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

Souls in purgatory: canvases and visions

Fri, 04 Nov 2016 12:05:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The faithful people were able to contemplate talking images of everything related to what was preached in the pulpits about purgatory, meditating on the paintings and devotional practices that were proposed in parishes and convents.

Among the numerous religious who, throughout the seventeenth century, had visions of souls in purgatory, a discalced Carmelite from the convent of Pamplona, then located at place del Castillo, stood out. In those private revelations, she did nothing but recall what was related to the purgative church, which with the militant and the triumphant form a unity.


Canvases of the Ánimas in the heritage of Navarre

The times of the Counter-Reformation were especially combative against everything that the Protestants had denied. The whole doctrine of purgatory was defined in the Bolognese phase of the Council of Trent. Images played an extraordinary role, in a context in which the means of catechization were fundamentally oral and plastic. Eucharist, penance, the cult of the Virgin and the saints and, of course, the intercession for the dead had their great echoes in the arts of Catholic Europe. The communion of saints was explained as follows: if while the living prayed, suffered and made sacrifices for the souls in purgatory, it was possible for them to reach heaven as soon as possible, becoming saints and therefore able to intercede before God for those who had previously prayed for them.

In the middle of the 16th century, a panel of the Virgin with the child and the souls between large bonfires with their corresponding inscriptions, which is preserved in the sacristy of the altarpiece of the chapel of the Holy Spirit in the cathedral of Tudela, is dated to the middle of the 16th century.

The confraternities of souls had a great development from the end of the sixteenth century and have maintained great vigor until just under a century ago. Gregorio Silanes has related their foundation in different localities of Navarre with moments of plagues and great mortality. The issue of confraternities in the Comunidad Foral was close to forty. In some churches their cults were so important that during the novena and the month of November, huge catafalques were erected at their expense, and they even transformed the presbytery into a great altar of souls with sumptuous black curtains that hid the altarpieces, presiding over the canvas of the Blessed Souls of Purgatory. A photograph of the parish of San Saturnino dated 1967, the last year in which the ephemeral altar was mounted, gives good testimony in this respect. The altarpieces of souls, from the XVII century to the beginning of the XX century, are abundant and the pictorial representations dominate over the sculptural ones. Among the latter, the one in the attic of the altarpiece in the parish of Los Arcos, the work of Juan Ángel Nagusia (1710) and paid for by the confraternity, founded in 1702, stands out. Versions in olotine reliefs exist in San Saturnino and the Carmelites of Pamplona and Lodosa.

All the paintings repeat iconographic schemes derived from the vision of purgatory and from some engravings. In general, we find a lower plane with the fire consuming naked men and women in different positions that, sometimes, can be identified socially by showing crowns of kings, mitres of bishops, ecclesiastical tonsures ...etc. In the upper part usually appears the Trinity accompanied by intercessors, very often the Virgin of Carmen. In the central plane St. Michael as archangel psychopomp -who leads the souls- intercedes and financial aid to other angels to free the souls from the fire. The presence of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is due to the apparition to St. Simon Stock (1251) in which she promised to free from purgatory all the souls who had worn the scapular during their lifetime, on the Saturday following the death of the person and take them to heaven, a belief that has been supported by the popes.

The canvases, in general, are not of great quality, although there are some by B . Among the author's works are those of the monastery of Fitero, a work of the late seventeenth century by Vicente Berdusán, where we find in the upper part of San Bernardo. That of the Carmen de Corella is signed at the beginning of the 18th century by Lorenzo Montero de Espinosa and in it appear next to the Trinity and the Virgin of Carmen, Saint Teresa and Saint Michael richly dressed as an archangel. Other outstanding versions of topic are located in Cascante, Cintruénigo, San Cernin and San Lorenzo de Pamplona, Oco, Pitillas and Viana. The canvases of Villafranca and Cárcar are of a markedly popular style. There were banners with the same iconography of which very few examples remain.

A foral version of topic offers us a painting of the collateral altarpiece of the Virgin of the Rosary of the parish of Huarte-Araquil that we studied some years ago together with Prof. Echeverría Goñi. In it we find under the Holy Trinity and with the protagonism of the canvas San Miguel de Aralar in his well-known iconography as a cruciferous archangel over a purgatory, in which there are neither the bodies being consumed nor the well-known flames. The painting dates from the time of the altarpiece, the work of Jacobo de Jáuregui (1731).


A seventeenth century Carmelite visionary in the convent of place del Castillo 

internship Sister Francisca del Santísimo Sacramento (San Andrés [Soria], 1561 - Pamplona, 1629), took the habit in the Carmel of Soria and professed in Pamplona shortly after its foundation in 1584, dying with a reputation of sanctity, after spending the whole of her religious life in the Pamplona convent of the place del Castillo, for whose ornamentation she procured the construction of its three altarpieces, the gilding of the largest one and a silver lamp. Her portrait is preserved in a seventeenth-century canvas in the Discalced Carmelites of Pamplona. By order of the Father General of his order, Fray Juan del Espíritu Santo, he wrote his numerous visions, many of them of souls in purgatory. A copy of the notebooks with his writings was given to Bishop Don Juan de Palafox by the Discalced Carmelites of Soria, without knowing that the Aragonese Miguel Bautista Lanuza, knight of Santiago and protonotary of Aragon, had another copy and was preparing to give it to the printers.

The first time they saw the light through the edition of the mentioned Lanuza, with the degree scroll of Vida de la sierva de Dios Francisca del Santísimo Sacramento (Zaragoza, 1659). In a parallel way, Palafox, occupying the mitre of Osma, while he carried out the pastoral visit of 1658, wrote his Luz de Vivos y Escarmiento en los Muertos, based on the visions of the Carmelite, without giving the name of the religious. plenary session of the Executive Council The text became so famous that it was published in Naples by Father Francisco de la Cruz in 1673 and in Pamplona, in the 18th century, Lanuza's version was republished in 1727.

Isabel Estolaza has devoted a study to the process of elaboration of the work and its transmission, and Álvarez Santaló has carried out a shrewd and subtle reading of the book Luz de Vivos y escarmiento en los muertos, concluding that it is a sui generis example of the subject book of states. However, a study of the original manuscripts is still lacking.


Viceroys, bishops, prothomedics, innkeepers, wax makers, prelates and religious

Through his cell and the corridors of the old convent of Pamplona parade men and women of different professions, ecclesiastics, military and government people of the capital of Navarre and other cities of the Kingdom. The hundreds of very brief notes with the apparitions are surprising for their quantity and their protagonists, as well as for the details of clothing, appearance and other circumstances of the protagonists of the visions. Thus he states: "They all denoted in the insignia the dignities they had, such as tiaras, miters, crowns, scepters and others that usually indicate the personal or hereditary Degrees . Others came with instruments and penalties that manifested their faults. Those who left the religions with habits dragging and as if stumbling with them. The gamblers with burning decks of cards. The officials with burning tools of their ministry, which they lacked. The slanderers, stepping on each other's tongues. The free in life, like savages. Those who were light, engulfed in flames up to their breasts. The profanely gallant women, scorched in rags of fire. And those who wore shaving, their faces full of dirty and burning ashes". Regarding the appearance, he points out "the ugliness with which some of them appeared .... the most horrible part to the sight were the eyes, sunken, hollow and burning".

The chapters of the book recount the torments of two viceroys of Navarre, the prothomedic of Pamplona who had not visited the sick as he should, an innkeeper of the city who rented mules at exorbitant prices, a lazy and gambling blacksmith who appeared with his deck of cards on fire, a highborn lady dressed in rags and another fond of make-up with a totally disfigured face, a waxmaker who adulterated the white wax with resin, and different religious men, each one a fan of make-up with a totally disfigured face, a highborn lady dressed in rags and another one fond of make-up with a totally disfigured face, a waxmaker who adulterated white wax with resin, and different religious men, each one with their own penalties according to their sins and faults.

Without going into the background of that whole visionary world, it is significant that in the apparitions of the three brothers of the famous Leonor de la Misericordia (Ayanz and Beaumont): Jerónimo, Carlos and Francés, in addition to begging Francisca to thank Leonor for the suffrages to get them out of purgatory, the specific reasons why they were in purgatory are noted.


The chapel master Miguel Navarro

The famous polyphonist Miguel Navarro, studied by Aurelio Sagaseta, is the protagonist of a vision of the nun that took place on September 19, 1627, more than eight months after the death of the musician. This is how that vision is narrated: "On the 19th, the soul of Maestro Navarro (who was of the Chapel of Singers of the Holy Church of Pamplona) appeared to her alone, very resplendent and full of Glory, at award from the labors he suffered here. He said to her: How deceived we live hating mortification and penance that we care so much to exercise; because there is much to enjoy in heaven, and that we are lazy in disposing ourselves to gain so many goods from here". As it is known, Navarro, besides being chapel master between 1616 and 1627, was prior of the hermits of the bishopric of Pamplona and in charge of examining the aspirants to the hermit life.