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Carrión de los Condes, Palencia

Church of Santa María del Camino

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The current church of Santa María del Camino was built around the mid-twelfth century, likely during the reign of Alfonzo VII (1127-57), after the end of a period of civil war and popular rebellions (1). There have been several later restorations, most notably the addition of the flying buttresses that frame the south portal today. On the south portal, the second outer archivolt bears thirty-seven figures in relief, which, as described by María Cuadrado Lorenzo, encompass heterogeneous motifs instead of fitting into one single program: bestial or hybrid figures and personifications of vices perch side-by-side with musicians and regular townsfolk (2). On the other hand, the frieze above lays out a clear, linear narrative of the journey of the Three Magi, who visit King Herod (centre; enthroned) before finally arriving at the feet of the Virgin with infant Christ. The scene of the Adoration of the Magi, after their arrival in Bethlehem, can be seen on the far left, now set into the buttress. The stark contrast in scale and iconography between the archivolts and frieze may imply different medieval target audiences. While the smaller and miscellaneous archivolt figures demand closer and prolonged attention, and may have served to resonate with, entertain, and educate the townspeople of Carrión -- a form of public engagement and appeasement particularly relevant in the wake of popular rebellions -- the clarity and narrative linearity of the frieze would likely have appealed more to pilgrims visiting the town. The Three Magi, the prototypical pilgrims on their devotional journey to the newborn Christ, are travelling westward on foot and on horseback -- much like the medieval pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela (3). At Santa María del Camino we have a meeting place of both the rooted locals and the pilgrims on the road.


The other features of the façade are equally multifaceted and mystifying, such as in the eight metopes above the frieze. Cuadrado Lorenzo hypothesises that the metopes represent an abbreviated zodiac cycle, with certain metopes possibly synthesising two zodiac signs into one -- for example the winged figure carrying a balance on the third plaque from the left may stand for both Virgo and Libra (4). It is also possible that the zodiac metopes work together with the frieze of the Three Magi to create a coherent program, in which these astrological signs are associated with the star that guides the Magi towards Jerusalem in the biblical story (5). Below the frieze, the two spandrels on the sides show a lion-rider (left) and an equestrian figure whose horse is trampling a smaller figure (right), both common motifs of good triumphing over evil. The lion-rider could point to Samson as much as to David and Hercules, and scholars have suggested the equestrian figure to be Constantine or Santiago Matamoros (St. James in his guise as the Moor-slayer), but neither seems to yield any definite identification (6). Flanking the door are four decorated capitals and two pairs of bull protomes, which have become entangled with the legend of El Tributo de las Cien Doncellas (The Tribute of the Hundred Maidens), although it is unlikely that the iconographical program was meant to illustrate this story since the construction of the church predates the emergence of the legend (7). Below you can explore the façade and its portal in detail. 

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Santa maria diagram

Click on any highlighted section to view a gigapan (zoomable image) or 3D model.

Portal gigapan

Santa María del Camino

South Portal

[Portal full view]

Portal frieze gigapan

[Portal frieze]

sm cap a

Santa María del Camino

South Portal Capitals


On the outer face of this capital, we see three standing male figures, all dressed in belted-bliauts with V-cut necklines. On the inner face, there are two more males -- the left one pulling his bifurcated beard, and the right one has his palm facing outward over his chest. Between these two groups, there is an animal figure perching on the edge, face-down -- possibly a rabbit or hare, judging by the small, pointed ears (8)

sm cap b

[2nd from left]

The two figures on the outer face seem most likely to be female, who are holding an object that appears to be an open book between them. On the inner face, there are two more figures: the left one is touching a mask-like object that rests on the capital's corner, and the right one is carrying what may be an oliphant between them.

sm cap c

[2nd from right]

On each side of the capital, two griffins form an interlace pattern. Each pair appear to be twisting their bodies to face each other. Zoom in to see feather details of the griffins' upper bodies and wings.

sm cap d


A rider is astride a lion on each side of this capital; at the edge in between, the lions are almost muzzle-to-muzzle, their open mouths in the riders' grips. Samson is a  potential, although uncertain, identification for the rider (9).

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(1) María Flora Cuadrado Lorenzo, "La iglesia de Santa María del Camino de Carrión de los Condes y su programa escultórico" (Master's thesis, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, 1984), 215. Alternatively, for scholarship on dating based on stylistic grounds, please see Miguel Ángel García Guinea, El Arte Románico en Palencia (Palencia: Imprenta Provincial, 1961), 118-19.

(2) Cuadrado Lorenzo, "La iglesia,"  239.

(3) Elizabeth Lastra is currently working on a book, Art and Authority in Medieval Spain: The Story of Carrión, that develops these ideas further. 

(4) Cuadrado Lorenzo, "Un posible zodiáco alegorico en las metopas de la portada meridional de Santa María de Carrión de los Condes," Boletín del Seminario de Estudios de Arte y Arqueología 51 (1985): 440.

(5) Cuadrado Lorenzo, "Un posible zodiáco," 445-46.

(6) More on identification in Arthur Kingsley Porter, Romanesque Sculpture of the Pilgrimage Roads (Boston: Marshall Jones Company, 1923), vol. 1, 192; and García Guinea, El Arte Románico, 123-24.

(7) For some of the earliest sources for the Cien Doncellas legend, see Chronicon mundi (1236) by Lucas of Tuy and the Historia de rebus Hispanie (1243) by Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, both excerpted in Emily C. Francomano, “The Legend of the Tributo de las Cien Doncellas: Women as Warweavers and the Coin of Salvation,” Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos 32, no. 1 (2007), 11-12.

(8) For more detailed descriptions on all four capitals, see Cuadrado Lorenzo, "La iglesia," 226.

(9) Cuadrado Lorenzo, "La iglesia," 228.

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