The Church of Santa Maria de los Reyes is one the true treasures of the medieval town of Laguardia. Construction began in Romanesque style during the 12th century, although this went on until the 15th century and is mainly comprised of Gothic and Renaissance elements, its most outstanding feature being the carved main entrance from the late 14th century and the 17th century polychrome.
This is one of the few preserved polychrome doorways in Spain.
The temple is located in the north of the town, protecting the streets from the cold wind that comes down from the Sierra de Cantabria, taking up the length of the space that exists between the three longitudinal streets of Laguardia: calle Páganos, in the western part, calle Santa Engracia in the east and the calle Mayor in the centre. The latter being the street where the main entrance to the temple is located.
Its construction spans several phases and periods due to setbacks and official decisions regarding reforms based on the new styles of the moment.
The earliest artistic vestiges are located on the outside of the northern and north-western part of the church and that date back to the beginning of the 12th century, when construction in Romanesque style began. Work continued between the 13th and 15th centuries, although now in Gothic style, extending and rebuilding it, based on the styles that each century dictated.
First the height of the temple was raised and then architectural changes were introduced, such as the ribbed vaults with tiercerons and the work done on the central columns. In the 14th century the most important work took place: the main doorway that provides access to the temple.
In the middle of the 16th century the chancel was demolished in order to extend it and, as a result, the expansion and transformation of the transept and apse, changes that were made in Renaissance style. And later, in the 18th century, it was the turn of the main altarpiece, done by Juan de Bascardó, an artistic rebirth where Mannerism can be seen, hinting towards Baroque.
The church of Santa María de los Reyes surprises the visitor with its grandiose polychromed portal dominated by golds, ochres, reds and greens, which in itself justifies the visit to Laguardia for all lovers of good art. Carved in stone at the end of the 16th century, already in the Gothic period, its polychromy corresponds to the 17th century.
On the bottom section, the trumeau flanked by the Apostles on the jambs. On the top, the tympanum enveloped by the archivolts. The main iconography is centred around the Virgin, who presides over the trumeau, with scenes of her life on the tympanum.
In the centre, between the two trefoil arches of the doorway to the temple, a delicate image of the Virgin holding the Child with her left arm. Attention is drawn to the sweet look on the Virgin’s face as well as her pose, her waist is contoured to counterbalance the child’s weight and conveys the sensation of a perfect dynamic balance. The richness of the colour and the details in this carving focus the viewer’s eye with admiration.
The apostles, in two groups of six, flank the Trumeau, with the peculiarity that Saint Paul is include in place of Judas Iscariot, all of them holding a book in their hands and some of the symbols with which they are identified.
All the apostles are standing on artistic pedestals and under beautiful canopies which in turn serve as the base for the figures on the archivolts.
As with the image of the Virgin, the robes are equally striking, the folds and rich colours of which are a pleasure to behold.
The tympanum is composed of three bans: the first dedicated to scenes from the life of the Virgin; the second to her Dormition - a term used by the Church to refer to her death - and the Assumption; and the third her Coronation.
The tympanum is surrounded by five archivolts with vegetal forms and images depicting angels, virgins, prophets, kings and martyrs.
On the right-hand side of the portal there is a king and his wife, traditionally identified as Don Sancho Abarca, Sancho Carcés I (King of Pamplona from 905 to 925) and his wife Doña Urraca, founders of the town of Laguardia, however, a more recent thesis identifies them as the patrons of portal, namely Carlos III, the Noble, king of Navarre and his wife Doña Eleonor de Trastámara, infanta of Castile.
Guided tours of the Church of Santa María de los Reyes, which features the the polychromed portal, are organized by he Laguardia Tourist Office. These visits include the “The Door of Light” light show that is projected onto the portal itself and an educational commentry about the temple.
- The timetable may be interrupted by liturgical celebrations.
- It is advisable to book in advance, as numbers are limited.
- Duration: approximately thirty minutes
This town is 48 kilometres from Vitoria-Gasteiz, taking the A-2124a through the Puerto de Vitoria mountain pass and the BU- to reach the N-232a which takes us to our destination. This is an interesting scenic route but it is also possible to go via the A-1, N-124 and the N-232a.
Laguardia is less than 20 kilometres from Logroño via the N-232a.