Virgen de la Balma Sanctuary / Morella // Spain

About three Kilometers from Zorita village, in a monumental rocky mass, by the riverside of the Bergantes river was erected the Virgen de la Balma Sanctuary. The origin of the veneration to the Virgin on this place, dates back to secular hermits installed on mountain caves. The increasing pilgrimage led to the construction of bigger sanctuary. Therefore, the church and attached inn were built in 1539. An extension of the inn was realized forty years later. Not many years after, nearby 1666, the administrators of the sanctuary decide not only to extend the church but also to build the campanile tower and a new interior portal. The Sanctuary, as pointed before, is totally carved on the mountain, in a natural shelter, protected with a traditional façade featuring balconies, balusters and chalk and hurdle walls, as so many usual buildings at the time.   A large flight of stairs lead to the big inn, which hosts a strange carved dining room. This refectory is also the only passage to the church. The entrance façade is very simple, flanked by two striated pilasters that support an opened-triangular pediment. Above, a little niche, topped with another pediment, hosts the actual image of the Virgen del Perdón, that replaces the missing original one. The actual hermitage and its oblique façade and campanile were built up in 1667, protecting the interior and irregular cave-church. Nowadays, a new rehabilitation project is being terminated, headed by the Valencian Architect Carlos Campos, featuring new facilities, as public lift and more rational distribution, though losing some curious particularities like the church access through the restaurant, which was maybe unique in the world!

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