The art inside Andorra’s churches

Andorra has a deeply rooted ecclesiastical tradition, and proof of this are the countless churches that are dotted around the Principality. Despite there being a number of different styles, the most important – and the most impressive – are without a doubt those built in the Romanesque style.

The country’s churches are well-preserved and have undergone little modification, whether in towns, high up in the mountains or sat atop a hill offering spectacular views of the valleys.

THE CHURCH AND ITS ROLE IN ANDORRAN SOCIETY

The church has always played a very important role in the history of Andorra. Exerting a great influence in all areas of society, it has been key to the survival of the institutional system, which has allowed the country to remain an independent and neutral nation, without any military force and with excellent internal organisation.

As such, not only was the church a place of worship and faith, but it was also a meeting place and refuge for the people of the country.

THE MOST IMPORTANT ROMANESQUE CHURCHES

The Romanesque period was a very significant time in Andorra. Even today, we can see plenty of monuments and buildings that date from the 11th and 12th centuries and that have withstood the passage of time, maintaining their beauty and essence. In terms of religious buildings, there are more than 30 Romanesque churches scattered throughout the parishes. 

They are usually small, sober buildings, and some of them still house Baroque altarpieces and other works of art. Interestingly enough, some of these churches are among the ten Andorran monuments put forward as part of the “Material testimonies of the construction of the State of the Pyrenees: the Co-Principality of Andorra” project, as the country seeks designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Here we will go on a tour of some of the most unmissable Romanesque churches found in the Principality.

Churches in Canillo

Church of Sant Joan de Caselles
Built in the 11th and 12th centuries, it has a trapezoid floor plan, a semicircular apse and a bell tower that sits apart from the central nave. Its porticoes, constructed in the 16th and 17th centuries, are in an excellent state of conservation. The interior is decorated with an altarpiece with Renaissance influences and various Romanesque scenic murals.

Sanctuary of Meritxell Basilica, the patron saint of Andorra
Located in the village of Meritxell, in the parish of Canillo, this is Andorra’s most important religious building as it contains the image of the Virgin of Meritxell, the patron saint of Andorra who is celebrated on 8 September. The original chapel, damaged by a fire in 1972, was of Romanesque origins. The new sanctuary, opened in 1976, was designed by Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill. It currently holds the title of minor basilica, granted in 2014 by Pope Francis, and forms part of the Marian Route.

Churches in Encamp

Church of Santa Eulàlia
Renovated in the 18th and 20th centuries, it has the tallest Lombard-style Romanesque tower in the country: measuring 23 metres tall, it comprises three storeys and is topped by a wrought iron cross. The church is located in Encamp town centre and it houses a baptismal font and Baroque altarpieces from the 17th and 18th centuries, among other works of art.

Church of Sant Romà de Les Bons
It is part of Les Bons historical site and is the only church in the country with a Lombard-style semicircular apse. Over the centuries, it has undergone several modifications, with a porch, water tank and four-storey defence tower being added, among other things. There are also traces of a 13th-century civil house and it contains an altar table and Romanesque copies of paintings by the Master of Santa Coloma.

Churches in Ordino 

Church of Sant Corneli i Sant Cebrià
In the village of Ordino, this church is home to one of the smallest images of the Virgin: measuring just 44 cm tall, this polychrome wood carving of the Virgin of Los Remedios can be traced back to the 11th and 12th centuries. Curiously, all of the bars on the church come from the forges of Ordino, where they were made in the 17th and 19th centuries.

Church of Sant Martí de La Cortinada
Found in the village of La Cortinada, it has undergone several modifications over the centuries, including a change of orientation. One of the most important features of the church is its outstanding pictorial decoration, with its walls being adorned with murals from the end of the 12th century, in addition to a large Baroque altar and altarpieces.

Churches in La Massana

Church of Sant Cristòfol d’Anyós
In the village of Anyós, this church is perched on top of a hill at an altitude of around 1300 metres. Dating back to the 12th century, from this vantage point you can see the entrance to Escaldes and take in views of the towns of Sispony, Ordino and La Massana. A number of 16th-century paintings can be found inside the building.

Church of Sant Climent de Pal
Dedicated to Pope Clement, it was built in the late 11th and early 12th century. It has a three-storey Lombard-style bell tower with mullioned windows with rounded arches, and inside is an altarpiece dating back to the Baroque era, a granite baptismal font and a 13th-century carving of the Virgin of Los Remedios, among other works of art.

Churches in Andorra la Vella

Church of Sant Esteve
In the heart of the old town of Andorra la Vella, this church is located near Casa de la Vall and just a stone’s throw from the Comú government building. It has  and a 3-story square bell tower. The church is still home to Baroque altarpieces depicting Saint Lucy and John the Baptist.

Santa Coloma Church
Found in the village of Santa Coloma, it is one of the country’s oldest buildings. Of pre-Romanesque origin, it was built between the 8th and 9th centuries and modified over time. It has a rectangular floor plan and a circular bell tower that stands almost 18 metres high. In the apse, there is video mapping of the murals that would have adorned it when it was first constructed. This church can be visited alongside Espai Columba.

Churches in Sant Julià de Lòria

Canòlich Sanctuary
At 1635 metres above sea level, it was built in the 20th century although its foundations date back to medieval times (1176), as can be seen in the image of the Virgin, dating from the 11th century. It was crowned by the Vatican in 1999 and nowadays it is located inside the parish church of Sant Julià i Sant Germà. The Sanctuary features a Baroque altarpiece and ceramic murals.

Church of Sant Serni de Nagol
Its position atop a hill offers visitors exceptional views of the entire Sant Julià de Lòria valley. This small building is best known for its Romanesque paintings, while it also preserves part of the original decoration and altar. On the façade wall there is a bell tower with a double opening.

Churches in Escaldes-Engordany

Church of Sant Miquel d’Engolasters
Sat near Lake Engolasters, it has a rectangular floor plan with a nave and a semicircular apse. The bell tower is 17 metres high, and on the outside you can see sculpted heads at the top, in between the arches of the mullioned windows. Also worth mentioning are the fine pictorial and sculptural decoration found inside the church.

Church of Sant Pere Màrtir
Built in 1956, this Neo-Romanesque church is dedicated to wool-makers, given the importance of the textile sector at the time. Made from granite, the exterior façade is decorated with ceramics and prints depicting the Beatitudes, crafted by the sculptor Sergi Mas. There is also an Immaculate Virgin, the work of the sculptor Josep Viladomat.

STRUCTURE AND ARCHITECTURE OF THE ROMANESQUE CHURCH

This artistic style was developed in Western Europe from the mid-tenth century to the thirteenth, coinciding with the decline of the Carolingian Empire.

Romanesque constructions – which were initially austere and functional, made from rubble masonry as the main material – assimilated Eastern elements, as well as their clear Roman and Lombard influences.

Their thick walls give them their characteristic solid appearance, with barrel-vaulted naves and aisles and semicircular arches held up by columns and reinforced by buttresses on the outside.
Their structure consists of a Latin cross plan, with clear spiritual symbolism as this represented the body of Christ to some extent.

The number of aisles varies, from none to four. Usually, there are two aisles and a wider nave in the centre. At the front is the apse and the altar. In early Romanesque churches, the door is on the southern wall and constitutes the only opening, or sometimes there are double-splayed windows, but not many of them.

Over time (eleventh century onwards) sculptural embellishments were added to windows, capitals, doors and other elements. The openings – windows and rose windows – are oriented from east to west to make the most of natural sunlight, which lights up the whole nave.

In Andorra, chapels with one nave and no aisles or two aisles are common. Interestingly, the term ‘Romanesque’ we use for this artistic style is nowhere near as old as the monuments, churches and objects it refers to. The word was coined in the early nineteenth century by two archaeologists, Charles de Gerville and Auguste Le Prévost, to differentiate from the term ‘Gothic’, which has been in use since the sixteenth century.

MUSEUMS AND RELIGIOUS ART IN ANDORRA

Religious art plays a fundamental role in Andorra, so much so that the country is home to some fine examples of buildings and exhibitions displaying it. Get to know them!

  • Visit the Sacred Art Museum
    At the museum, just a few metres from the Church of Santa Eulàlia d'Encamp, you can find countless liturgical objects, including a bronze thurible from the 14th century and a True Cross dating back to 1571.
     
  • Find out all about religious art
    In Andorra there are many monuments, churches, museums, chapels and historic sites linked to worship where you can appreciate fine examples of Romanesque religious art.
     
  • Video mapping at Espai Columba
    This is without a doubt one of the most modern and cutting-edge museum exhibitions found in Andorra. In addition to displaying objects of religious art, there is also a video mapping projection.

VISITS AND OPENING HOURS

All churches are free to visit, except for Santa Coloma, which is visited together with Espai Columba museum. More information on opening hours can be found at the tourism offices located in each parish.

During the months of July and August, the Romanesque For All programme offers free guided tours of six of the country’s best churches. Find out more here.

As you can see, our religious and Romanesque heritage is so extensive that it’s impossible to see it all in one trip. Immerse yourself in this cultural journey and discover all about our history, and ultimately, our roots.