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Major restorations in Navarre (8). The intervention in Pamplona Cathedral in the post-war period, seen from the 21st century.


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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.

The current configuration of the cathedral's interior space is largely a consequence of the intervention carried out in the post-war period, between 1940 and 1946, when it was decided to remove the choir from the central nave and the altarpiece from the chancel, creating a historical faux pas with the placement of the choir stalls in the chancel and the location of the chancel at plenary session of the Executive Council Wayside Cross of the Gothic nave.

An old project

Among the causes that led to that intervention, which today we judge to be more than debatable, are some that are distant in time and others that are closer to home. Among the former are some of the actions of Bishop Juan Lorenzo Irigoyen y Dutari (1768-1778), such as his desire to enlarge the main chapel or his refusal to give the blessing from his chair in the choir. Shortly after his death, the aesthetics of Academicism were imposed with the construction of the façade, the work of Ventura Rodríguez and Santos Ángel de Ochandátegui. When that façade was finished, the latter master proposed to the chapter, in 1800, the elimination of the choir and other minor alterations which, for the time being, were left at file, but by no means forgotten. plenary session of the Executive Council Everything he proposed was in harmony with what was set out in the Reflexiones sobre la arquitectura, ornato y música en el templo (Madrid, 1785), a work by Gaspar de Molina y Saldívar, Marquis of Ureña, architect, engineer, painter, poet and traveller of the Enlightenment from Cádiz.

The proximate causes of the intervention must be linked to the liturgical movement of the central decades of the 20th century and to the tendencies of "restoration in style", which were imposed after the civil war. We know nothing about the project commissioned by the bishop Tomás Muñiz Pablos (1928-1935) to the architect Francisco Iñiguez. 

Once the civil war was over, other plans signed by the cathedral's beneficiary Onofre Larumbe, seconded by other advisors, did influence Bishop Marcelino Olaechea, who took the matter as his own priority. In fact, the chapter delegated everything to the bishop and his secretary Don Santos Beguiristáin. 

With regard to the airs of liturgical renewal, we should remember the book by Manuel González García, Arte y Liturgia, which went through several editions, from 1932 onwards, and had a great influence in ecclesiastical circles. His ideas are an exponent of the artistic-liturgical speech of Spain in the first third of the 20th century. The sentences dedicated to the choirs of our cathedrals, as well as to the major altarpieces, are very eloquent, especially in a chapter entitled "Del engreimiento del Arte sobre el Altar" (On the conceit of Art on the Altar). Many of the paragraphs in that publication seem to have a direct influence on the work in Pamplona cathedral. For example, he writes: "Unfortunately in our Spain, both in its magnificent and spiritual Gothic cathedrals and in its abbeys, hardly any trace of the primitive liturgical Altar remains. It seems that what has now come to be called a wave of madness invaded the sacred precincts, shrinking, stripping and cornering the Altar and rendering useless the churches, which were precisely made large so that all the faithful people could gather and fit in front of the central or main Altar, with the huge hindrances of the choirs in the middle of them". We will not comment on this. The interested reader can refer to the splendid monograph by Pedro Navascués on Spanish choirs.

In addition to the proposals made by González García, there are the proposals of the aforementioned Onofre Larumbe, manager of the much-discussed intervention at Roncesvalles, and the Benedictine monk of Montserrat Andreu Ripoll, who corresponded with Bishop Olaechea. This monk, who had trained in Germany, specialised in liturgy and was responsible for the remodelling of the aforementioned Catalan abbey. Onofre Larumbe asked for the removal of the choir and the high altarpiece in his 1939 report . The latter was to be replaced by the late Gothic altarpiece of the Caparroso family, under the pretext of harmonising it with the whole.

With regard to the trends in intervention on buildings in those years, it should be noted that architects were divided into two main currents. The first "restorer", the majority and following the work of Vicente Lampérez, was in favour of "restorations in style". The second, more in tune with the new European trends, was the so-called "conservative" one headed by Leopoldo Torres Balbás. After the Civil War, the former gained ground.

Tensions with technicians

At the beginning of 1940, the chapter delegated to "the bishop's sound judgement" all matters relating to the intervention in the cathedral, which was reaffirmed on 5 April, in a certificate that Don Santos Beguiristáin took to the prelate. The idea was to dismantle the main altarpiece and remove the choir stalls. The regional newspapers echoed the plan with enthusiasm. However, the competent state authorities of the Heritage Defence Service, Manuel Chamoso Lamas, commissioner of the third zone, and Francisco Íñiguez, general commissioner of that service, gave a very negative assessment of the plan. Chamoso described the action as an "error of origin" and strongly protested against the removal of the main altarpiece, calling for "prudent directions". He also seriously warned against preserving the ashlar masonry in its entirety and without fragmenting it between the presbytery and the Barbazana, as planned. As for the grilles, he was of the opinion that they should be preserved.

In the meantime, Francisco Íñiguez, who was aware of Chamoso's opinion, expressed his total support for agreement, and at the same time complained about the lack of direction, the confusion "of fifty opinions and opinions" and the bad impression and example that was being given in Navarre and beyond. In his letter to Bishop Olaechea, he ended harshly with this paragraph, in which he hinted at his resignation: "Our body is necessary, but if you do not want to or consider that you should not recognise its authority, it is useless. statement This is what I have done to Director General de Bellas Artes, asking him, if it is not settled at deadline shortly, to relieve me of a responsibility that I cannot accept because it is impossible to fulfil".

The bishop defended himself, on the advice of the aforementioned Father Ripoll. With regard to the choir stalls, he conceded that they would be fully preserved and taken to the chapel of San Francisco Javier (refectory) or to the Barbazana. He was also in favour of removing the grille "as its permanence is opposed to the splendour and beauty of the liturgy, it would have a very bad effect dividing the choir from the presbytery and would lose very little of its merit by being moved, moreover, it would gain in relief, proportion and symmetry, as it would make a pendant with the other grille". He ends with the reflection that he wanted "a living church with splendid worship, an artistic church as much as possible, and a practical church that is suitable for its purpose". The choir, in his opinion, detracted from the splendour, perspective and comfort of the church, and he pointed out that its removal had been the desire of several generations.

In another letter addressed to Íñiguez on 22 June 1940, he argued that the Church owned the works, "a perfect and sovereign society in the disposition and care of its goods", phrases that today would sound high-flown to say the least. He also asked him not to resign for having removed the main altarpiece, because "nobody is going to hold it against you as a lack of zeal. You have done all you could to express your sorrow and your protest. No substitute for you could be more pleasing to us, nor easily more useful to the Church. Go ahead, we have many good things to do together in Navarre, even if we have not reached agreement on the question of our altarpiece, the removal of which everyone continues to praise".

The mediation of the Marquis of Lozoya, the proposal so that Yárnoz would become position of the works, together with the transfer of powers from the General Administration to the recently created Institución Príncipe de Viana, made it possible to finish the works with a certain degree of calm. The canons and the bishop accepted the placement of the second order of the choir stalls in the presbytery, as well as the conservation of the grilles.

The works were completed without a general project , but rather with changing criteria, supposedly with the aim of extolling the medieval part of the temple, even if it was at the cost of all its decoration and leaving the interior of the cathedral like a devastated church or where it seemed that the revolutionary troops had passed through in France at the end of the 18th century.


With the current criteria for intervention, one can only regret the suppression of the space of the Wayside Cross, as well as the elimination of elements so typical of Hispanic cathedrals, such as the main altarpiece - a visual, ritual and spiritual piece - and the choir, which formed part of the space of the medieval church itself. 

From the point of view of the different sensibilities of action and restoration of cathedral complexes, what happened in the Pamplona cathedral was not done with the rigour required by the monument, in its double aspect of historical and artistic work. From the historical point of view, because they did not respect all the transformations of so many centuries, losing the authenticity and identity of the historical document -unicum- of the monument. From the artistic point of view, because the result did not coincide, far from it, with the original plans of the Gothic cathedral. To all this, we must add the lack of a clear plan of intervention, something that Francisco Íñiguez had already noted, when he saw how altarpieces, grilles and masonry were dismantled without order or concert and absolutely everything was improvised, without a single coherent direction guided by technical and professional criteria. 

Some of the events derived from that intervention, with respect to the movable heritage, are not exactly happy memories for the cultural heritage of Navarre. Let us remember, among others, the dismembered choir stalls; the transept that ended up outside the cathedral complex; the main altarpiece - finally transferred to the parish church of San Miguel - without one of its fundamental elements, such as the jasper pedestal with the inscriptions arranged by its patron; the sumptuous silver cabinet of the Virgin of the Tabernacle, which disappeared in 1737 and had beautiful reliefs sent from Peru and glass brought from Holland, or the main altarpiece of the Barbazana, a singular work of the early Baroque in Navarre by Mateo de Zabalía (1642), transferred to Santa Isabel in Madrid.