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Time & Space Travels
Fresno el Viejo
Church of San Juan Bautista



Fresno el Viejo is an agricultural village, not far from Avila, of almost a thousand inhabitants.
For those unfamiliar with Spanish, fresno means ash. The village is located between the provinces of Valladolid, Avila and Salamanca.

In the early years of the 'reconquista' Fresno found himself in the no man's land between Arabs and Christians..
After the first successes of the 'reconquista' it became strategic to consolidate these territories and the Queen, Donna Urraca of Castiglia, decided to entrust the task of populating these territories to the Hospitallers of San Giovanni giving them a vast territory subtracted from the Arabs.

The church dedicated to St. John the Baptist indicates this chapter of history linked to the 'reconquista' and the consolidation of the conquests of the Kingdom of Castile and Leon.

Donna Urraca from Castiglia deserves more than a quote.

Like Matilde di Canossa or Alienor (Eleonora) of Aquitaine, she was one of those great medieval women who knew - with great intelligence and a bit of luck - leaving a deep mark in difficult times.

She found herself juggling the years of reconquest among more or less desirable husbands, alliances and marriages not always overlapping, reasons of the heart in competition with the reason of state, unhappy or canceled unwanted marriages, sisters and stepsisters, poisons and flatteries ...

Donna Urraca is portrayed on the frescoed vault of the apse of St. John the Baptist while donating these lands to the Hospitallers on 11 November 1116.

The church of San Giovanni Battista is a splendid example of Romanesque-Mudejar.

As the kind parish priest of Fresno El Viejo explained us (we warmly thank him: he welcomed us even if we had not announced, opened the church and accompanied us in the sight) the term 'mudejar' is practically the opposite of 'morisco': it indicates Arab workers who work for the new Christian masters. (The parish priest's work is also the drawings, which we have reproduced, which explain the damaged frescoes of the apse).

The Arab way of building can be seen immediately: the supporting structures are not mighty masonry walls as in the Romanesque churches to which we are accustomed, but succession of arches that the Arabs had understood capable of supporting the weight of large structures with a distinct advantage in terms of costs and stability.

An idea that can also be appreciated in Sicily (La Zisa and the Palazzo Reale in Palermo use the same architectural solution) and in the south of Spain. An idea that will go a long way and explode all over Europe with the Gothic style that entrusts exclusively the arch and not the walls the supporting function.

Another demonstration that good ideas have their own legs and still make their way ...

Inside the church some decorations have survived by the stone of the twelfth century: in particular two bicaudate sirens that are located on the capitals that allow access to the presbytery from the side aisle.

One of them is headless (he has certainly lived an adventurous existence ...) and the other has a vaguely masculine head.
But it is the place where they are located gives us an important indication of their meaning.
They seem to say 'Careful, you are about to enter a place with a different nature, a sacred place: crossing this threshold while remaining men and women you can feel part of the divine, as we are human beings and at the same time aquatic beings'.