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Back to 2014_03_03_FYL_Nuevas noticias sobre la imágen del Ángel de Aralar

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

New news about the image of the Angel of Aralar

Mon, 03 Mar 2014 13:35:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The well-remembered Fernando Pérez Ollo used to give his friends a Christmas gift of some bibliographical whim of his own, in the form of a monographic study of small format, but rich in content, with an abundance of unpublished notes. In December 2010 he surprised us with a study on the image of the Angel of Aralar, noting how its appearance does not entirely correspond to that which was supposed, corresponding to the intervention of 1756, when it was covered again "more neatly and decently than the old one", but also to the remodeling of the image as a result of the theft and destruction of the same in 1797. The recent finding of a drawing of the image as it was venerated, at least from the sixteenth century until the mid-eighteenth century, makes us know more of this icon so linked to the history, anthropology and religiosity of these lands.

An unpublished manuscript

Among the relatives of the bishop of Pamplona Don Pedro Aguado, of the Minor Clerics, who occupied the bishopric of Pamplona between 1713 and 1716, was the confessor and theologian Father Master Francisco García, who belonged to the same religious high school . Several documents inform us that "he applied himself with the greatest zeal to investigate the news concerning the famous sanctuary of San Miguel de Aralar, collecting papers, examining archives¿..." and even ordered to collect testimonies in Goñi with the oldest people of the place in 1715. His work was known by Father Burgui in the 18th century, but not by Don Mariano Arigita a century ago. The text was never printed and was traditionally considered lost.

The manuscript of the work by Francisco García de Palacios is preserved in the National Library Services . It was written between 1714 and 1716, the year of Bishop Aguado's death and the author's return to Madrid. It consists of 322 pages written on both sides and the work is divided into three large blocks, the first of historical character, the second and third of devotional content, including the favors of the archangel at all times. A prologue, the author's protest, the opinions of several theologians, mainly of the President of the Jesuit high school of Pamplona, together with rich indexes and some documents copied verbatim, as appendix, speak of the remarkable effort of its author, who shows great knowledge of books that collected the cult of St. Michael in Europe and America.

The manuscript can be consulted at network, thanks to the efforts of the Library Services Digital Hispánica, one of the projects of the Library Services Nacional, which in five years has managed to bring its collection to almost fifteen million downloads.
The author's devotion to St. Michael, co-patron of the Minor Clerics since 1711, can be felt throughout the pages of the manuscript and he also instilled it, if possible, in his prelate and lord. The whole episcopal family enlisted in the Aralar brotherhood in 1714, and even Bishop Pedro Aguado promised to pay for a silver and crystal urn so that the transfers of the image would be done with greater decorum, in the same way that he had planned to do with the facade of the cathedral of Pamplona, an unpublished fact that was unknown and that Father García contributes with these words: ¿as also for this case he offered before me, to raise of new factory the old factory of his cathedral of Pamplona". It should be noted in this regard that, shortly before, the Romanesque façade of the cathedral of Pamplona was already described by Father Alesón, Jesuit historian and continuator of the Annals of the Kingdom of Navarre, as ¿cumbersome and lackluster, esteemed only for the great antiquity that it shows".

The drawing of 1714

The restorations of 1756 and 1787 left the famous icon as we can see it today, in addition to subsequent minor restoration work and especially gilding that was undertaken in 1915 by the silversmiths Modesto and Juan Lafuente. 

The silver plates that the piece shows are those of the XVIII century, work of the silversmith José de Yábar (1756), they were recomposed by Francisco Iturralde, in 1797, together with the placement of a metallic face in the interior of the teak that for decades before contained the deteriorated head of the archangel. This piece had disappeared almost in its totality and Father Burgui already indicated that due to its deterioration, by the very frequent repetition of osculi, it was necessary to place an oval crystal with its teak to protect it. According to the aforementioned historian who published his work in 1774, the constant veneration caused ¿the graceful perfection of her face in nose and lips" to deteriorate, making it necessary to place a glass in front of it, and so it appears in some engravings of the time, with the face visible through an oval teak.

The drawing that accompanies Father Garcia's work is simple and is done in brown and black ink with touches of pinkish gouache. It presents a very different image from the great recomposition of 1756, which deprived the image of the Crucifix and endowed it with a Lignum Crucis preserved in the sanctuary and four emeralds.

The image is presented to us in its form from the XVI century to the middle of the XVIII century. The theft of the image in 1687 and its repair in Pamplona by the silversmith José Arano, is new information provided by the manuscript. The work of the silversmith was limited to readjusting the silver plates that the thieves had separated from the wooden soul of the image with violence and with financial aid of pliers and tearing off the ligneous head. The silversmith worked under the watchful eye of Don Esteban Alegria, minister of the sanctuary, who brought the silver plates to the goldsmith's workshop and was attentive to the workmanship to avoid the danger of dismembering part of the relic".

The two great novelties that the drawing presents with respect to the current conformation and that the prints and engravings of the image present are the presence of the wooden Crucifix on the cross and the presence of two heraldic coats of arms that identify the author of the Renaissance silver lining. A third aspect that refers to the face of the archangel is also described in the manuscript. In this regard, it should be noted that while the image no longer shows the face, having been replaced by a plate, the engravings continued to represent the natural head.

Wooden Crucified

Regarding the Crucified, perhaps disappeared before 1756, judging by some prints prior to that date, nothing better than reading the description made by Father Francisco Garcia and contemplate the drawing: ¿the Most Holy Crucifix, its holy cross from which it hangs and the precious image of St. Michael, which on his head and angelic hands holds on the precious cross of the Most Holy Crucifix, as far as today is seen of its workmanship are colored and gilded wood in gilded parts and the cross is a little stewed. The body of the Crucifix is incarnate, natural, like the face and hands of the archangel. Its color was wheat and perfect mixture of white and pink or red, according to sample today the incarnation of both miraculous images, which is already darkened of its own old age in so much that declines almost to black its color, although it is certain that the veil of this fog of the times conciliates them more grace, devotion and respect, representing to the eyes clearly its much and venerable antiquity with that respectful darkness. The whole of the Most Holy Crucifix, although it does not seem of very exquisite carvings, is perfect, crowned with thorns and fixed on its holy cross with three nails. This admirable cross is composed, and perhaps not without mystery, of five crosses almost or almost without almost because each of its four ends forms by itself a very perfect cross that serves as a finial to the cross from which the Crucifix hangs, which in its middle forms a perfect quadrangle or square capable of receiving in itself the image of our Redeemer Jesus Christ, whose upper half body fits almost entirely in the said square. Of our five senses there is none that does not have so good a God crucified, in whom there was no sense that He was not crucified for our love and our faults...".


The presence of the shields went unnoticed by the author of the manuscript, not even alluding to their presence duplicated on both sides of the torso of the image, at the beginning of the wings. There is no doubt that both belong to the Cruzat lineage: silver, with four bands of gules charged with a gold crest, accompanied by ermine flies on the silver. The reduced space and the circle make the coat of arms represent the motifs a little incomplete. 

The fact that four members of the lineage, specifically Don Juan, Don Miguel, Don Martín and Don Juan, held the chancellorship of the cathedral of Pamplona, to which the sanctuary of Aralar was attached, supports the fact that the coats of arms belonged to the noble family. Possibly the one who had the image lined or perhaps restored in the 16th century was Don Martín, who died in Zamarce in 1553, having been there for some time ill with quartanas. This fact and the fact that he appears in the chronicles as a good religious and diligent in what affected his dignity, makes us think about the hypothesis of his relationship with the two coats of arms of the image.

Moreover, in the Cruzat family there were very outstanding members related to the arts, as attested by some coats of arms of Pamplona houses and above all a coat of arms of the cathedral of Pamplona, due to the munificence of Don Francisco Cruzat, lover of the arts, letters, history, and a great scholar of the bibliographic and documentary funds of the cathedral.

The explanation of the silver lining

The description of the effigy of the archangel reads as follows: Is the face of the Archangel, for such an old man, quite beautiful and affable. His wings are stretched high down and somewhat gathered towards the feet by their tips. His hair is blond, well darkened by the centuries. His posture is majestic and standing. His clothing (...) is tanned and long until it completely covers his soles. The thirds of his stature very well proportioned to the size and measure of his face. His height and body or stature is of a third of a Castilian rod little more and crowns his head the Divine Crucifix hanging from his cross and carved on it in half relief as it seems".

The perception of a Baroque man, accustomed to the subtleties and refinements of the plastic arts of his time, makes him express himself with a certain disdain towards the works of previous periods, as is the case when describing the face of Saint Michael -affable and beautiful despite his old age- and the Crucifix of which he says it is not exquisite, an adjective very often repeated in his time. Without going any further, when he describes another contemporary image of the sanctuary, with his baroque sensibility, he undoes himself with adjectives such as primorosa, bella, airy, arrogant, beautiful or sweet.

Regarding the silver lining, Father Garcia judges it to be medieval and subtle and justifies it by the great devotion to the image on the part of kings, bishops, princes and laymen. For that reason he understands that it was "adorned with such a majestic adornment for its greater respect and better conservation, venerating it as the richest jewel of devout affection of his Kingdom and showing with this precious setting to be the angelic image that it adorns, a jewel of inestimable value in the estimation of Navarre". He makes parallelism with what happened with other singular images and some monarchs like García el de Nájera in relation to the titular of the monastery of Najera, "covered with leaves and silver sheets for being of his devotion and they want him to bring it in the battles...".

As is well known, the images of singular worship were frequently dressed in silver. In Navarre, the well-known medieval Marian images of the monastery of Irache and the cathedral of Pamplona, and in the Baroque period, those of San Fermín or the Virgin of the Way, without forgetting the Renaissance and Baroque busts of the cathedral. There is no doubt that the Thomist aesthetics of the leave Age average favored this subject of presentation of the images to the cult. For St. Thomas, beautiful are those things that, in their very contemplation, please: "Pulchrum est id cuius ipsa apprehensio placet", which is related to sight, as the most perfect sense that replaces the language of the rest of the senses. After dealing with "integritas" and "consonantia" or proper proportion, the angelic doctor insists on "claritas" in reference letter a la luz-nitidez-brillo, a concept that would be replaced, centuries later, by that related to luxury and ostentation.

source for history

The descriptions, the journeys, the relics of the sanctuary, the ways and customs in the reception of the image of St. Michael are abundant in the manuscript, often with the flavor of legend, but it provides data that today have been swallowed up by time, which in the words of the classic "omnia vorat".

We will finish this contribution with some curious verses with which the city of Pamplona received the image singing. Father Francisco García confesses that the joy and jubilation on such an occasion was general, and he judges those songs as having devout and very religious echoes. The text reads as follows:

Of the Angelic day
the Sacrosanct feast is dawning;
that every devout and pious soul
brings heaven's goods, which heaven offers:
because Miguel de Excelsis courtier
to be its citizen
comes to Pamplona, there is already a thousand times good;
because of its serene light,
he weaves this day to his beautiful dawn.
He celebrates in golden tongues,
musicians, instruments and bells,
the chorus of the celestial choir.
The earliest fragrant flowers
Perfume today your altars. And by their example
Let every temple blossom.
From Sheba fumes, from Navarre vows,
in devout tributes
consecrated to the reverent worship
of the Custodian of the Kingdom and its people.