In the incomparable setting of the Guesálaz Valley, 21 km from Estella-Lizarra
and near the Alloz Dam, we find one of the loveliest Romanesque churches in the area
. Although it was built in the twelfth century, its present appearance is due to the late Gothic reforms it had to undergo in the sixteenth century because of an accidental fire after which only the walls of the old nave, the portal and the apse were left. As this did not match the temple's renavated look, it was replaced with a polygonal east end. The prismatic tower and the sacristy, both rectangular, also date from this period.
But the importance of this church lies in its being a magnificent museum of works by Bernabé Imberto
, a pupil of the Romanist master Juan de Anchieta and one of the best carvers in sixteenth-century Navarre. The five altarpieces that decorate the interior of the temple are truly his best work. They were commissioned by Juan de Guíndano one day he came to he town on a visit. He found the 5 empty altar tables, supported on the bare walls such a dismal sight that he asked Bernabé to do the best he could. The result is 5 altar pieces
of different sizes that follow similar criteria, with dominating, dynamic vertical lines, although the sculpture work is not uniform. The main altarpiece is a very fine, original composition on three planes, representing the Nativity of the Virgin, while the other 4 are dedicated to saints who had their own shrines in the outskirts of town: Santa Catalina, San Ildefonso, San Cristobal and San Quiricio —the later having a Roman altar next to his shrine, a reminder of the area's prehistoric inhabitants.
The restoration and decoration of the church could not have been undertaken had it not been for the townspeople
. It was they who contributed considerable amounts of money over two centuries to pay the masons, sculptors and painters. In addition to these duties, they also had the patronage rights according to which the locals submitted to the church authorities the names of the abbot and his beneficiaries.
Such was the love of the townspeople of Garísoain of their church that some even wished to be buried inside the temple. Therefore, in 1598, the Bishop's Visitor ordered the marking of 5 rows of 8 graves so that 36 townspeople could pay to be buried within the church. There were 16 locals who paid the amount that as determined and who therefore lie sheltered by the Nativity of Garísoain.
The best way to get to know this church is through a guided tour
that includes the neighboring Church of San Román de Arzoz
and ends with a tasty morsel consisting of a tapa and a glass of apple cider.