THE CHURCH OF SANTA MARÍA DE LEBEÑA
Santa María de Lebeña is, without doubt, the municipality´s architectural jewel and one of the most representative ones from the Mozarabic art in Spain. The church is located in a small land elevation, between vineyards, grasslands and agricultural land, separated from the main village centre of Lebeña and next to the river Deva.
The exact church´s construction date is ignored; nevertheless, two documents exist in the "Cartulario" (some kind of old index) from Santo Toribio dated in 925; one of them considered apocryphal and the other saying that the counts, Alfonso and Justa donated to Santa María de Lebeña all of their possesions in the village, clothes and church utensils. There´s legend according to which the count Alfonso, with a fifty men's army, wanted to steel the relics deposited in the monastery of San Martín (later on called Santo Toribio), to the hermitage of San Román, and happened that, as they opened the crypt they were blinded. When the court Alfonso recovered his sight, repentant, he ordered the construction of Santa María´s church and later donated it to the monastery of San Martín.
The building of Santa María de Lebeña is made up of three naves; the central, wider and higher than the lateral ones, except at its bottom and head. The naves are covered with annular vaults, independent all of them and separated by pillars consisting in a rectangular centre piece to which some columns are attached. These support the cylindrical shafts, which, at the same time, have Corinthian type capitals with vegetable ornaments, and some kind of circular figure shaped as a spiral rope. Over the capitals some "cimacios" rest, with the shape of an inverted pyramidal trunk, over which the horseshoe-arches lean on. These are characteristic in this type construction, except for the victorious arch, which is barrel type, and the lateral chapels at the front which have also barrel arches.
The frontal piece of the main altar is occupied by a large flagstone, which was part of the old floor that appeared when some works took place inside the church in 1971. When the flagstone was lifted it discovered some interesting carvings, being the most outstanding representation, a moving solar symbol. This one could be an antique Celtic stella.
The main church´s altar-piece was built in 1731 and made in a Baroque style. On the upper part a Calvary from the XVIII century and some figures can be contemplated; in the center, a crucified Christ; to the right, San Juan and to the left, the Virgin. The peak of the altarpiece is crowned by the head of an angel. The central niche of the altar-piece is occupied by the Virgin Santa María also called "de la buena leche", from the XV century and one of the most beautiful Gothic images in Cantabria. This image was stolen the 4th of November in 1993, as well as a "Purísima". Both images have been replaced by reproductions made by the priest, Benito Velarde, from Liébana.
On the bottom part of the altar-piece a "Sagrario" can be contemplated, with a resucitated Christ, and the figures of San Pedro and San Pablo.
There is another altar-piece, built in 1584, in the lateral right chapel. In its central hornacina there is a crowned image of the Virgin "del Rosario", from the XVIII century. Finally, in the left chapel there is another altar-piece from the XVII century with the images of San Roque and Santa Cecilia. At the church´s entrance there´s a very old "benditera" (blessed water pile) on a square base and shaft, of difficult chronological dating.
The current access door is located on the south or noon facade, and was opened in 1794, according to what one can read on the door´s frontispiece. It was made to replace the old west door facing, strongly lashed by storms.
The outside walls are rubble-work, except for the building corners, carved on big stones. In such walls there are some narrow windows, narrowing towards the inside for defensive reasons, which allow the light getting in the temple. The eaves are another characteristic part of the Lebeña church´s style, and are made up of a series of stone slabs over "canecillos", and carved on their lateral faces with ornamental elements. In the outside patio, and separated from the church, a tower was built in 1896. We can also contemplate a magnificent yew tree specimen, classified as "singular tree" (by Spanish standards), and an olive.
The Mozarabic church of Santa María de Lebeña was declared national monument on the 27th of March, 1893.
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