We had to cycle about 20 km south from Tremp on the highway to Isona today, so left early in the morning. About 4 km south of Tremp are the town of Vilamitjana and Santa Llúcia de Vilamitjana, a small, rustic twelfth century chapel, but the road to the church was not marked and there was no obvious candidate, so we reluctantly continued along the highway, hoping that we could make a quick trip another time to Vilamitjana (we didn’t). We also gave Santa Maria de Figuerola Orcau a miss as it was a few kilometers off the highway. It is a large, much transformed parish church with a unique belfry having six openings on three levels. I always hate to give up a chance to see any Romanesque church, but I had set a high priority on seeing the carved tympanum at Santa Maria de Covet. Besides, we would be able to see Santa Maria de Figuerola Orcau from the bus we took back from Isona.
As we reached Isona our first task was to find the road which meandered past els Masos de Sant Martí to Covet. It was coloured white in the atlas which meant that it was probably a dirt road. After several false starts, we found a road in approximately the right place so we took it. It was fairly smooth and there were very few cars so it was pleasant cycling.
It was clearly an agricultural district. At one point we could see a cloud of dust (I assumed that it was a truck) and a car driving through a field parallel to the road. As we got closer we could see that the dust was due to a shepherd and his two dogs driving a herd of sheep and goats. They had left the road before we got to them. Very shortly after we reached Sant Martí dels Masos de Sant Martí.
Sant Martí dels Masos de Sant Martí is a very simple twelfth century Romanesque church. It has an apse to the east and a charming rustic character, particularly with its three baby buttresses which support the southern wall.
We contintued and climbed to Covet.
Santa Maria de Covet is a twelfth century Romanesque church. It is in the shape of a Latin cross with a transept, three apses in the east, and a tower to the north.
The apses have some wonderful corbels which Ellen enjoyed photographing.
But the reason for coming to Santa Maria de Covet was the west portal. The lintel is failing and the tympanum has cracked and is presently held up by a temporary support. I hope that it can soon be repaired.
The door still has its original twelfth century ironwork.
The iconography of the portal is extremely interesting. It is read from the outside towards the centre. The outermost archivolt depicts the idea of sin and imperfection, and as we progress inward we have salvation and redemption until in the tympanum we have the perfection of God. It conveys the idea that the closer you are to the centre the closer you are to God.
- the outer archivolt, the left part of which is badly degraded, depicts the original sin, astrology (Gemini the devil), acrobats, desperate men pulling their hair, and musicians.
- Prophets appear in the middle archivolt representing the announcement of salvation: the Virgin and Child accompanied by a Isaiah, a man between two lions (Daniel or David?), an angel holding a cross, and a man with two doves.
- Evangelists and angels populate the inner archivolt and represent the arrival of redemption: the winged lion symbolizing Saint Mark and three angels, two of which appear to be St Michael.
- the tympanum contains the Pantocrator enthroned in a mandorla supported by two angels between the angel of Saint Matthew and the eagle of Saint John. As I said earlier, the inner archivolt contains the lion of Saint Mark on the left. On the right there is a figure which is badly degraded and unidentifiable, but probably represented the bull of Saint Luke. The portal probably originally contained the Tetramorph, but the “heavenly” figures were in the tympanum and the “earthly” figures were in the archivolts.
The four capitals are also very interesting. On the extreme left there are men fighting lions in the pose which I associate with Samson. I don’t know why it is repeated except for the sake of bilateral symmetry.
While we were studying the sculpture a car drove up and one of the occupants got out and walked around. The driver asked us if we were on the Camí de Sant Jaume (we told him that we were not) and told us that although he lived only 20 kilometres away this was the first time he had visited this church.
We left Covet and found that the road in this direction was paved, but unexpectedly we had to continue to climb to the highway. The heavy day of cycling to Castell de Mur had taken its toll, so we were relieved when we coasted downhill on the highway and then cycled on a relatively level side road to Biscarri.
Sant Andreu de Biscarri is an eleventh century Romanesque church. It has an apse with Lombardian decoration (a series of two blind arches separated by pilasters). There are side chapels towards the east end of the church: the one on the south is rounded while the one to the north is rectangular. The church is simple but well proportioned with a unity of style which suggests that it was completed over a short period of time.
To the south are the ruins of the old town and castle.
Looking north we could see the Castell de Llordà and the tower of Sant Sadurní del Castell de Llordà.
Unfortunately, as we admired the panorama from Sant Andreu de Biscarri we could see a storm moving up the valley. We decided that we had better cut our day short (which meant that we would not see the Castell de Llordà except from a distance) and headed back to Isona.
We found Isona to be an interesting city. It has the remains of an Iberian wall, the façade of the old Gothic church, and there there was a special exhibit of dinosaurs bones when we were. It started to rain just as we got to the Cafè Modern where we had a beer and watched the locals have a meal or afternoon coffee and visit. It had a nice relaxed, friendly character. It was a pleasant place to wait for the bus (we were please to find out that there was a bus stop just across the street).
When we arrived in Tremp there was a strong wind. Ellen did some shopping as the rain pounded down. The rain stopped fairly soon but we had to wait for a window of relatively calm wind to cycle the three challenging kilometers along the highway back to the campground. We barely got to our campsite just as the rain came down in earnest. Preparing supper was impossible so we hunkered down in the tent and ate olives and tortillas spread with peanut butter. Better not use this tent in bear country!