La Seu d’Urgelll
THE PRINCE-BISHOP OF ANDORRA
The Roman town of Urgell originally grew up on the hillside of Castellciutat dominating the extensive valley of the Segre and Vallira rivers, bounded on the North by an imposing mountain chain.
It was a Bishopric in the 5th century and was subsequently destroyed by the Moors in the 8th century; resuming its importance on the Carolingian conquest when it became the centre of a vast county.
In the Middle Ages, the town abandoned the high lands and extended over the plains, developing around the castle, the Bishop of which became an important personality, in the civil as well as religious sphere. From the 11th century the government of Andorra was divided with the Count of Castellbo and then with his successor the Count di Foix. He is still the Prince-Bishop of Andorra, and is therefore the only prelate in the world to have maintained a clearly medieval title and role.
AN ARCHITECT FROM LOMBARDY
The Cathedral of Santa Maria della Seu (from the Latin sedes, Episcopal seat), was begun in 1120, essentially the work of Raimondo il Lombardo (Raymond the Lombard), who resumed work on it in 1175.
This fine church has three naves with barrel vault on archivolts for the central nave, and rib vaulting on the side ones. With a very long transept which extends in a north – south direction.. With a dome over the transept. There are four small apses carved from the eastern wall. There are also two unfinished towers at the ends of the transept. The chancel is highly imposing however the perforated gallery of clearly Italian style gives it a lighter note.The same gallery can again be seen in the interior, in the transept. The eastern façade is also probably inspired by the North of Italy from where the architect R. Lombardo probably originated.To the south of the church is a wonderful Romanesque cloister with granite columns and capitals. At one end is the church of San Michele (which was at one time known as Saint Peter) dating back to the early Romanesque period. From here it is possible to reach the diocesan museum featuring a rich collection of art objects, dating from the 10th century to the Baroque period. Of particular note is a fine Beautus, a mozarabic manuscript dating back to the 10th century.
TRACES OF ANCIENT HERESY
The Episcopal group of Urgell is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful Romanesque complexes of Catalonia. However it is also necessary to discover the town in which they are set, and then leave it and take the Andorra road in order to reach the hamlet of Anserall in order to admire Sant Sadureni de Tabernoles. This was the monastery which housed Felix de Urgell, who spread the Christological doctrine of “adoptionism” during the Charlemagne era. Only the church chancel remains, built in the 11th century in an architectural style based on the Trinitarian concept, an evident response to the heresy of Felix, that placed doubt on the belief in the trinity.Avoiding the temptation of the luxury shops of Andorra, it is worth while continuing up to the high Andorra valleys in order to admire other Romanesque churches, which are very well conserved and often adorned with excellent medieval frescoes, in a wonderfully natural and largely untouched setting.