The Church of Santo Domingo de Silos (La Iruela)

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The Church of Santo Domingo de Silos (La Iruela)

If you take a walk through the ruins of the church of Santo Domingo de Silos you will gain an insight into one of the least-known chapters in the history of these mountains. Few know of the events that took place between 1808 and 1812 in locations that were far away from the cities occupied by the invading French forces. Why would the French burn down a building like the church of Santo Domingo de Silos? It is clear that the French would only have come to such an inaccessible area very occasionally.

Evidence shows that, during the time of the French occupation, many guerrillas stayed in this area, using its difficult terrain to hide from the invaders. We also know that none of the towns were enthusiastic supporters of the government of Joseph-Napoleón Bonaparte, King José I of Spain; on the contrary, they banded together to organise defence committees in the administrative capitals and resist the French.

In many towns, fortification work was carried out and it was perhaps during this period that Segura de la Sierra Castle was once again, and for the last time, used for military purposes. The French response to the resistance was always the same, and consisted of sacking and destroying all the strongholds within the towns. Normally they set fire to the town halls, in order to destroy the archives and paralyse local administrations, and they also targeted churches in order to destroy the records of baptisms and deaths: however, the destruction of churches also had a psychological aspect, as it involved the destruction of a potential refuge for the local populace and the removal of the last recourse that people might have had during the invasion, namely the ability to go to church and pray for divine intervention.

Santo Domingo de Silos has a similar layout to the church of Santa María in Cazorla: three naves and a bell tower in a Renaissance style that would have been very much to the liking of the Camarasa family, who ruled the Settlement of Cazorla for much of the early modern period. On the 4th of June 1810 the church of Santo Domingo de Silos was set alight and destroyed by the French, and despite a number of attempts at rebuilding, it has remained a ruin.

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