Approaching the rural churches of Gazeo and Alaitza, a few kilometres from Vitoria, is a call to aesthetic enjoyment, a return to the past to contemplate how the painters created their images trying to reach the illiterate people.
The Gazeo murals are located in the Church of San Martín de Tours, a small Romanesque temple built during the 13th century. Its Gothic paintings– possibly from the 14th century– were discovered in 1967 hidden behind a Baroque altarpiece, which helped to keep them well-preserved. The author is unknown, but historians suspect that it may have come from the painting workshop in Vitoria. There are those who maintain that they could have been inspired by the Knights Templar, knights in charge of the safety of pilgrims bound for Santiago
in the insecure territory of Álava. The murals have a clear catechizing function and are structured around a large Christ Pantocrator represented in the centre of the apse. Around it are distributed several figures, those who have been saved after the Judgment of the Souls. The Judgment is detailed below, next to a scene from Calvary. The rest of the paintings are in the vault and one is on the side walls. Above the vault are various scenes from the life of Jesus, from his childhood to his death and resurrection. The side wall depicts the Last Judgement and the damned entering Hell through the mouth of Leviathan. As a curiosity, a chained king parades on the front line.
Four kilometres away in Alaitza you can find the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, a 13th century Romanesque building. Inside is the second set of paintings, hidden until 1982 behind an altarpiece. Carried out with a schematic and monochrome technique in an ochre tone on the white colour of the vault, Alaitza’s paintings are of less artistic value than those of Gatzeo, but they are very attractive due to their enigmatic character. The images depict everyday scenes of medieval life, with a special emphasis on weaponry. Castles, knights and battles follow one another all over the wall. The soldiers are dressed in an English style and carry primitive crossbows, the so-called “goat’s foot.” We also find several pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela, with their staff and shell. All of this is framed in vegetal borders and scrolls along with other decorative elements. The answer to why a church houses such paintings, so far removed in their subject matter from what is typically seen, remains unclear. Given their similarity to some English paintings, some speculate that they could be from the 14th century, when the English knights under the orders of the “Black Prince” came to help Peter I of Castile. It is precisely through this historical fact that the images of the paintings could be related.
Gazeo and Alaitza represent two different ways of seeing the pictorial art of their time. Two artistic manifestations that complement each other, thus forming an interesting journey through Gothic painting. There is the possibility of enjoying the paintings of both churches by arranging a visit with the company Tour Agurain, responsible for guided tours of the region of Cuadrilla de Salvatierra.