The Romans were in control of Spain (except for the Basque region) for over 600 years, and left a lasting legacy that is seen even today. Latin was the basis for most of the languages spoken here. Christianity followed along with the conquerors and is still the dominant religion today. Peace in Spain began to weaken when Germanic tribes crossed the Pyrenees in the Iberian Peninsula in the late 3rd century AD.
Another Germanic people, the Visigoths became allies of Rome around AD 410 and were granted lands in Gaul (France). A hundred years later, when the Franks pushed the Visigoths south, they settled in Toledo, making it their capital. There were fewer than 200,000 Visigoths to rule over a more-sophisticated Hispanic population numbering in the millions. The Visigoths weren’t particularly loyal to each other and cracks began to appear within their own ranks.
Their king eventually converted to Christianity and the Visigoths began to absorb the local culture, and were eventually assimilated. The name ‘Roderigo’ is said to have come from the Visigoths. Little remains today other than a few churches in the north, and Santa Maria de Lara near the village of Quintanilla de la Viñas, is one of them.
A parish priest out walking in the countryside discovered it in 1921. It had been completely forgotten, hidden as it was in thick bush. In 1929 it was declared a national monument and excavations began a year later. What are seen today are the remains of the sanctuary, though it was originally a rather large basilica, with a Latin cross form. The foundation stones can be seen, slightly overgrown by grasses.
The stones were assembled, often without mortar and great care was given to the carvings on the interior and exterior. It is felt that the stones may have come from previous Roman buildings. In the surrounding countryside, there are several dolmens, remains of Celtic settlements and Roman villas were once situated here as well.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
The landscape south of Burgos seemed relatively empty for the most part, so when I read about a 7th century Visigoth church along the route we were taking to Covarrubias, I suggested to Anil that we make a stop and have a look-see. I had read about the Visigoths but remember little about them, and knew this would probably inspire me to dig deeper into their time in Spain.
It was a glorious sunny Saturday morning and the plowed fields were vibrantly red. We turned off the main highway and passed through a seemingly deserted hamlet and carried on towards the ruins of the church. We noticed another car following us and were a little surprised because we didn’t expect anyone else to know about the site. There seem to be very few tourists around at this time of the year, and even fewer using the Lonely Planet guidebook.
When we pulled up at the church, there were several other vehicles in the tiny parking area and a few people taking photos of the ruins. To our surprise, there was a young man acting as custodian, providing information and answering questions. When I thought about it a little, I realized it was probably a good idea to help to prevent vandalism at the site and, after all, it was the weekend when most visitors would be inclined to come.
The building itself was lovely in its simplicity and I took great care to study the carvings on the exterior. We were invited to enter the sanctuary where we found a small altar with fresh flowers and a cross with a rosary draped over it. The sunlight was streaming in through the tiny window slits giving the interior a sense of calm and peace. The custodian spoke excellent English and offered us a pamphlet we could read ourselves. Though a sign requested visitors to refrain from taking photos, our guide indicated it would be acceptable without a flash.
We didn’t stay long, none of the others did either, but it was still a memorable stop. Antonio, the custodian recommended a place for us to stay in Covarrubias, the Pension Galin, owned and operated by a friend of his. In the end, we took his advice, had a hearty lunch there and stayed in one of the simple, but adequate rooms.