The Atlantic Romanesque Plan works to valorize and recover the hermitage of Muga de Sayago and its mural paintings

The Atlantic Romanesque Plan works to valorize and recover the hermitage of Muga de Sayago and its mural paintings

The Minister of Culture and Tourism of the Regional Government of Castilla y León, Javier Ortega, and the President of the Iberdrola España Foundation, Fernando García, visited the chapel of Nuestra Señora de Fernandiel, in the town of Muga de Sayago, Zamora, to check the progress of the work being carried out in the building as part of the Atlantic Romanesque Plan, which is being promoted by both entities.

The intervention is focusing on the recovery of a set of mural paintings made around the 16th century. In addition to the restoration process, in order to guarantee its conservation and enhancement, the installation of a new electrical supply based on solar panels and a new ornamental lighting more in keeping with the history of the building are being undertaken.

The hermitage of Nuestra Señora de Fernandiel is located in the meadow of the same name, in the town of Muga de Sayago, in the province of Zamora. Its construction dates back to the 13th century, although in later centuries there were numerous alterations and modifications. The building stands out for the great extension of mural painting preserved within the large group of paintings of a more or less popular character that have been preserved in the southwest of Zamora, north of Salamanca and the Portuguese border area.

The Fernandiel paintings were executed by various groups of painters at different times in the 16th century, as can be seen in the differences in style and in the pigments chosen. The front wall is presided over by a pictorial altarpiece in which ochre tones dominate, and the whole was partially hidden by the gilded wood altarpiece, installed there around the 18th century. When it was removed, the different scenes and decorative motifs that compose it, all of them referring to the life of the Virgin, as well as a small excavated niche, which must have housed an old sculpture of the Virgin of Fernandiel, were left in view.

In the lateral walls of the chancel are represented characters of the Old Testament, specifically, the complete cycle of the Prophets, as well as others whose inscription has been lost, but that probably are Patriarchs and Kings of Israel. In the second body of the church in the wall of the first arch there are two pictorial altarpieces, dedicated to Santa Ana and Santa Brígida, which are the only two paintings dated with precision up to the moment, executed in 1541. On the side walls are represented evangelical passages, several Fathers of the Church and four saints.

Set of mural paintings and state of conservation

The mural paintings of Nuestra Señora de Fernandiel are made on lime and sand mortar, applied in two layers; plastered and rendered. Its scarce thickness shows the important irregularities of the building’s masonry. Drypoint incisions can be seen, corded to divide spaces and colored lines on the plaster used to fit the drawing. Most of the work is done dry, using egg tempera or casein, although the existence of a first work done in fresco cannot be ruled out. The palette is made up of ochre, yellow, orange, red, brown, charcoal black and blue colors.

The ensemble presented generalized dirt; superficial dust, more compacted greasy dirt and localized stains of different nature, such as the darkest ones caused by the proliferation of microorganisms. The state of conservation of the building, which was not ideal due to adverse environmental conditions and a lack of maintenance, showed runoff stains and washings of the pictorial surface due to old water filtrations from the roof. Added to this were saline manifestations such as the whitish veils located mainly on the south wall, crystallizations of soluble salts that have caused the decohesion and breakage of the mortars and an important biological colonization.

In addition, the pictorial layers presented important alterations such as: cracks due to structural movements of the building, loss of union between the different layers, pocketing, material losses, decohesion or sandblasting, as well as numerous losses of polychromy. On the other hand, the successive reforms that have been undertaken in the building have also affected the set of mural paintings. Thus, for example, at a certain moment, an opening was opened in the south wall of the presbytery with the consequent loss of the polychromy. The application of cements and plasters in various repair interventions, the chipping of almost all the paintings on the lower part of the walls, abrasions, blows, scratches and even some graffiti were also noted.

Preliminary studies and treatment

Prior to the intervention, different analyses and information gathering were carried out: photographic documentation, non-destructive physical studies with different types of lighting, taking samples for later analysis in the laboratory, damage mapping, solubility tests of the pictorial film, as well as the dismantling and sealing of the pieces of the altarpiece in order to free the paintings of the chancel that were hidden.

The work began with the elimination of the surface dust, previously fixing the polychrome areas. The consolidation treatments were based on the mineralization of the decohesioned areas of mortar, the adhesion of the separated layers by injecting adhesives and the help of precision props, and the filling of the hollow areas with deep injection mortars.

The cleaning was aimed at eliminating foreign substances from the work and was carried out after the necessary stability and solubility tests were performed on the different colors. Finally, the correct reading of the paintings will be recovered through the application of mortars that regularize the walls and the chromatic reintegration of the areas of lost polychromy, following the criterion of minimum intervention.

Altarpiece and carving

The treatments on the altarpiece and the carving of Nuestra Señora de Fernandiel have been based on the settlement of the polychromy, the material consolidation, the structural reinforcement, the cleaning of the polychromy, the elimination of the abundant repainting and additions, and the volumetric and chromatic reintegration necessary for its correct reading. The assembly will be carried out in the last section of the nave in order to free the pictorial walls of the chancel.

Renovation of the electrical installation and lighting

In order to enhance and value this unique set of mural paintings, the intervention of the Atlantic Romanesque Plan includes the installation of a new ornamental lighting, more in line with the building, which will provide optimal light levels and improve the color rendering index of the mural paintings in order to achieve a significant improvement in the visualization of the space. To achieve this, the most advanced LED technology will be applied, which will accentuate the beauty of the mural elements through a design that respects the heritage and spiritual values of the building.

First of all, a system of photovoltaic solar panels and stationary batteries will be installed in the building next to the church to accumulate the energy. From there it will be taken to the church by means of an underground installation to generate the least possible visual impact. The new installation will not only improve the visualization of the hermitage and its paintings, but also constitutes a more sustainable and efficient system than the old diesel generator.

To complete the intervention, the project contemplates the conditioning of the small annex building to transform it into an information point of the Atlantic Romanesque Plan and a place to sell local products, which can be managed by the City Council.

Atlantic Romanesque Plan

The Atlantic Romanesque Plan is a cross-border cooperation initiative for the conservation of cultural heritage, which includes projects for the restoration and enhancement of some twenty Romanesque temples located in the Spanish provinces of Zamora and Salamanca and in the Portuguese regions of Porto, Vila-Real and Bragança.

The Plan is an example of institutional cooperation and public-private participation, as it is promoted by the Junta de Castilla y León, the Iberdrola Spain Foundation and the Portuguese Ministry of Culture. Parallel to the intervention in Muga de Sayago, work is being carried out in the province of Salamanca, where the project for the refurbishment of the interior of the church of San Martín de Tours is being finalized, and in Carrascal de Velámbelez, where the church’s lighting is being buried and renovated.