Church of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr (Durana)


The first historical document that mentions Durana is the “Reja de San Millán” (1025). However, no element endures from the primitive hamlet’s church. Instead, today’s temple is a magnificent building from the end of the 12th century that went through important reforms and high-quality additions. The town of Durana is just 5 km away from Vitoria-Gasteiz and belongs to the Gorbeialdea municipality. Due to their proximity, it was one of the main crossing points for the people that wanted to go the Cantabrian Sea. Besides, its strategic location made Durana be the warfare scenario during the Revolt of the Comuneros (1520-1522) and the Peninsular War (1807-1814).


360º images

Old photographs

Among the consulted photographic collections of Gerardo López de Guereñu and Federico Baraibar & Lorenzo Elorza, we just preserve images from the façade. This ensemble is the gem of the temple because it did not go under any big changes. Besides, during the painting works carried out in 1998, some Romanesque remains appeared. As we spot in those photographs, the presbytery window and the moldings of the bundled arches were hidden from visitors since the construction of the sacristy (1737) and the execution of the maestreo (1833).

The keys of the “Master of the wire wings”

Between the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century, the head of the temple and its chancel were built with beautiful vaults that contain two very interesting keys. Indeed, those keys are very similar to the ones at the church of Saint Martin of Arbulo, which were made by the “Master of the wire wings”. However, the quality of Durana’s keys is somewhat inferior. The key from the head of the church shows a Trinitarian Throne of Grace, with the crowned Father holding the crucified Son and, in the middle, the dove as the Holy Spirit. In the keystone of the chancel’s section, Saint Stephen holds a stone on his left hand, symbolising his martyrdom, and a book on the right. Even though the repainting of the keys fades the set, its great sculptural quality is undeniable.

The church

The exterior

The parochial church of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr is located on a small elevation. From outside, we easily differentiate its construction stages. For example, in the northern side, a line of corbels delimits the original height of the Romanesque construction. On the contrary, the southern part of the building is partially hidden by a series of constructions: the bell tower, the façade and the sacristy, all built in the 18th century.

As the buttresses confirm, the nave was built before the head of the temple. In order to expand the chancel’s area, the workers used the original width of the sector, walling off one of the Romanesque windows. Later, they created a new straight head following the standards of the moment. Even though there are some buildings flanking the head, the eastern window with Gothic tracery is still visible.

The façade

The most important element from the exterior of Durana’s church is its façade. According to experts, it is one of the greatest Romanesque artworks from Alava. Indeed, it is evidence of the high level the workshops from the region reached between the 12th and the 13th century. Some of its Romanesque motifs can be spotted in many cases from the Llanada like in the façade from Otazu or in the large window from Argandoña. This demonstrates the close connection the workshops had at that time.

The façade is displayed as a triumphal arch, like other nearby artworks such as Oreitia’s façade but, in this case, the sculptural decoration reaches an unusual level. The ensemble’s five archivolts finish with a relieving arch decorated with vertically arranged leaves. Perhaps, the fourth archivolt is the most symbolic element of the set, which shows a slender torus crowned by a succession of semi-circular arches.

The archivolts rest on diverse and rich capitals that prove the richness of the iconographic and ornamental ensemble from Durana. Bellow, we will comment the interpretation of each capital.

Left side:

  • Two flowers with six petals closed with vegetal shapes finished in scrolls.
  • The face of a lady with headdress and chinstrap, a possible representation of the temple contributor.
  • The face of a nobleman with a simple decorated bonnet.
  • A geometric graticule and a six-pointed star, ending with vegetal motifs that turn into scrolls.

Right side:

  • Monstrous figures fighting each other.
  • In the lower part, we spot vegetal motifs that finish with also vegetal scrolls.
  • An eagle snatching a rabbit.
  • Two birds drinking from the same glass.

Finally, we distinguish the impressive doorjambs from the façade. On the left, a succession of interlocking arches link Durana with Oreitia’s façade or with the baptismal font from Durruma/San Millán de San Román. On the right, two stems form a chain with six-petal flowers inside.

The interior

Inside the church of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr, the volumes are a parallel to the ones outside. However, in the 19th century, the maestreo process erased some of the temple’s construction traces. For example, the new sections of the head were covered with vaults of tiercerons. Following the Gothic tradition, the pointed barrel vault from the nave was harmoniously joined with them. Apparently, the church was painted in the 16th century, but the subsequent layers prevent studying the richness of these paintings.

The altarpiece

Durana’s large Baroque Classicist altarpiece from the 17th century houses very interesting carvings. Overall, it has three streets with three bodies and, on top, a great Calvary that touches the vaults. In the lower body, on both sides of the tabernacle, we spot two exceptional carvings from the 16th century. They were made previously than the altarpiece and represent Saint Sebastian and Saint Roque. Instead, the second body is contemporaneous to the artwork, Saint Vincent and Saint Lawrence are accompanied by the image of the church’s titular saint: Saint Stephen. The third and last body shows the usual figures of Saint Peter and Saint Paul accompanying the Virgin.

The tabernacle

However, the most outstanding piece of the set is the Romanist tabernacle, which was built circa 1595 by Esteban de Velasco. This arwork presents a great sculptural quality and design. The tabernacle is conceived as a micro-building that frames the images of the evangelists and the four Doctors of the Church. The central scene, located at the door, represents the Last Supper.

The Romanesque large window

The 20th century interventions brought to light the Romanesque large window of the primitive presbytery, which is located as usual on the southern wall. It is a simple round arch window with capitals decorated with plant motifs. In the intersect of the sacristy, now inaccessible, the exterior of the window can be seen. Its archivolts present several stripes with bezels as in Estibaliz.


Photo credits:

Color photographs: © Alava Medieval / Erdi Aroko Araba

Old photographs: Archivo del Territorio Histórico de Álava / Colección Federico Baraibar y Lorenzo Elorza.

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