quite common in the early decades of the Medieval Age”. He also considers that the arcades, the reconstruction of the vault and the pictures are part of the transformation of the building into a Christian temple in the 9th century. He maintained this theory until 1952. Chamoso discovers the pool. After this, Helmunt Schulnk changes his theory and takes back the date of the inside reform of the building to the Roman times, and thus considering it to be a medicinal sanctuary.



According to Angel del Castillo (1932), it was a temple devoted to the nymphs dating back to the 4th century. According to Gómez-Montero (1949), the decoration is Roman, with some influences from the Oriental world and he dates it back to the 3rd century, claiming it was used as a ninfeo. Chamoso Lamas coincides with him in the latter, and he also says the transformation of the building was done in the Visigoth times, where the arcades and the pool are added.

Núñez (1970) relates the architectural characteristics of the first stages of the monument to the castro culture, and he dates the transformation of the building into a Christian temple in the 8th century.

Rodríguez Colmenero coincides with Helmunt Schulck in that the building has its origin in the oriental religious cults and he finds two stages in the building: a pagan and a Christian one (second half of the 4th century).

According to Vidal Caeiro (2003 and 2006) there are 5 building stages: a Roman building with a rectangular area, a Visigoth building (between the last years of the 5th century and the 7th century), a prerromanesque building from the 8th century, a Prerromanesque building from the 11th and a stage where the contemporary restorations would have taken place.

DescriPTiOn OF THE Monument

The archaeological site of Santa Eulalia was not half buried, as it is nowadays. The position of the building draws attention, as it is the opposite of the typical High Medieval churches. It had two floors, although just the lower one has been preserved, and the middle part of the vault, which was damaged during the demolition of the old Christian chapel which used to be on the upper floor. From this chapel, only the part of the wall at the beginning of the vault remains.

It is a rectangular area under the atrium of the current parish church, with an apse at the end of the nave which is also rectangular and has two floors. The crypt is a square of 12 m from side surrounded by two


perimeter walls, an inside one that holds the vault of the central room and an exterior one which provided fresh air to the site. It only has a façade to the outside, with an entrance horseshoe arch door flanked by two windows that provide light to the room, where there is a little pool 70 cm deep (which backs the hypothesis that it was a sacred or magical place). The room is divided into three naves by columns and arches without an apparent mechanical purpose, which makes you think of a later reconstruction. At the end, a winding staircase used to link the lower and the upper floor.

Outside there is a little atrium with two columns “in antis” (the portico only has two columns and two pilasters in the corners) which are placed in front of the façade, where there is a horseshoe arch door (later used by the Visigoths) made with bricks placed around it.

ImageIt is the oldest in the Spanish architecture used as a structural element. On both sides of the portico there are four bas-reliefs in a prominent position, so that is the first thing the visitor sees from the building. These are the only ones that keep symmetry both to the architecture in this area of the building and between them. They are two groups of “dancers” and two human figures (male and female). These four bas-reliefs are the most elaborated and framed. The isolated figures are between two columns which hold a lintel; their arms are raised and hold a garland. On top of them the “dancers” are placed. They are 5 figures, also framed. The other four reliefs that can be seen are randomly placed and without any apparent relationship. There two very significant ones: one where a bird is resting on a tree and is hiding its head under its wings and another one called “relief of the crippled”, where two human figures show their malformations (which may involve a curative and medicinal value of the waters).


However, the most singular point in the site is the pictures of the vault, covered with stucco, where geometrical, animal and vegetable shapes appear and where the colours red, orange, blue, green and black are used. The decoration is divided into squares which are turned 45º and surrounded by colourful checked borders. In these squares, we can see cocks, hens, doves facing each other, swans and some pheasants. The pictures of birds are not faithful to their characteristics either in the shape or the gesture. Evidently, the intention was to represent differences in size, as it can be seen, for instance in the peacocks, that picture occupies fully the square it is in, and even goes out of it, but in the case of the doves or partridges, they are in couples and with a lot of room around, except in some triangles where individual figures appear.




These topics were common in tombs but, contrary to other monuments compared with this one, no tombs were found (unless we agree with Hemunt when he claims the theory that they could have been emptied and reused in the medieval ages). This decoration is of utmost importance owing to two facts: the good state of preservation they were found in and because there are no other examples of ancient wall painting like this in Galicia.

No remains in situ are kept from the upper part of the vault. Some big pieces with remains of paint appeared that are known thanks to the photographs and the drawings of Hanson and Berenguer. The central part of the vault consisted of octagons made of squares flanked on each side and irregular hexagons. Inside these geometrical shapes, circles and flowers appear, a very common topic in the decorations of mosaics from the High Empire Roman times.



  • ARIAS VILA, Felipe/de ABEL VILELA, Adolfo (1975): Guía romana de Lugo y su provincia. Lugo
  • ARIAS VILA, Felipe : Bóveda. Monumento de Santaballa de Gran Enciclopedia Gallega. Tomo IV (px 93-94). Lugo-Pontevedra
  • GARCÍA IGLESIAS, X.M (1989). : Pinturas murais de Galicia. Santiago de Compostela.
  • MONTENEGRO RÚA, E.J (2005) : El descubrimiento y las actuaciones arqueológicas en Sta. Eulalia de Bóveda.Excmo. Concello de Lugo
  • RODRÍGUEZ COLMENERO, ANTONIO (1992) : Culto a las aguas y divinidades orientales en el Lugo romano: los posibles santuarios de San Roque y Bóveda Espacio, Tiempo y Forma, Serie II ( Historia Antigüa)

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