Santa Maria de Lebaña is one of the few churches in the area which is open. It is in a superb setting at the bottom of a side valley off the Hermida Gorge. It is in an area of fertile land surrounded by massive stark limestone cliff faces. The church is below the village and there is a huge car park with a kiosk which is open in high season. In early May we were the only visitors. The attendant collected our entry fee of €1.50 each and gave us a leaflet in English. No photographs are allowed in the church and we were watched the whole time we were in there.
It is a nice square stone building with a pantiles roof with carved corbels and a variety of roof lines. The church dates from the 10thC and was attached to the Monastery of Santo Toribo who owned a lot of property in the area. It is described as one of the best monuments of 10thC Spanish art. The large arcaded porch on the south wall was added in the 18thC. The separate bell tower is 19thC. There is a small graveyard below the church to the south.
Entry is through the south door. The only light is through the door and the tiny Romanesque windows recessed in the thick walls. The central nave has four massive square pillars supporting round arches which separate nave and side aisles. The capitals of the pillars are carved with acanthus leaves (eternity), branches with leaves (fertility and triumph) and small roses (Christ). There is a small stoup on the pillar by the door and a rough stone font in the south aisle.
There are three apses at the east end. The central one is slightly large than the outer two. There is a small free standing altar in the middle of the church.
The rough stone altar gets a mention in all the guide books for the carvings on the front of it. The leaflet explains that the two circles at the bottom corners refer to earthly life, represented by the metaphor of the tree (trees crossed) and timing (horologio). The triangles or mountains (lzig-zags) and the skyline, linking both circles, underlines this concept.
The intermediate zone with two smaller circles indicates the spiritual character of the Christian heaven (concentric circles) through the Resurrection (eight-pointed star).
At the top, the two circles are dedicated to the salvation of Christ, (four-petaled flowers circumscribed to a cross or another flower with diamonds or precious stones). These are set in a larger circle (cosmogológica) with swastica sun rays and a cross on a small central circle (Christ as the Sun).
A huge and magnificent 18thC gilt reredos covers the wall above the altar. In the centre is a replacement of the original 15thC image of the Blessed Virgin of Bethlehem. Above is a carved scene of the crucifixion with St John and the Virgin on either side. At the bottom is an image of the risen Christ with St Peter and St Paul.
There is another splendid retable on the south wall with a carving of the Virgin of the Rosarie in the centre with St Anthony and the Christ Child. On the north wall a is an open carved wooden door which shuts off a smaller chapel with a statue of St Cecilia.
At the back of the south aisle is a small chapel again with a closed open carved door which a small altar and 16thC reredos with a carving of St Roch in the centre. On either side are paintings of St Francis and St Anthony of Padua. There is a small confessional in here.
At the back of the north aisle is a similar chapel with marble altar and reredos with a carved saint and paintings of St Peter with the key of Heaven and St Paul on either side.
This is a lovely small church but does need to be visited when it is quiet. We regretted not being able to take pictures.