When we started to plan our trip to Catalonia and I started to research Romanesque churches, one of the first to catch my imagination was Sant Pere de Casserres. This eleventh century Benedictine monastery overlooks a bend in the canyon which was made by the river Ter, 50 metres above the Pantà de Sau (Sau reservoir). The monastery, with no other buildings around it, is a very memorable sight on its bluff overlooking the reservoir and surrounding territory.
We started from Vic about 7:30 and cycled towards Sant Pere de Casserres. Cycling in the early morning is always pleasant and there was not much traffic. We were perhaps 5 kilometres from Sant Pere when we found a sign which pointed to a path leading to Sant Pere. We were in no hurry and decided to lock our bicycles to a tree near the start of the path and continue by foot. You see much more of the countryside by bicycle than you do by car, but you get a better feel of the countryside by foot than you do by bicycle. We could watch Sant Pere get closer as we walked and admired the plants, trees, and the reservoir below us.
There was restoration work being done on the roof and cloister so we couldn’t feel the full effect of the building. Sant Pere has three naves, each of which ends in an apse. The central apse protrudes further than the other two and is separated from the first bay by a triumphal arch. As I walked around there were several things which puzzled me. It is wider than it is long making it feel disproportioned. The altar is presently in the central apse and there is no presbytery in which to celebrate mass. The tower, which is on the south wall, is not much higher than the level of the central nave and gives the impression of being incomplete. It is clearly the work of a master architect and builder, and I had the impression that I was seeing a church which had never been completed. It would have been possible to continue by adding a transept followed by another four or five bays; alternatively, because the current bays are roughly square, the western bay could have become the transept and then three or four bays could have been added (the placement of the tower gives this explanation troubles). As it stands, the two bays could have functioned as a sanctuary and presbytery; Sant Pere de Casserres is isolated and if there was no congregation then the monks had all that they needed.
There were signs at the west of the church which gave information about churches in the region, some of which we did not know about. One said that Sant Pere de Casserres acted as an administrative center for the possessions of Cluny in Catalonia. I found this very interesting because I have long suspected that Saint Hugh of Cluny had a hand in organizing the pilgrimage routes.
There are anthropomorphic graves (see the Jaciment arqueològic de l’Esquerda below) outside by the apses. There is also a rectangular Romanesque building to the north of the monastery which I believe functioned as a hospital.
There is an old legend which says that the monastery of Sant Pere de Casserres was founded by the Viscounts of Cardona. The viscount’s son spoke three days after being born and said he would not live more than thirty days. After he died his body was placed in a locked chest on a mule. The monastery was built where the animal stopped.
We returned to our bicycles, stopping to eat our lunch on the way, and headed in the direction of our next stop, Sant Feliu de Savassona. We could see Sant Feliu above us so we locked our bicycles and started along a path through the forest. Not far along we came to the Pedre de Sacrifici. I don’t know how it got its name, but I believe tht there is an oral tradion that sacrifices were performed here. There is an opening at the bottom where neolithic remains were found, including two skeletons in the fetal position. It has lines and markings on it which appear to be man-made.
We continued up a stairway which was partly cut from the rock and arrived at Sant Feliu de Savassona, locally know as Sant Feliu de la Roca or Sant Feliuet. It has a tenth century sanctuary which acts as a rectangular apse and eleventh century nave. It is built on the site of an old Iberian town which was partly carved into the stone. We enjoyed clambering around the rocks and speculating that this indentation may have been used as a cistern, another for something else.
We returned past the Pedre de Sacrifici and continued on to Sant Pere de Savassona, a wonderful eleventh century church which has suffered very few alterations. It has a single nave and a simicircular apse. The exterior has the classic Lombardian decoration of blind arches between pilasters which I find very attractive. The belfry in the west has two eyes.
Our next stop was Sant Esteve de Tavèrnoles which is on the edge of Tavèrnoles near the town hall. It is another eleventh century church with a single nave which terminates in a semicircular apse. The apse is decorated with a frieze of deep Lambardian arches which are in groupes in five which continues onto the side walls. It has a magnificent bell tower attached to the south wall.
We probably spent the most time at the Jaciment Arqueològic de l’Esquerda, an archaeological site which is just south of Roda de Ter. It contains the remains of settlements between the eighth century BC and the fourteenth century AD. Noone else was there and we could wander around without any interruptions. We started to the north where the Iberian walls and buildings are from the fifth to first centuries BC. Informative signs indicated that there was a street which ran north-south as well as the functions of several of the buildings which included ceramic and metallurgist workshops.
To the south are the remains of Sant Pere de Roda, an eleventh century church and the remains of the mediaeval town stretches between this church and the old Iberian wall. The functions of several of the buildings are indicated including houses with shops, bakeries and communal spaces. I found it interesting to see the variety of burial methods which were used: simple graves (eighth and ninth centuries), anthopomorphic tombs (the shape of the human body was cut into the rock, ninth and tenth centuries), tombs made of stone slabs (see les Tombes de Can Boquetin in 08-18 My Last Day of Cycling!) (eleventh to thirteenth centuries), and collective graves (thirteenth and fourteenth centuries).