Today’s post is dedicated to a wonderful church that we discovered thanks to Manuel Haro, art historian and secretary of the Ateneo Antoniorrobles. The church in question is the Iglesia de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora, in the municipality of Robledo de Chavela in the province of Madrid (Spain). It is a fortified church of exceptional artistic beauty. Strategically located on a hilltop, the church was built in various stages and styles (Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance). Although only a few gargoyles remain, it is worth examining them in detail, as they form part of an exceptional monument whose interior is home to some genuine artistic treasures.
Before discussing the gargoyles, let’s take a look at some of these treasures inside the church. The artistic gems on display include the main altarpiece, a Hispano-Flemish work dating back to the early sixteenth century. It is a pleasure to feast our eyes on this altarpiece with its 32 panels and two seventeenth-century canvases, which together constitute a jewel in the crown of Madrid’s artistic heritage.
Also of note inside the church is the thirteenth-century baptismal font and the bust of St John the Baptist, which is displayed in the Chapel of the Passion and stands out for the exceptional detailing of the cut on the saint’s neck. The sculpture is attributed to Alonso Berruguete.
St John the Baptist
Last but certainly not least are the church’s dragons. During the restoration work carried out in 2010, a number of mural paintings were discovered. Dating back to around 1500, they comprise 76 impressive and stunningly beautiful dragons that decorate the vaulted ceilings. In the post on dragons we discussed their wide-ranging symbolism and their status as protective animals that stand guard over places of worship, treasure, etc. This apotropaic significance may well explain the existence of the dragons of Robledo de Chavela. Also of note is the small dragon on the south door of the church: although this miniature gem may go overlooked, it forms part of the extraordinary dragon motif that characterises this church.
Besides the gargoyles, on the church’s exterior there are a number of other elements of interest. For example, several brackets from the Romanesque era, bearing a decorative ball design, have survived to the present day.
Dating back to the Gothic era, there are a number of geometric gargoyles: highly schematic blocks of stone that are used for drainage and are devoid of any ornamentation.
On the buttresses, which culminate in overhangs linked by a parapet walk, there are remains of gargoyles. Sadly, the remains only consist of blocks of stone, except for one where we can make out the body of a quadruped, although unfortunately its head is missing. It is therefore highly probable that there were more gargoyles of a figurative nature on these buttresses.
Lastly, we will examine the gargoyles on the tower, which dates back to the sixteenth century. At the top of the tower there are two gargoyles that, although a little worn by the passage of time, appear to depict a pair of dog-like animals.
One of the best things about exploring the towns and cities of Spain is coming across stunning examples of the country’s heritage; and that is precisely what happened on our visit to Robledo de Chavela. The church in this town is an extraordinary structure, home to a mixture of various artistic styles and boasting unique and impressive treasures in its interior. Without a doubt, it is well worth a visit.
Guided tours of the church can be arranged through www.espaciorobledo.com. I encourage you to pay a visit to this charming town and discover its magnificent church.
MANZARBEITIA VALLE, S., Pintura mural en la Comunidad de Madrid, Madrid, Consejería de Cultura, Turismo y Deporte – D. G. de Patrimonio Cultural, 2015.
Doctora en Historia del Arte. Investigadora especializada en el estudio de las gárgolas.