|Twelfth-century San Miguel in Almazán|
All photos in this post 2019 Jessica Knauss
What are some good adjectives for Almazán? Twisted. Skewed. Awry. Catawumpus. Cockeyed.
But let's allow the Romanesque Church of San Miguel to fully illustrate this idea.
|San Miguel is right up against the medieval town wall.|
It's even easier to see in this horizontal photo, considering that I'm standing square with the transept--insofar as that's possible.
Almazán's quirkiness is probably best illustrated by the floor plan:
|Floor plan from the pamphlet, |
produced by the Most Excellent City Government of Almazán
A lady on the tour had been sitting in one of the pews. When she stood up, she said it made her dizzy! I was trying not to walk or turn around too fast, myself, but I got overexcited, anyway (as I'm prone to do in such places), and felt the seasickness effect for a second. It made me wonder, as everyone else on the tour already had, why the church had been purposefully constructed in such an unusual manner. Did they want to make themselves dizzy with devotion?
The tour guide insisted we'll never know the answer. One idea is that a few Romanesque churches took the symbolism of their floor plans a long way: figuring that the transept represents the arms of Jesus's cross, the apse must represent the head. The apse is, indeed, considered the holiest part of any Western Catholic medieval church. Since Jesus's head is tilted in most crucifixions, some ingenious architects tilted their apses. But this cannot be the case here, because Jesus's head always tilts toward his right, and if you consider the floor plan, this apse tilts toward his left. Additionally, the apse tilt is only the most obvious part of the twisting nature of this church.
This ivy-covered building is the Santa Teresa Chapel, which makes up the left side of the transept, number 7 in the floor plan above. Here we see the drop-off that starts right at the edge of church and the town wall. The church was a major component in the city's fortification. Perhaps the builders needed to follow the line of the cliff so the defense wouldn't be interrupted with weak points where enemies could gain their footing. Of course, that begs the question, again, why would they want to follow the landscape so literally with the entire building? Why not make only one side curvy? Why not continue the wall along the cliff and bring the church in a little way so it could be a regular, straight, tidy Cistercian Romanesque beacon?
I fancy someone wrote down the extensive debates that took place over this issue in the public forum, and one day, someone will find that record. In the meantime, it could be a fun plot point in a historical novel...