San Clemente de Tahull Church, paintings that come to life

The church of San Clemente de Tahull is a Romanesque temple located in the valley of Bohí, in the province of Lleida, Catalonia. It has been declared a Historical-Artistic Monument since 1931 and, in 2000, a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is one of the most fascinating temples of the several Catalan Romanesque churches in the Bohí valley, in the Pyrenees of Catalonia. The Pantocrator found in the church of Sant Climent in Taüll is the iconic image of Catalan Romanesque.

A story that goes back to the 12th century

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

The church of San Clemente de Tahull was consecrated in December 1123. This dating has been achieved thanks to the inscription found on one of its columns. The inscription is now in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC).

Inscription found on a column of the church showing the date of consecration. Photo: Kippelboy
Inscription found on a column of the church showing the date of consecration. Photo: Kippelboy

The temple is located at the entrance of the town. It has a perfect basilica floor plan to which we must add three naves. On the outside, the Lombard ornaments stands out, which places the church in a stage of modernity already extended in the Italian regions of Verona and Mantua.

As proof of the magnificence of the Romanesque complex in the Bohí Valley, which includes more than nine churches, Unesco declared it a World Heritage Site.

Simplicity on the outside

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

The exterior of the church of San Clemente de Tahull is charming because of its simplicity. It is a construction with a basilical plan and three naves. The walls have the only ornamentation of the openings of the doors arranged here. Lombard decoration of the apses is harmonious. The central apse is decorated with arches arranged in groups of four. The windows complement the austere exterior ensemble. Next to the church there is an old cemetery.

Wonderfull paintings inside

San Clemente de Tahull
Photo: centreromanic.com

Although the exterior decoration is sparse in detail, the paintings inside the church are spectacular. To ensure their preservation, some of them were moved to the MNAC.

San Clemente de Tahull
Video mapping. Photo: vallboi.cat

Of the group of paintings there is one that stands out from the rest: the Pantocrator. Originally it was found in the central apse, combining all the characteristics that symbolize the representations of Christ: the oval circle around his figure, the lack of expressiveness, the evangelists represented with the shape of an animal and the chrismon used to symbolize the figure of Christ being the beginning and end of all things.

San Clemente de Tahull
Photo: catalunya.com

In this way, the Pantocrator of Sant Climent has been the image par excellence with which to represent Catalan Romanesque. Although the original is in the MNAC, an exact copy was reproduced in the same place as the original. In addition, an original musealization project has been developed here with the projection of a video mapping that recreates the paintings of the main apse. This is an innovative method in terms of pictorial restitution, using the opportunities for virtual reproduction of the video mapping, managing to show the interior of the church of San Clemente de Tahull in the middle of the 12th century.

As far as the rest of the paintings are concerned, the frescoes resulting from the restoration are also important. They can be found in the north apse, where the image of Sant Climent can be seen. Equally striking are the murals revealed during restoration work carried out in 2001. These murals represent Abel’s death at the hands of his brother Cain. Finally, three Romanesque carvings consume all the movable goods that are conserved inside the temple.

The Bell Tower

The bell tower of the church of San Clemente de Tahull is exempt and has a square floor plan. However, it is built very close to the church building, next to the chancel. Like the other Lombard towers in the Bohí valley, it is a high tower. Built in the 12th century, it stands out for its elegant style.

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

It has five floors, with a different number of windows on the four sides of each floor. On the top floor there are ceramic inlays and colours different from those of the stone. The measurements of the tower follow the canon of the minarets, that is, the height is equivalent to the perimeter. Creating a remarkable ensemble, a small bell is placed on the fourth floor of the tower.

The Church of Santa María de Tahull

San Clemente de Tahull
Santa María de Tahull Church. Photo: Shutterstock

In Tahull you can also find the church of Santa María. It also belongs to the Catalan Romanesque churches group of the Bohí Valley, declared a World Heritage Site. The church of Santa María is located in the very centre of the old town of Tahull. It was built at the same time as the church of Sant Climent and was also consecrated in 1123. However, during the 18th century this temple served as the only parish in Taüll, as the parish of San Clemente acted as the cemetery chapel.

*Main picture: centreromanic.com


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