Santa Eulalia Basilica – Merida - History and Facts | History Hit

Santa Eulalia Basilica – Merida

Merida, Extremadura, Spain

Santa Eulalia Basilica was an Ancient Roman church, the remains of which are located in Merida.

Peta Stamper

14 Apr 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Santa Eulalia Basilica – Merida

Santa Eulalia Basilica in Merida, known locally as Basílica de Santa Eulalia, is an Ancient Roman church the remains of which lie under the present 18th century church.

The namesake of Santa Eulalia Basilica was a girl who was martyred upon being burnt at the stake during the Christian persecutions under Emperor Diocletian. According to legend, she is buried nearby. Santa Eulalia Basilica is one of an ensemble of UNESCO World Heritage sites in Merida, Spain.

Santa Eulalia Basilica –  Merida history

The town of Merida was founded as Emerita Augusta by veteran soldiers of the Emperor Augustus in 25 BC. The location allowed the Romans to guard a bridge over the Guadiana river. Emerita was also one end of the Via de la Plata (Silver Way) – a strategic Roman gold route between mines. The city became increasingly important throughout the Roman Empire, and the buildings established by the Romans were repurposed later by the Visigoths and the Almohad Muslims who conquered Emerita in 713 AD.

After the town of Merida was reconquered by the Christian king Alfonso IX of León in 1230, the basilica of Santa Eulalia was built on both the remains of a 4th century Paleo-Christian church and Roman homes. The 13th century basilica was built primarily in the Romanesque style, but with characteristics of the Gothic and Baroque such as in the horseshoe arched doorway and an interior chapel.

During the later Roman Empire’s persecution of Christians, in 304 AD a devout young Eulalia escaped hiding to confront the local governor of Emerita. Eulalia insulted the Emperor Maximian and the Roman gods in front of the authorities and as punishment, she was stripped and tortured by the soldiers before being burnt at the stake. Eulalia, martyred for her piety, was often invoked as the protector of Christian troops during the Reconquista.

Santa Eulalia Basilica – Merida today

Today, enter the Santa Eulalia Basilica through the crypt or during worship hours, the beautiful arched doorway decorated with plant and bird motifs. In the atrium of the basilica you can freely visit the Temple of Mars, a tiny building dedicated to Santa Eulalia made from reclaimed pieces of marble used to construct the original Roman colony’s temple devoted to Mars.

The Santa Eulalia Basilica’s particularly interesting feature is the crypt, within which you can see the 20 centuries of Merida’s history through the Roman mausoleums, a tomb sealed with mosaics, or tombs from the Visigoth period sealed with marble.

Getting to Santa Eulalia Basilica – Merida

The Santa Eulalia Basilica is located a 2 minute walk from Merida’s train station on the Intercity, MD and REG.EXP lines. For those driving, Merida is a 53 minute drive from Cáceres via A-66 and parking can be found at Parking Cervantes, a 2 minute walk from the basilica.

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