Science Spain , Zamora, Tuesday, May 26 of 2015, 17:57

Work on historical buildings in the province of Zamora

Leocadio Peláez, an architect and researcher at the University of Salamanca, explains the keys to restorations such as that of the Church of Valdefinjas or the Church of Santiago del Burgo

José Pichel Andrés/DICYT Together with a multi-disciplinary research team including historians, archaeologists, geologists, chemists, and engineers, the architect and researcher of the Polytechnic School of Zamora of the University of Salamanca Leocadio Peláez has been carrying out studies and intervention projects in various buildings and historical ensembles in the province of Zamora for over twenty years.


“There is a very close relationship between the various approaches that each of the disciplines contribute to knowledge of the monument and how they condition subsequent intervention”, the expert declared to DiCYT.


The results of this work include the action carried out on churches such as that of San Ildefonso or more recently that of Santiago del Burgo, both in Zamora, and on that of San Lorenzo in Toro; the restoration and promotion together with the architect Pedro Lucas del Teso of the Roman camps of Petavonium; and the various stages of the work carried out at the Monasterio de Santa María de Moreruela since the 1990s.


The most recent project was that of the Church of Valdefinjas, which was sold into private hands by the Bishopric of Zamora given its ruinous condition; it was among the assets recently acquired by the LVMH Group (Bodegas Numanthia). The new owner decided to halt the ruin by consolidating the structure of the building.


The apse of the church is one of the early works of the distinguished Renaissance architect Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón, who built the Palacio de Monterrey in Salamanca, the School of San Ildefonso (the current vice-chancellor's office of the University of Alcalá de Henares), and the parish church of Villamor de los Escuderos. It is noteworthy for its octagonal apse which was to be culminated by his definitive work on the chancel of the Cathedral of Ciudad Rodrigo.


During the work at Valdefinjas “it has been possible to document most of the building process of the church, together with the various stages it underwent during the 500 years of its existence, such as extensions, ruins and collapses, and alterations”, Leocadio Peláez explains. “An archaeological operation was carried out to clear the material from the collapses so as to recover the impressive rib vault that covered the apse, which was found among the rubble and which will be replaced in future operations”, he adds. The first stage of the work was completed last summer and the church is expected to be adapted for a new purpose in the future.


Santiago del Burgo


For natives of Zamora another intervention is probably much more familiar, i.e. that which has now been completed on the Church of Santiago del Burgo right in the centre of the town. It is the only Romanesque church in Zamora to retain its original three-nave structure in common with the Cathedral.


The restoration of this 12th-century building was undertaken in its entirety by the Regional Government of Castilla y León and “involved the discovery of the monument from its origin, its proportions, its height, the evolution of its construction over the centuries, its collapses, and its reconstructions”.


The tower and the central vaults were dilapidated and the beauty of the building was “veiled by the lack of light and by dirt and neglect”, so “it was satisfying to us to recover and consolidate the church while retaining its essence”. “One of the main sources of pride in any of our projects”, he comments, “is for the building to play the leading role and for our work to go unnoticed”.


The action to be taken in the case of a monument in poor condition is similar to the process by which someone who is ill is treated. “The patient is sent to specialists to have tests carried out such as X-rays or blood tests, and we carry out historical, documentary, and archaeological studies, we study the condition of the materials, we analyse the building problems, and we then develop a project for intervention”, he summarises.


Santa María de Moreruela


In over 20 years the project that has united the team more than any other, that its members have put most into, and of which Leocadio Peláez speaks with most passion is that of the Cistercian monastery of Santa María de Moreruela in the village of Granja de Moreruela in the province of Zamora.

The first contact with this impressive monumental ensemble was its planimetric documentation, which has been continuously revised to include all new data and discoveries. Work has been carried out on the apse, on the church itself, and on two cloisters, “always in a coordinated manner while learning not only from the various viewpoints of the different professionals in the team, but also from listening to the building”.


The result of this study is the book “Moreruela. A monastery in the history of the Cister Order”, which was published by the Regional Government of Castilla y León in 2008 and is a work of reference for various subsequent publications, websites, and even doctoral theses.


“The latest intervention was the recovery of the 17th-century cloister; during the work we found new information on the medieval monastery”, the architect emphasises. The construction attached to the new cloister concealed but did not destroy part of the 13th-century medieval monastery, which will be the subject of future research.


“Carrying out work on a historical building”, he stresses, involves "research and the development and execution of this work with a multi-disciplinary group of professionals”. Without such a team and without the necessary preliminary studies and the resultant final reflections, “we are unlikely to be able to approach, act on, and preserve our heritage”.