The Church of Vilar de Donas

Enjoy a taste of art and history along the French Way.

By Regional Government of Galicia

Vilar de Donas Church (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

Vilar de Donas

This little village, just over a mile away from the St. James Way, is named after a former nunnery. All that remains of it today is the parish of San Salvador.

Vilar de Donas Church (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

The Church of Vilar de Donas' extensive collection of important works of art makes it one of the most beautiful and unique Romanesque churches in Galicia.

Plan of the church of San Salvador de Vilar de Donas (12th Century)Original Source: Galiciana. Archivo Digital de Galicia

It has a Latin cruciform footprint, with one nave and a gabled wooden roof. At the end of the transept (the cross part of the building's cruciform shape) are three apses; the central one being the largest.

Vilar de Donas Church (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

The only vestiges of the old monastic cloister are the three-pointed arches along one side of the portico, in front of the church's western facade. There are references to this cloister in historical documents.

Vilar de Donas Church (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

The late-Romanesque entrance is reminiscent of the work of Master Mateo, the sculptor and architect responsible for Santiago Cathedral's Portico of Glory.

Vilar de Donas Church (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

It has five archivolts, intricately decorated with carved motifs. Above the door is a projecting cornice, supported by an elegant frieze, above which are statues of St. Michael, St. Bartholomew, and the Virgin and Child.

Vilar de Donas Church (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

The centuries-old, original Romanesque ironworks on the door are of particular note. Their function is both supportive and decorative. This is one of a very small number of churches that still retain this feature.

Vilar de Donas Church (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

They are intricately made, with palmette motifs at one end and arrowheads at the other.

Church of Vilar de Donas (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

More artistic treasures await the visitor inside the church, such as the only example of a 15th-century Gothic baldachin in a Galician church. At the top of the structure is a miniature version of a fortress, which is identical to the nearby Castle of Pambre.

Vilar de Donas Church (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

Frescoes

Of all the artistic gems hidden in this church, the Gothic frescoes on the walls of the apse, painted for the Compostela Holy Year in 1434 (commemorated whenever July 25, the day of Santiago the Elder, falls on a Sunday) are the most impressive. They are considered to be one of Galicia's greatest works of art.

Vilar de Donas Church (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

Most of the fresco has been preserved, presided over by an image of the Savior. The main scene—the Annunciation—unfolds at his feet, interspersed with the window openings.

Vilar de Donas Church (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

Perhaps even more eye-catching are the paintings of ladies and gentlemen of the period. With their medieval headdresses, they allow us a glimpse of life at the time when the church was being decorated.

Vilar de Donas Church (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

There are also several headstones and tombs inside the church, belonging to knights of the Order of Santiago. They tell the story of the church and its close association with the St. James Way.

Church of Vilar de Donas (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

The monastery was donated to this Order in the late 12th century. Its main purpose was to watch over the St. James Way, and to protect pilgrims from attackers.

Vilar de Donas Church (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

The Order of Santiago founded its priory in Vilar de Donas. The deed of donation established it as the burial place of Galician knights of the Order, and as the place in which its annual chapter would be held.

Vilar de Donas Church (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

The order was composed of Christian knights who commended themselves to the apostle St. James before going into battle. Despite the order's military nature, its members viewed themselves as monks, providing care to the sick.

Vilar de Donas Church (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

They established a network of hospitals and infirmaries along the St. James Way. There is evidence of an infirmary in Vilar de Donas in the late 18th century.

Vilar de Donas Church (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

The close relationship between this church and the St. James Way has led to it being included in the designation of the French Way as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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