San Miguel de Escalada is a slight detour off the pilgrimage road and worth it. It is a simple and harmonious church and the largest Mozarabic church in Spain. Christians coming from Islamic Spain (called mozárabes), from Córdoba in the south, arrived here to resettle in the north and built this church in the 9th and 10th centuries.
Twelve Mozarabic horseshoe arches in a row define the passage of the entry porch and inside the nave is also Mozarabic and built from older Roman and Visigothic materials, perhaps from ruins found here and nearby. The naturalistic plant designs and the horseshoe arches together reflect the strong Islamic influence brought from Córdoba.
As beautiful as the simple harmony of this small church is, it is also built in a location that has special qualities, as if the plants and animals engraved in the stone walls and capitals took their spirit directly from the surrounding land, plants, and animals. On the left side of the chancel is a beautiful engraving what looks like a goose plucking grapes off a vine.
Dedicated to Saint Michael, it is oddly not built on the highest point of the hill, which is the usual tradition but church inscriptions imply that the present church was actually built over other ruins.
Archaeologists took this cue and excavated under and around the church and discovered a 4th or 5th century Roman villa. They also identified the outlines of other walls—rectangular rooms—around the villa that dated to somewhere between the 6th and 9th centuries. They additionally uncovered four burials dating to the Visigoths, one that was a child.
It appears that the earlier floor and wall of the villa became the basis of a 10th century monastery that was dedicated to Saint Michael but then abandoned and possibly again destroyed. The whole complex became the next foundation for the present church, also from the 10th century, and rededicated to Saint Michael.
When you stand back and take in the hill on which San Miguelwas built, it does seem that the builders picked the most lyrical spot to synchronize the shape of the building and the sweep of its roof with the surrounding hills. Escalada means climbing or scaling. Saint Michael Climbing. It is a slightly different dynamic for the archangel so often depicted sweeping down from the highest places and slaying dragons and it adds color to his repertoire.
Next stop, León.