Betoño’s council is almost integrated in the urban fabric of Vitoria-Gasteiz, the city to which it belongs. According to the “Reja of San Millán” (1025), the old hamlet of Betoniu was a very prosperous place in Alava. Indeed, as we can know from the preserved documentation, during the 16th century, Betoño was one of the richest settlements of Vitoria’s surroundings. Therefore, the inhabitants of the hamlet could accomplish various modifications in the church with high-quality artisans. Betoniu had also two hermitages and a hospital, but its most relevant building was the convent of the Discalced Carmelites. Completed after 1904, the building was designed in a refined Neo-Gothic style. Currently, the convent has turned into the College of Design and School of Art, and the former elegant cemetery is now Sancho el Sabio Foundation’s location.
The Renaissance underchoir
Once crossing the doorstep, we find one of the most remarkable artworks from the church: its Renaissance underchoir. It was developed in the late 16th century by the master of Cantabria and one of the best artists of that period, Juan Vélez the la Huerta’s workshop. The arch is profusely decorated with angel heads in a classical style. In addition, the spandrels represent the allegories of Justice and Faith. The parapet is made of a succession of ribbing pilasters, which connect with magnificent openwork with whimsical geometric shapes. However, the true architectonical wonder from Saint Stephen’s church is the vaulted and coffered ceiling. As we can see from beneath, the ceiling is formed with concentric shapes inspired on the models developed by authors like the treatise writer Serlio. During the 17th century, the underchoir was painted with multiple saints in every hole from the nerve scheme.
Saint Stephen’s church
Considering the great volumes of Betoño’s church, as well as the heterogeneity of its masonry, the building has undergone significant modifications throughout time. Even though no remain from the primitive Pre-Romanesque hermitage of Betoniu is preserved, still some elements from the 12th century High Romanesque church can be spotted.
But the most important Romanesque remnant of the building is, with no doubt, the façade. Although its sculpture is simple, the realisation is great. Overall, the façade is composed of three archivolts and a relieving arch with oval leaves vertically set out, a decoration also repeated in the impost. The second archivolt has an interlaced stem with scaly bulges.
Color photographs : © Álava Medieval / Erdi Aroko Araba.
Old photographs: Archivo del Territorio Histórico de Álava / Colección de Federico Baraibar y Lorenzo Elorza.