The church of Saint Mary is a Roman Catholic church situated 4 kilometres from Oviedo in the south outskirts of Mount Naranco, near a forest. Ramiro I of Asturias ordered it to be built as part of a royal palace. It was finished in 842. This construction is included in the Asturian pre-romanesque architecture.
The church of Saint Mary is a Roman Catholic church situated 4 kilometres from Oviedo in the south outskirts of Mount Naranco, near a forest. Ramiro I of Asturias ordered it to be built as part of a royal palace. It was finished in 842. This construction is included in the Asturian pre-romanesque architecture. The palace was part of a larger complex that also incorporated the nearby church of San Miguel of Lillo, 100 metres away. Part of the palace collapsed in the twelfth century and the palace was transformed into a church. Silensis chronicles of 1150 already registered it as a Saint Mary temple. The absence of an apse for the king’s throne suggests that it was designed as a countryside palace or a residence for recreational purposes.
The building was declared part of World Heritage by UNESCO in December 1985.
The palace, on a rectangular ground plan (21 metres long and 6 metres wide), has two floors. The total height of the building is 9 metres. The plan was quite slender. The upper floor is accessed via a double exterior stairway leading to an identical layout as the lower floor. The lower level has a central chamber and two located on either side. There are six blind semicircular arches along the walls, supported by columns built into the wall. This shows similarities with the Holy Chamber in the cathedral in Oviedo. It has been hypothesized that this central chamber was an audience chamber because of the seats arranged along the walls. At the sides of this central chamber there are two side chambers whose functions are not clear. The east chamber communicates with the central chamber and it is believed to be a sort of bathroom where the basin is preserved. The west chamber can only be accessed from the outside. It could be a cabin. The upper floor shows a similar layout: a central or noble hall with six blind semicircular arches along the walls, supported by columns built into the wall and a mirador at each end.
In the outside it easy to distinguish the buttresses that correspond to the interior arches. The facade is structured in three levels. The central level corresponds to the second floor. Three arches give access to each mirador. The central arch is slightly higher. The same structure but more reduced and stylized is repeated above forming the window of two chambers that cannot be accessed from the inside. It is believed that these chambers were designed to keep the royal treasure.
The main material used in the construction of this church was the block of stone.
The building was slender due to the introduction of elongated barrel vaults and transverse arches allowing support. Some solutions presented in this church were a clear foretaste of Romanesque style: the symmetry of buttresses, the different types of arches and the subordination of sculpture to architecture.
Saint Mary of Naranco represented a step forward from a decorative point of view. The rich decoration is concentrated in the hall and the miradors. Capitals are decorated with animals. This motif also appears in the 32 medallions distributed around the building. The medallions have decorative bands above them.
Decorative elements are subordinated to architecture creating harmony and beauty in the building.
Some scenes of Woody Allen’s film Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona were shot in this church.