Publicador de contenidos

Back to opinion_FYL_03_09_2021_restauraciones_en_navarra

The great restorations in Navarre (1). Great reforms and some disasters


Published in

Diario de Navarra

Ricardo Fernández Gracia

Director of the Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art

Diario de Navarra, in collaboration with the Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art of the University of Navarra, deals monthly, with specialists from various universities and institutions, with aspects related to restorations and interventions in large groups of our cultural heritage.

Over the next few months, different professors will write, in this section, about interventions and restorations in the cultural heritage of Navarre. The cases of Roncesvalles, the cloister of Tudela, the palace of Olite, the cathedral of Pamplona, the Cistercian monastery of Iranzu, movable heritage and the skin of architecture with its pictorial coatings, among others, will be dealt with. 

Although it may seem unreal, in the last century, when building interventions already had ad hoc legislation, fashions were responsible for unfortunate actions. The excessive eagerness to contemplate the masonry of the façades of houses and the interiors of churches or disastrous post-conciliar reforms are good examples of what should not be done. Fortunately, the laws in force, if properly applied, should make some of these actions unfeasible today. 

Many interventions were carried out in circumstances that are not those of today, although they should also serve to avoid stumbling over the same stone twice. Times have changed and so have everything that is necessary for an intervention, especially with regard to the mandatory historical-artistic reports and master plans, as well as everything related to the professionals qualified to work in the different specialities.

In all the contributions, the authors will use documentary, bibliographic and photographic sources. The latter, in addition to offering multiple values and functions, become a transcendental documentary source , a first-rate visual record taken at a specific moment in time, which is fundamental for the study of historical and artistic heritage and the execution of any conservation or restoration intervention. Photographs, as graphic documents, acquire an extraordinary value as they become iconographic documents, essential tools for the in-depth knowledge of a monument, its history, its transformations, additions or deletions.

Tempus fugit: actions over the centuries and intervention criteria

Over the centuries, the great monumental ensembles have undergone various interventions, more or less visible. Buildings on the scale of the great monasteries suffered, in some of their parts, notable deterioration due to the passage of time and various circumstances. A close examination of the secular walls of some of these complexes, together with the documentation, informs us of actions of great significance. Take, for example, what happened in the monastery of Irache shortly before the middle of the 17th century, when the foreseeable collapse of part of the chevet forced the reinforcement of foundations and the raising of pillars. The cracks and the collapse of the walls are reflected in a chronicle of 1649.

If in Irache the intervention followed, in its modus operandi, the traditional stonemasonry techniques and the style of the building, the same did not happen in other places. Thus, in the monastery of Fitero, when reconstructing the vaults of the last bays of the central nave, the plan of the rest of the nave was not followed, but the star-shaped roofs, typical of the first third of the 16th century, were used. In Roncesvalles, a more invasive plan was carried out, promoted by the prior Juan Manrique de Lamariano, between 1619 and 1628. The work consisted of disguising the old Gothic masonry in the Classicist style prevailing at the time, together with the addition of a large altarpiece.

Leaving aside these historical interventions, it should be noted that the major restorations, as such, are the work of the last century. The monumental complexes enjoyed the protection of two institutions: the Monuments Commission and the Institución Príncipe de Viana. thesis Two doctoral theses, written by Emilio Quintanilla and Mercedes Mutiloa, give a good account of the activity of both bodies in the defence and conservation of Navarre's heritage. The first deals with the Monuments Commission (Pamplona, 1995) and the second with the Institución Príncipe de Viana from its creation in 1940 until 1984 (Pamplona, 2018).

The actions were generally based on the declarations of national monuments, which was a condition for obtaining state protection. In Navarre, the big push came with the Institución Príncipe de Viana in the great medieval buildings, which were associated with the Old Kingdom and were considered national monuments: Aralar, Ujué, Olite, Iranzu, Leire, Irache... etc. Much of the work was carried out within the "restorationist " tendency of the epigones and disciples of Vicente Lampérez, which was the majority in the first third of the 20th century, as opposed to the conservationist tendency, headed by Leopoldo Torres Balbás, who was familiar with scientific restoration and the Athens Charter (1931). Furthermore, as González-Varas points out in his excellent monograph "Conservación de bienes culturales. Teoría, historia, principios y normas" (Madrid, Chair, 2000) that, after the Civil War, the supporters of stylistic restorations once again gained ground, in what he calls a doctrinal retreat.

It is worth mentioning the activity of some educated and willing priests, but with little training on the subject and old-fashioned ideas that were alien to what was happening in Europe at subject restoration. Onofre Larumbe, Santos Beguiristáin or Cornelio Urtasun, even the committee monk of Montserrat Andreu Ripol, are examples in a context of great influence from the church. Almost all of them were largely influenced by a small book by Saint Manuel González, graduate "Arte y Liturgia" ( 1932), which has been reprinted many times. His ideas are an exponent of the criteria for artistic-liturgical renewal in Spain in the first third of the 20th century. The sentences dedicated to the choirs of our cathedrals, as well as to their main altarpieces in a chapter entitled "Del engreimiento del Arte sobre el Altar" (On the conceit of Art on the Altar), are very eloquent. Several suppressions of cathedral choirs and other reforms were based on that statement of core values , which are today judged very negatively. Regarding the latter topic, it is essential to read the speech of entrance in the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando by Professor Pedro Navascués, which is entitled degree scroll "Teoría del coro en las catedrales españolas" ( Madrid, 1997).

The interiors of the temples and their ornamentation

In the second half of the 18th century, some necessary interventions were documented in the interiors of some churches, because they were literally a veritable mixture of private spaces with high grilles, separating the chapels from board of trustees of aristocratic families, guilds and guilds, as well as areas with floors at different heights, etc. In final, something that was not very unified, which also clashed head-on with the ideas of religious architecture disseminated in academic and Jansenist circles. In this respect, it is worth remembering the work of the Marquis of Ureña, Don Juan de Molina y Saldívar de Reflexiones sobre la Arquitectura, ornato y música en el templo (Reflections on Architecture, ornament and music in the church ) (1785). In the parish of San Nicolás in Pamplona, an early plan of standardisation was undertaken in 1748. Something similar occurred decades later in the recently created cathedral of Tudela, where one of its prebendaries, Don Ignacio Lecumberri, was delegated to provide the church with the necessary uniformity in its interior.

The master builder of the façade of Pamplona cathedral, Ángel Santos de Ochandátegui, designed a plan for the cathedral in 1800, heavily influenced by the work of the aforementioned Marquis of Ureña. The importance of that project lies in the fact that it hung over the decisions of the canons until after the Civil War, when the main part of Ochandátegui's plan was finally implemented: the removal of the choir from the central nave and the elimination of the main altarpiece. 

At the same time, under the influence of the men of the Enlightenment and the triumph of academicism, numerous baroque furnishings, mainly altarpieces, began to be systematically destroyed. The organs were no more fortunate, for as the organs of subject became more common, the old renaissance and baroque cases were dismantled without further consideration. The whole ensemble of works had no chance of restoration, just as happened half a century ago with the application of the liturgical norms emanating from the Second Vatican Council in Navarre's churches, with disastrous consequences for a large part of the movable heritage. Pulpits, display stands, choir stalls, chests of drawers, choir stalls, grilles, fabrics, organs and not a few altarpieces disappeared or were mutilated, destroyed or sold off. This is a very painful story that evokes, due to the unreasonableness of the losses, those suffered during the confiscations of the 19th century. For many of those assets there was no chance of recovery either.

Among the interventions on the movable heritage of the 20th century, one of the most visible is the restoration of the medieval Marian images, sadly disfigured and mutilated over the centuries of the Modern Age, to make them upright and dressed, sawing off their knees, cloaks and crowns.

Many altarpieces and paintings have been cleaned, although the fewest have been fully restored. Among the most noteworthy work, we should mention, firstly, that of the main altarpiece in Fitero, carried out by experts from the Prado Museum in Madrid in 1947 and, more recently, those of Cintruénigo and Olite, in the latter cases with the obligatory historical-artistic programs of study . Likewise, work has been carried out on quite a few organs over the last five decades, thanks to the initiative of parish priests, mayors and with the help of the administration's financial aid , something that is still lacking today due to the absence of a healthy criterion when it comes to understanding and comprehending the obligation to bequeath what we have received to future generations.

Nobiliary and domestic architecture

The whole of the civilian ensemble, consisting of town halls and municipal buildings, bridges, palaces, ancestral homes and domestic architecture, have been major losers in terms of conservation. They have been victims of the passage of time and the deterioration of the historic centres, as well as the progress and modernisation of housing.

One only has to look at the photographs from a few hundred years ago and from a few decades ago to see the ruinous state of much of the domestic architecture and the additions of elements that disfigure it to an unbelievable extent. This is not the end of the story topic, as the disappearance of remarkable groups of noble mansions, especially in Navarre average and La Ribera, has been a regrettable fact. This can be verified by leafing through the monograph on "La casa navarra" ( Pamplona, 1982) by Julio Caro Baroja. The withdrawal, the deterioration, the neglect, the impossibility of their owners to face up to very costly interventions, at the same time as the financial value of some plots, have marked the destruction of singular buildings, such as the one known as the house of the storks in Cintruénigo or that of the Aguado family in Corella, to mention just a couple of examples.

On the interventions themselves, we have Pilar Andueza's accurate judgement in her monograph "Patrimonio y familia. La casa y el espacio doméstico en Navarra" ( Pamplona, 2019). In one of her paragraphs, she summarises the topic issue in the following way: "Fortunately, there have been many houses which, in a process of restoration, have simply replaced the decayed and deteriorated mortar covering the exterior walls with new ones. But there are many houses where, incomprehensibly, the walls have been chipped, removing the original plaster to expose the underlying masonry - never designed for that purpose - thus substantially modifying the original image of the house. On occasion, some façades, brickwork and timber frameworks have also been plastered. In addition, quite a few renovations have altered the frontispieces by modifying the layout and sizes of windows and balconies or by introducing new modern joinery, shutters and grilles, as well as large doors for garages and carports".

By way of coda

The positive balance in most of the restorations and interventions on monumental and archaeological heritage should not lead to complacency. Until the eighties of the last century, Navarre was a mirror in which various regions with hardly any competence in historical heritage could look at themselves. Since then, there have been models to contemplate and learn from what has been done in other territories and, of course, in Europe.