Saint John’s hermitage (Markinez)


Markinez is one of those places were the walls and streets bring together many historical events. Indeed, it is right in the middle of a natural and beautifully sculpted environment that was also modified by the humankind. Therefore, the Modern Ages palaces of Markinez coexist with many archaeological settlements such as the artificial caves. According to the “Reja de San Millán” (1025), initially there were two different towns: Marquina de Suso and Marquina de Yuso. Two centuries later, in 1256, there is only a reference to a village called Marquiniç, so it is likely that all the inhabitants moved to the current location shortly after. Until the year 1557, Markinez belonged to the County of the Salinas lineage, and was later transferred to the bishop Diego de Álava y Esquivel. He was also the bishop of Astorga, Avila and Cordoba, and knight at the Order of Calatrava. Due to his relevance, he was buried in the Church of Saint Peter of Vitoria-Gasteiz. In 1757, the village earnt its independence from the lordship of the House of Álava, and became part from the royalty, as reflects the royal arms of the town hall.


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The Castle Rock

Few meters away from the hermitage of Saint John of Markinez, we spot the Castle Rock. The rock massif is another evidence of the several modifications carried out by the humankind in the area. According to experts, it had a defensive use during the Middle Ages. The archaeological studies determined that the site was used from the second half of the 10th century to the 14th century. During those works, archaeologists found a coin of Alfonso I the Battler, who was king of Aragon and Navarre between 1104 and 1134. Besides, many elements were spotted in the lower part of the Castle: a cistern used for water storage, a moat, and some rooms, all of them excavated in the stone. Indeed, some little putlog holes prove that there used to be a wooden roof. At the top, three structures: a hall, a rectangular room, and a tower. For sure, the rock massif had wooden structures around, such as scaffolds. But nothing is preserved.

Old photographs

Back in the 20th century, several pioneers of the Romanesque of Alava studies were aware of the artistic relevance of Saint John’s hermitage. Indeed, Lorenzo Elorza photographed the building for the first time, and the famous Federico Baraibar used some of them in an article from the beginning of the 20th century. Decades later, Gerardo López de Guereñu took new photographs of the temple, leaving a useful information about the appearance the building had both inside and outside. For example, in those photos we identify whitewashed walls and the painted head of the temple (which probably hid older paintings). Besides, the church still had a simple altarpiece with carvings of different origins that is now lost.

The hermitage

The exterior

The hermitage of Saint John has a greatly preserved nave with semi-circular head. Excepting the northern and western walls, which were later built, the rest of the building still has its original appearance. One of the peculiarities of the hermitage is that it has an inscription with its recognition date, something unusual in the region. Federico Baraibar transcribed and translated the following inscription:

The church was built the ninth day of the kalends of December of the year 1226, being Juan Pérez the bishop of Calahorra, reigning King of Castile Fernando, and being M(artín) archdeacon of Armentia, Fortunio de Marquíniz archpriest of Treoiño, and García de Pangua master of Armentia. So that those who see this inscription particularly pray for the soul of the bishop and all the benefactors of the temple.

Even though it gives the date bishop Juan Pérez recognised the temple, the inscription does not provide more information about its building process. However, experts consider that it had to be before the year 1226.

The exterior perfectly reflects the volumes of the building. Its semi-circular head is connected to a bit wider presbytery, which has a big column attached as a buttress. The space is illuminated with a large window that has three archivolts and a relieving arch. Its capitals and the second archivolt are decorated with richly sculpted acanthus leaves, whereas the relieving arch is full of bezants. The window that illuminates the first part of the nave is very similar, but it has three bead moulded archivolts.

Besides, the fabulous façade was conceived as a triumph arch. Its large windows, the façade, and the rest of the motifs were made by the same workshop. Therefore, Saint John’s hermitage has an unusual sensation of unity.

Overall, the façade has seven different archivolts that lay on heterogeneous capitals. However, nothing is improvised, everything is meticulously and exquisitely designed. The smaller bead moulded archivolts alternate with acanthus leaves and scaly looking oval chain. Both the motifs of the archivolts and the design of the capitals with faces of different sizes, evoke the workshops that worked in the southern façade of Estibaliz.

In addition, the mullioned window at the western gable is very interesting. Unlike the rest of the church, it was made later by a different workshop. The adjacent capitals represent simple faces and plants, far from the virtuosity of those from the south wall.
The interior

The interior of the hermitage of Saint John is very simple. Its nave is divided into three sections with two transverse arches and has a narrower and lower presbytery that closes the apse. Besides, as the walls are not painted, the several structural problems or construction phases arise. For example, both northern wall and pointed semi-dome were built later. It is very difficult to determine if those elements were built after a collapse caused by the ground movements or, on the contrary, just built later by a less skilled workshop.

The capitals and archivolts of the large windows have a smaller architectural and decorative display compared to the outside. However, it could be part of a plan in which the pictorial decoration, today completely lost, was contemplated.

En la zona ya presbiterial se conservan dos credencias, una a cada lado, abiertas bajo la línea de imposta ajedrezada que recorre toda la cabecera. Como suele ser habitual, están formadas por un doble arco apoyado en un capitel, en este caso decorado con hojas vegetales que forman una voluta.


Créditos fotográficos:

De las fotografías actuales: © Alava Medieval / Erdi Aroko Araba.

De las fotografías antiguas: Archivo del Territorio Histórico de Álava.

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