Torres del Rio is a small town located some distance to the north of the present day highway linking Pamplona and Logrono. During the Middle Ages, however, not only was the town directly on the pilgrimage route, but it also served an important function as a beacon for the pilgrims from the lantern of its Iglesia del Santo Sepulcro church commanding a high hill. It is documented that the town had a monastery in 1109 before the Muslim invasion. The hilly site resulted in an irregular shape of the town, and at the entrance to the town stands the Iglesia del Santo Sepulcro, constructed under the auspices of the Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre at the end of the XII century. Invoking the name of Holy Sepulchre naturally conjures up a centralized plan.
In Torres del Rio, the master builder chose an octagonal plan, but with a twist. In order to create an apse spacious enough for the Chancel, the builder appears to have intentionally made the eastern side of the Church somewhat larger than the other sides. The entrance to the Church is located on the south side, basically at the midpoint of the broader façade being set up by the apse at the eastern end and the cylindrical stair tower at the opposite face of the octagonal volume.
We can be sure that the stone work is not the work of a dedicated group of amateur faithful, but that of a professional masons’ workshop. It has executed an excellent masonry of a finely proportioned design by the master mason. The lantern, also of octagonal shape, is placed directly over the dome.
The three-story design of the exterior is embellished with just the right amount of ornamentation, capped by the cornice with dentils.
The most significant element of the interior is the Islamic vaulting of the dome with the crossing ribs, reminiscent of the Mezquita at Cordoba, but more visually linked to the Aljaferia at Zaragoza. The space inside is as high up to the springing of the dome as it is wide between the opposing walls.
A small Christ on the Cross adorns the Chancel. Visitors’ perception of the direction of Jerusalem is enhanced by the axis visually reinforced by the apse in an otherwise “centrally” organized space.
Between the ribs for the dome vaulting, there are eight small openings with fine, starry textured grille work. Although it is not too visible, the ribs had been painted and inscribed with names of the apostles.
Note: this is a repost from June 2012. For more information on the author, Jong-Soung Kimm, please see this link.