Hopes Cathedral of the Moorland could save Spanish village with single resident | Spain

Not for nothing is the parish church of the Spanish village of Villamorón referred to as la catedral del páramo – the Cathedral of the Moorland.

For eight centuries, the church of Saint James the Apostle has held out in the northern wilds of Castilla y León, a Romanesque-creeping-into-Gothic treasure that sits beneath a low sky, amid limitless fields and at the edge of a village that gave up the ghost nearly 50 years in the past.

Round it, save for a handful of painstakingly renovated vacation houses, crouch the roofless, broken-backed homes whose gaping doorways and rotting beams supply a mute lesson in depopulation and demographic shifts.

Though the church stopped being a spot of worship in the late Seventies, it could but assist reverse Villamorón’s decline.


A marketing campaign group, the Friends of Villamorón, is working to undo the injury wreaked by many years of neglect, snow, rain, woodworm, owls and pigeons. It hopes the over €30,000 it raised in a recent crowdfunding appeal will go some approach to restoring the church’s magnificent inside by repairing its crumbling choir and conserving the work that adorn the partitions and ceiling.

The affiliation’s president, Pedro Moreno, believes the church’s uncommon and mysterious historical past could lure vacationers, pilgrims from the close by Camino de Santiago, and even perhaps the occasional everlasting resident.

Interior pillar at Cathedral of Moorland
The marketing campaign group has raised cash to assist restore the church’s magnificent inside. {Photograph}: Sam Jones/The Guardian

The constructing, begun in the mid-Thirteenth century, was measured out in French, relatively than Castilian, toes, suggesting its designs got here from the different facet of the Pyrenees. Like another church buildings in the area, Saint James’s is assumed to have served as a mannequin for church buildings in-built Seville and Córdoba after King Ferdinand III’s profitable reconquista campaigns in Andalucía.

“We’ve accomplished some small repairs and bits of restoration, like changing the vestry flooring, placing new doorways on the towers and defending the belltower from the injury accomplished by pigeons,” says Moreno. “However we’re only a small affiliation with very restricted financial assets.”

Whereas the group is vastly grateful for the €1m the regional authorities of Castilla y León has spent on shoring up the constructing’s exterior, it thinks additional funding will permit the church to function as a cultural centre the place concert events, exhibitions and e-book launches might be held. That, in flip, will carry folks and cash into one of the emptier components of a rustic that in the Franco period noticed big numbers of inhabitants desert rural areas to seek out work in the cities.

Enrique Gutiérrez outside cathedral door
Enrique Gutiérrez: ‘There isn’t one other church like this that has stood untouched for 800 years.’ {Photograph}: Sam Jones/The Guardian

As Moreno notes, páramo can imply wasteland in addition to moorland. “It’s not simply known as la catedral del páramo as a result of of all the plains that encompass it; it’s additionally in a demographic sense as a result of there’s nobody right here now. The area as a complete presents a really clear illustration of what’s happening throughout inland Spain.”

The thought, he says, can also be to “carry somewhat hope to what folks have just lately taken to calling the ‘hollowed-out Spain’”.

His fellow volunteer Enrique Gutiérrez is equally obsessed with the constructing and its transformative potential. He argues the church is just too giant and too beautiful to have served such a tiny neighborhood and that it could as soon as have been related to a small, now vanished, monastery on the Camino de Santiago.

“There isn’t one other church like this that has stood untouched for 800 years – it’s simply as the stonemasons left it,” Gutiérrez says. “You may see the transition from the Romanesque to the Gothic, and the way easy, elegant and harmonious it’s.”

Moreover, he provides, pointing at the heavy equipment outdoors the parish home: “There’s lots of land and there are homes that could be restored. It might be nice to get folks again right here.”

Some are already drifting again. José María Bustillo, who was born in his great-grandparents’ home in the village in 1957, has renovated the property and now splits his time between it and his dwelling in Barcelona. Others come for the summer season, however he’s the solely official resident of the village he left with his mother and father when he was seven.

tumbledown buildings in village
Most of Villamorón was abandoned nearly 50 years in the past. {Photograph}: Sam Jones/The Guardian

“We’d like capital right here to revitalise the entire place, however that’s been accomplished elsewhere not too distant, the place they’ve arrange a resort and a restaurant,” Bustillo says. “I feel that mannequin could work right here, too. Issues are very quiet round right here – which is sweet – however it will be good if there was a bit extra life from March to September.”


Bustillo concedes it’s a little tougher in the village in winter, “however if in case you have first rate heating you’re high quality. And the web isn’t unhealthy.”

Moreno, who co-founded the Buddies of Villamorón 18 years in the past, is practised, and affected person, sufficient to not anticipate miracles. However neither he nor his fellow campaigners will permit the church to slide again into neglect.

“Quixotic is the proper phrase in the case of describing initiatives like this,” he says. “We all know how tough they are often after we embark on them, however we nonetheless do it. And this isn’t nearly restoring a constructing, regardless of how stunning. It’s about making an attempt to take one thing that’s centuries previous and giving it life, use – and a future.”

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