hopes moor cathedral could save spanish village with only one resident | Spain
It is not for nothing that the parish church of the Spanish village of Villamorón is known as the paramo cathedral – the cathedral of the moor.
For eight centuries, the Church of St. James the Apostle has preserved in the wild nature of northern Castilla y León, a Romanesque-Gothic treasure that lies under a low sky, in the middle of endless fields and on the edge of a village that died almost 50 years ago.
All around it, save for a handful of carefully renovated vacation homes, squat roofless, broken-back homes whose gaping doors and rotten beams offer a silent lesson in depopulation and demographic change.
Although the church ceased to be a place of worship in the late 1970s, it could still help reverse Villamorón’s decline.
A campaign group, the Friends of Villamorón, is working to undo the damage caused by decades of neglect, snow, rain, woodworms, owls and pigeons. He hopes the more than € 30,000 he raised in a recent crowdfunding appeal will restore the church’s magnificent interior by repairing its crumbling choir and retaining the paintings that decorate the walls and the church. ceiling.
Association president Pedro Moreno believes the church’s unusual and mysterious history could attract tourists, pilgrims to the nearby Camino de Santiago, and perhaps even occasional permanent residents.
The building, begun in the mid-13th century, was measured in French feet rather than Castilian, suggesting that its designs came from across the Pyrenees. Like some other churches in the region, the Church of St. James is said to have served as a model for churches built in Seville and Cordoba after the success of King Ferdinand III. reconquered campaigns in Andalusia.
“We carried out some small repairs and restorations, such as replacing the floor of the sacristy, putting new doors on the towers and protecting the bell tower from damage caused by pigeons,” explains Moreno. “But we are just a small association with very limited economic resources.”
While the group is extremely grateful for the million euros that the regional government of Castilla y León has spent to consolidate the exterior of the building, it believes that additional investments will allow the church to function as a cultural center where concerts, exhibitions and book launches can be organized. . This, in turn, will bring people and money to one of the most emptied regions of a country which during the Franco era saw large numbers of residents deserting rural areas in search of food. work in cities.
As Moreno notes, paramo can mean wasteland as well as heathland. “It’s not just called the paramo cathedral because of all the plains that surround it; it’s also in a demographic sense because there’s no one here now. The region as a whole provides a very clear illustration of what is happening inside Spain.
The idea, he says, is also “to bring some hope to what people have recently taken to calling ‘hollowed out Spain'”.
His volunteer colleague Enrique Gutiérrez is also seduced by the building and its potential for transformation. He argues that the church is too large and too exquisite to have served such a small community, and that it may have already been connected to a small monastery, now defunct, on the Camino de Santiago.
“There isn’t another church like this that has remained intact for 800 years – it’s exactly as the stonemasons left it,” says Gutiérrez. “You can see the transition from Roman to Gothic, and how smooth, elegant and harmonious it is. “
Moreover, he adds, pointing to the heavy machinery outside the parish house: “There is a lot of land and there are houses that could be restored. It would be great to bring people back here.
Some are already retreating. José María Bustillo, born in his great-grandparents’ house in the village in 1957, renovated the property and now divides his time between it and his house in Barcelona. Others come for the summer, but he is the only official resident of the village he left with his parents at the age of seven.
“We need capital here to revitalize the whole place, but it has been done in other places not too far away, where they have set up a hotel and a restaurant,” Bustillo explains. “I think this model could work here too. Things are very calm here – which is good – but it would be nice if there was a little more life from March to September.
Bustillo concedes it’s a bit more difficult in the village in winter, “but if you have decent heating, you’re fine. And the Internet is not bad.
Moreno, who co-founded the Friends of Villamorón 18 years ago, is experienced and patient enough not to expect miracles. But neither he nor his fellow campaigners will allow the church to relapse into oblivion.
“Quixotic is the right word to describe projects like this,” he says. “We know how difficult they can be when we take them on, but we do it anyway. And it’s not just about restoring a building, no matter how beautiful. It’s about trying to take something that is centuries old and bring it to life, use – and a future.