Our Lady of the Solitude’s church (Atauri)


Following the green belt that connects the town of Atauri with Maeztu, a simple Romanesque hermitage is spotted in the landscape. Apparently, its preservation over time has been very difficult. According to the “Reja de San Millán” (1025) document, there were two settlements in the area: Ataburi de Suso (which could be today’s Atauri) and Ataburi de Iuso. The last hamlet is linked to Our Lady of the Solitude, although it is very difficult to prove it. Historically, Atauri enjoyed a strategic position as a control point for the roads that crossed the complicated orography parallel to the river. Thus, Atauri even had an important castle among the many privileges Sancho VII of Navarre gave to Larraun and Larraga. Even though the functions it had are now blurred, the architecture and several uses of the hermitage over time denote the relevance it had to for the community.


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The remaining old façade

After several abandonments and states of ruin, Our Lady of the Solitude’s nave was rebuilt. Nonetheless, as it usually happens in these cases, a large amount of the old buildings’ material was reused. Therefore, many ashlars with decoration that probably came from the old façade can be spotted. Considering its few baton profiles, the original façade might be very similar to today’s temple.

Old photographs

Gerardo López de Guereñu’s photographs show that, during the 60s, the hermitage was in critical state of conservation. Its structure was basically the same as today’s temple, but the cracks of the walls and the bad condition of the roof made demanded a fast intervention. During the restoration works of 1983, the foundations were underpinned, the cornices and corbels repositioned, and the roof was completely redone.

The hermitage

The exterior

As stated in old documentation, Our Lady of the Solitude’s hermitage was originally dedicated to Saint Julian. The Romanesque church was made during the second half of the 12th century. From that first building phase, it only preserves its head. Indeed, the rest of the building had to be rebuilt after years of abandonment. The original idea was to use it as a hermitage associated with the town of Atauri.

The head of the temple is an extraordinary semi-circular apse, a not very common typology in Alava. It was built during numerous phases, although currently it is difficult to distinguish or specify them. Its eastern window is a simple semi-circular bay with an embrasure shape that widens inwards.
Later, the southern window was probably built with two keystones with a relieving arch. That kind of smooth pieces with no sculptural decoration was probably conceived as a painted ensemble. Unfortunately, as the element is outside the building, the polychromy is completely lost.
The interior

Inside, the hermitage of Atauri is a simple building with one nave that holds the head’s width. The entrance to the presbytery is decorated with a very narrow and thick triumphal arch.

On the side of the Gospel, the doorstep’s semi-circular arch lies on some chequered imposts, whereas the Epistle side is decorated with a wreathed line. According to experts, many of its elements suggest than the temple might be from the first half of the 12th century. Therefore, Our Lady of the Solitude could be one of the earliest Romanesque churches in the area.


Photo credits:

Color photographs: © Álava Medieval / Erdi Aroko Araba.

Old photographs: Archivo del Territorio Histórico de Álava.

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