Saint Bartolome the ancient Church Javea
In the long history of the town of Xabia, or Javea, different cultures have exerted their influence on the land, the architecture and the customs. Much of that legacy has been lost to the wear and tear of time and the incursion of successive dominions, but some of the landmarks left behind have endured for many centuries. One of the most notable of these is the Iglesia-Fortaleza de San Bartolomé or Saint Bartolome Church-Fortress.
Records show that as far back as 1244, the Moors who had been residing, farming and trading in the Xabia valley for five centuries were conquered or at least chased away by Christian troops directed by Jaume 1 (known today as James 1 of Aragon) and though there’s a lot more to that story, the bottom line is that the area now known as Valencia came to be firmly under Spanish rule.
The ‘conquerors’, mostly troops whose origins were in Catalunya (more commonly known as Catalonia) proceeded to build their own settlement on a low hill, this was, in turn, the location of a much older settlement from pre-historic times, and they built a wall around it; thus began the real story of Xabia. As additional fortification was needed, they opted to construct a fortress as protection from pirate raids and other dangers, and what remained of that fortress is believed to be part of a 4th century tower that now forms what is known as the ‘apse’ of the Church of Saint Bartolome.
As the years went by and the settlement was repeatedly attacked by pirates from North Africa, still more walls and towers were built, and in 1513 the construction of the great Church of Saint Bartolome was begun, as much for a fortress as a place of worship. With the direction of architect Domingo Urteaga, the original building was comprised of native Tuscan sandstone dug from the side of Cap de San Antonio or from sea level in the Cova Tallada under the Cap, and designed for repelling invaders.
Today you can still see some of the battlements on top of the walls, and the openings or machiolations above the doors from which defenders could drop stones or anything else at hand on the heads of their attackers. Windows are high in the walls, letting in the light but too far up for enemies on the ground to reach – and presumably also ports for more missiles to be hurled by the tower’s occupants.
There is a story, not substantiated but often told, that in 1812 when Napoleon’s troops swept into town a chaplain inside the church threw rocks at them from a window. However the troops did storm the tower, and when they got in they threw the chaplain off the tower, possibly out the same window.
Inside there is a more church-like appearance, with a high vaulted ceiling with chapels around the sides between the buttresses. A gallery runs over top the chapels, with Ogee arches and big windows facing out (for throwing things as well as for light.)It was not until the 1700s that a bell tower was built, and it then served as a watch tower as well.
On notable occasions the bell tower has been put to its intended use, such as when in 1612 Felippe lll granted Xabia the honour of being named “Villa Real” a “Royal Town”. This proclamation finally separated the town from Denia and gave it official status, and the current citizens celebrated four centuries since Xabia’s ‘birth’ in 2012 with great pomp and ceremony. The bells of Saint Bartolome were chimed as part of the celebration, by no less than the Valencia’s Guild of Bell-ringers.
Through the years additions have been built onto and around the basic structure, but basically it’s a large nave in the Gothic tradition, with three chapels on each side. An Old and a New Sacristy and a Communion Chapel have been added at various times, and some of the ornamentation is still visible in the form of an historic coat of arms above the entrance gates and floral carvings around the doors.
There is a clock inset near the top of the campanile (bell tower) just under two arches at the top.
Appropriately enough, this Javea/Xabia landmark is located in the Plaza of the Church in the Old Town, and can be visited and admired on any weekday from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm, and in the afternoons, on weekends and bank holidays, for 30 minutes before mass.
The Church of Saint Bartolome is hardly a cathedral, but its purpose and function as protection from foes as well as a place of worship for the faithful has given it the status of Historic Artistic Monument.