The beautiful Romanesque church of Santa María is located in the valley of Arce, the foothills of the Pyrenees in north-eastern Navarre. It is surrounded by a landscape dug out by the river Urrobi and watched over the Sierra de Labia. To get there, take the NA-172 towards Orreaga/Roncesvalles
. Just before Zandueta, cross a small bridge over the river Urrobi and you will find the church of Santa María de Arce in the middle of a field; it is a superb end-of-12th-century church in the rural Romanesque style
consists of harmoniously-proportioned ashlars, with the side walls strengthened by buttresses. It is decorated with a line of dogs or corbels that are adorned with figures of men carrying out different activities: one is strumming a harp, another carries a barrel, a third opens his mouth… The windows, three of which open off the apse, form a pointed arch. The columns have a cylindrical shaft with a circular base and decorated capital, and also smooth with plant or Corinthian motifs adorned in a rustic manner.
is on the side of the Epistle and is protected by a small roof with blocks supported on decorated small overhanging eaves with animal heads, although some have deteriorated quite badly. It has a pointed arch with three archivolts and an exterior arch with plant motif scrolls. The central archivolt is smooth but the one on the interior is decorated with balls. The one on the outside also has small heads and pine cones. The supports of these arches consist of columns with decorated capitals, the two on the outside with plant motifs and the two inner ones with figures. Despite the fact that the state of repair of these capitals is not excellent, it seems reasonable to say that they correspond to the scene of the Ascension of Christ.
Stylistically, the church of Santa María de Arce ties in with a number of Romanesque churches in rural Navarre such as those at Echano, Artaiz or Gazólaz
. All of them clearly reflect the Romanesque style, which was very popular among the people.
The church has a rectangular layout with three unequal sections, and a semi-circular header with a furnace dome. The roof consists of a barrel vault between through bounder arches. These are supported on bridge piers with smooth fascia that extend right around the perimeter of the church.
The vestry is attached to the header on the side of the Epistle and has an almost square layout. It is covered by a pointed barrel vault; entry is through a dintelled door with a reinforcing arch.
The church has hardly any objects inside it now, with the exception of the carving of the Virgin Mary with Child
from nearby Guindano, which presides over the apse. It belongs to the Gothic style of the 13th century but still has a certain Romanesque rigidity about it. A large stone baptismal font with a smooth shaft and bowl is also conserved.