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Ricardo Fernández Gracia, Director of the Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art.

Heritage and identity (23). Miscellany around the Feast of the Three Kings

Fri, 03 Jan 2020 09:52:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The Feast of the Three Kings has had a multifaceted projection, not only in its celebration with the little ones, but also as a milestone in the Christmas cycle, which, by the way, did not end until Candlemas, as the saying goes: Hasta la Purificación, Pascuas son.

Iconography of the magi, feast and fun, king of the faba bean, cars and representations, before the arrival of the parades in the twentieth century, made up a very deep experiences, in the middle of winter dates, with certain meteorological rigors. On Three Kings' Day in 1830, the capital of Navarre registered 14 Degrees below zero and left the holy water in the cathedral basins frozen. In 1885 and 1887 the cloister procession was suspended due to heavy snowfalls and heavy ice. In 1895, something similar happened and in 1889, despite the large amount of snow that accumulated in the cloister and the temperature leave, the procession and adoration of the relics was maintained.

Evocation through the arts

Painted panels, reliefs of monumental sculpture, altarpieces, canvases and engravings with images of the Epiphany served, in the past, to evoke the passage that was celebrated with illusion. The protagonism in those representations was assumed by the three characters with their rich and spectacular attire, crowns, headdresses and royal attributes.

If any scene of the infancy of Christ stood out in the figurative arts in the West, it was precisely that of the Epiphany, in logic with its significance as a manifestation of Jesus. Long before the parades became popular in the twentieth century, the reliefs and paintings of the Adoration of the Kings, present in cloisters, doorways, altarpieces and paintings of the temples, took on special significance in Christmas celebrations. The word, glossing the Gospel of St. Matthew, and those images were associated in perfect harmony.

The primitive clothing of the magicians was in the first centuries colorful and colorful, typical of the priests and wise men of the East. Later, during the Romanesque period, it became simpler, at the same time that their headdress was replaced by the royal crown. In this regard, it should be remembered that the concept of magician had been acquiring a pejorative tone, being equated to that of sorcerer, and they wanted to dignify their image by attributing to them a royal position. In the art of the centuries of the Modern Age, the Magi appear on horseback, with spectacular processions, dressed as Western monarchs, with ermine and rich cloaks, accompanied by crowns and scepters. The three kings were associated for some time with the three known continents, although they were also related to the three ages of man.

Something that must have attracted attention at the end of the Age average, in plenary session of the Executive Council 15th century, was the black color that was applied to the African king, known as Baltasar. The first representations in Navarre with dark skin for the aforementioned king are those of the main altarpiece of the cathedral of Tudela, work of Pedro Díaz de Oviedo made from 1487, another panel preserved in the cathedral of Pamplona from the end of the 15th century, which was in the presbytery until the reform of the cathedral and the painting of the altarpiece of the Visitation of Los Arcos already made by 1497. In sculptural works, one of the first examples with the black king is a work imported from the Southern Netherlands, the Triptych of the Epiphany of Artajona (1500-1510) of late Gothic aesthetics.

The liturgical feast in Pamplona, Tudela and Sangüesa

The celebration in the cathedral of Pamplona was always related to the Gothic sculptural group of the cloister and the relics of the Magi, which have a silver reliquary from the last quarter of the 16th century. The liturgical texts of the time of Bishop Arnalt de Barbazán, especially the Breviary of 1332, indicate the Epiphany among the feasts of the second category, called "Main". The handwritten memoirs of three centuries ago already record the celebration of a procession through the cloisters with two stations, the first one under the sculptural group of the Kings and the second one next to the door of the refectory. The music chapel took on a special role with the performance of various compositions, some of which were newly composed for the occasion. The bishop was in charge of the sermon. The cold made that the chapter arranged the placement of mats in the temple and in the choir to mitigate it. Even Don Juan Ollo, dean of the cathedral, refers in 1976 that, years ago, two large mats were still used to mitigate the cold in the cloister during the day of the Epiphany, in attention to the public that came to venerate the relic of the Kings.

A French priest exiled in 1797, Joseph Branet, describes the function of the day in the church of the Franciscans of Tudela, as follows: "Three large brothers singularly dressed, and one of them with his face smeared in black, entered the church at the beginning of the mass. They were preceded by a lantern, or lantern of very bright crystals, hanging in the air, which imitated the star, and they followed it. They carried in their hands the appropriate gifts that they were going to offer to the newborn child. They danced part of the mass, as well as many other children, to the sound of the organ, in which a gallegada or contradanza was played. They ended by taking communion at this mass. Thus ended this ceremony where there were many spectators".

In Sangüesa, Iribarren tells how the feast was celebrated with great prominence of the auroros or rosarieros, who went singing to the portal of Carajeas where the Child was, to whom they directed improvisations in verse and prose, ending with a good lunch. Over time, the scene became literaturized and since 1967 the "Auto de los Reyes Magos" has been performed with the participation of numerous people, who represent the composition versified in 1900 by the Capuchin José de Legarda for the local auroros. The streets of the town become stages along a route that ends in the church of Santiago in a mass presided over by the protagonists of the car.

Remembering the kings of Navarre until 1899 in Pamplona Cathedral

The oldest records of the feast in the Pamplona church tell of another singularity that consisted in the placement in the main chapel of a tomb or tumulus, in report of the kings, which remained during the entire octave. It was a small catafalque covered by a cloth that the chronicles call "the royal mantle", which we do not know if we have to identify with a "rich red cloth of silk and velvet", used for the same purpose during the second half of the nineteenth century.

One of the nineteenth century manuscripts gives a detailed account of that custom, as follows: "According to the old internship of this Church, a kind of tomb covered with a cloth of dark red velvet is placed in the plane of the presbytery, whose head or end closest to the altar rests on the first tier of the replan. This tomb is there from the first Vespers of the Epiphany until the end of the octave of the feast. The origin of the referred tomb seems to be, according to my colleague Don Fermín Ruiz Galareta, beneficiary psalmist that was of this Holy Church and very knowledgeable person of the antiquities and practices of the same one, that before there was in the presbytery a mausoleum or tomb of Kings, and in order without a doubt, to leave that place more expeditious, they agreed to remove it of there and that this tomb was placed during the octave of the Epiphany, as well as in the day of the Faithful Departed. The stone or tombstone that covered that sepulcher is, according to Mr. Galarreta, the one that today is embedded above the door of the upper cloister"

The informant mentioned, Don Fermín Ruiz de Galarreta Lavilla died in 1882 and appears as maitinante in 1836 and as chaplain in 1839. In 1855 he was invited to accept the first sochantry, which he accepted. His transcript retirement, after forty years of service, is dated 1879. 

The tomb alluded to is none other than the cover of a sepulcher recessed above the door of the cloister, which has been identified as belonging to Doña Blanca, daughter of Carlos III and deceased in Olite in 1376 or to the princess Doña Magdalena, mother and guardian of Francisco Febo, the latter hypothesis of Arigita. Stylistically, Martínez de Aguirre puts the work in relation to the French sculpture of the Reims orbit and the production of Jean de Liège.

Beyond the identification of the royal personage of the tomb and if this is the one that today is in the door of the cloister, what is really important is the confirmation that in the main chapel there was at least one stone tomb of the royal house of Navarre, which opens ways and hypotheses in relation to the monarchy and the first diocesan temple.

In 1899 the chapter agreed not to continue with that secular internship , with the angry protest of the canon and historian Don Mariano Arigita, who wrote: "I claimed in the name of history, but I was ignored".

The king of faba bean and other popular amusements

Among the customs inherited from the Age average, the king of the faba bean stands out, by which a child was elected "king" by means of the distribution of a cake, inside which a "faba bean" was hidden. 

The first documentary evidence of its celebration dates from the reign of Charles II the Bad (1349-1387) and the records of 15th century accounts show that donations to the "boy king" of money and wheat for his family were made at the expense of the royal coffers. The monarchs dressed the chosen boy with shirt, tights, coat, surcoat, sash, bag, cloak, cap and shoes, paying the expenses of the feast. In some occasions they even endowed the little king with money for his programs of study. mission statement of that "boy king" was to rejoice and recreate the Court. 

The celebration became popular later on. In Fitero, according to Jimeno Jurío, throughout the 16th century, he was known by the name of "the emperor", as in other towns like Tafalla, at the time when Charles I of Castile was the emperor. The elected and crowned child was considered as the highest authority of the municipality of lordship abadengo, during the day, presiding over the popular jubilations and giving orders to his vassals, including the abbot of the monastery Fray Martín Egüés to whom he ordered to dance "a la morisca" with a local woman.

The coronation of the "king of the faba bean" was recovered by Ignacio Baleztena and the peña Muthiko Alaiak of Pamplona, a century ago. Organized by this entity, it is held annually in a town in Navarre.

Of other popular rejoicings we are given an account of a bando published by order of the Real committee on December 31, 1765, exhumed by Ignacio Baleztena. From its tenor it is concluded about the disturbances that took place on the night of Epiphany. Its content is as follows: "Bearing in mind the committee that on the occasion of the rejoicing and festivity of the eve and day of Easter of the Three Kings, it has been the custom in this city and neighborhoods outside the walls to shoot firearms, flyers, firecrackers, wheels and other fireworks in the streets, going out in groups at night through them, cheering for whoever they choose as king, With the desire to banish such celebrations "because of the bad results in which they commonly end" , it was forbidden to go out in the streets, shoot guns and rockets, play music and riot, under the important penalty of fifty ducats. 

The text of the bando must be contextualized within the politics of the ilustrados of the time of Carlos III, where the popular was contemplated as an expression of backwardness. Soon after would come the prohibition of the disciplinantes in Holy Week (1770) and of the giants in processions and different religious acts, considering them a distraction before the faith (1780).

José María Iribarren collects several variants of the popular festivity in different localities and valleys. The Feast of the Three Kings was preceded by a night in which, year after year, some family rites were repeated, such as ringing cowbells, putting shoes in the windows, giving gifts and "echar el reinau". The latter took place at the end of dinner on January 5, when the head of the family dealt the cards from the deck and the one who won the king of gold was acclaimed as "king of the house" for a year, being cheered by the family members present, to the sound of percussion instruments and almireces, cowbells, cowbells and bell necklaces. 

In Allo and other towns of Tierra Estella, on the eve of Epiphany, the young men would write the names of the town's bachelors and bachelorettes on slips of paper, mixing them in two bags. Once the ballots were alternatively drawn, "couples" associations were made , in many cases crazy, being exposed publicly for knowledge of the neighborhood. The couples had to dance on the evening of the 6th, in a burlesque and joking atmosphere, in the manner of the "May and Maya" weddings of classical literature.