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

Heritage and identity (26). Tolerated and forbidden images

Fri, 07 Feb 2020 12:38:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

Most of the images that were taken away from the cult in past centuries, were so because they were very damaged and deteriorated. The bishops or their visitors ordered them to be buried, from agreement with the canonical legislation. The removal of paintings and sculptures for other reasons is much more difficult to document. We will focus our attention on some of the actions of the saint official document and on other forbidden representations that managed to be saved from destruction because they were collected or because they went unnoticed by those in charge of the temples.

A Gothic panel of St. Giles in the cathedral of Tudela

The Villaespesa chapel of the cathedral of Tudela has a very beautiful altarpiece, painted by Bonanat Zaortiga in 1412, in which three cycles are developed, around the titular of the chapel of the Virgin of Hope, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Giles. We will refer to one of the panels on the latter, specifically the saint's mass.

The popularity of St. Giles in the Age average is related to the dispensation of confession for the remission of sins. A panel of the altarpiece narrates a passage of his hagiography, collected in the Golden Legend, composed by the Dominican archbishop Jacob de la Voragine. St. Giles became abbot of a monastery built by Charles Martel at the saint's request. That prince had committed a very serious sin that he did not dare to confess, so St. Giles prayed to God for forgiveness. One day, at plenary session of the Executive Council canon of the Mass, the saint prayed for him and an angel appeared to him with a letter stating the sin of the sovereign and affirming that the prayers of the saint had obtained the absolution of the monarch, with the condition that he would not sin again. St. Giles communicated it to Martel and the latter made true contrition, the sin disappearing from the parchment. At the end of the text of the letter it was added that anyone who invoked the saint, no matter how great his sin, if he repented, would obtain his remission. This legend motivated the belief that devotion to St. Giles, and his intercession, erased sins, without the need for confession. Even pardon certificates were issued to those who made some devotion to the saint, such as prayers, alms, and other acts of penance.

After the Council of Trent, all that was eradicated and the representations of topic were stopped and some of them were removed from public worship. The fact that the intercession of St. Giles achieved absolution without the need for confession, one of the most extolled sacraments after the Council of Trent, was the cause of those restrictions.

The tricephalic Trinity of Tulebras: an iconography banned since 1628

From the attic of the main altarpiece of Tulebras, the panel of the trifacial Trinity is preserved, the work of the Aragonese painter Jerónimo Vallejo Cosida, made around 1570. The figure appears seated and holding a triangle in whose sides it is explained in a didactic way that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are different hypostases among themselves, but the three are God. However, other extremes of the Trinitarian mystery were not made explicit in the composition, so, obeying the prohibition of Urban VIII in 1628, it was withdrawn from the cult. The chancellor of the University of Paris, John Gerson (1363-1429), St. Antoninus (1398-1459), archbishop of Florence, and John Molanus, theologian of the University of Louvain in the 16th century, were influential in that papal refusal. Shortly before the papal determination, the Jesuit Martin de Roa had written as a synthesis of those criticisms: "It will be understood how imprudently some paint the Holy Trinity, a man with three faces or three heads, with which the sane people are scandalized, make the ignorant err, cause the calumnies of heretics". The Mercedarian Juan Interián de Ayala in his treatise (1730), judged the trifacial representation as "exotic and absurd". The prohibition of 1628 was renewed by Pope Benedict XIV through the bull of 1745. 

Previous in chronology to this representation of Tulebras was another similar image that was on the arch of the door of the disappeared parish of the Holy Trinity of Tudela. We only know it from the crude drawing made by Juan Antonio Fernández at the end of the 18th century, where the Trinity appears with three faces, centered by Santiago and San Caprás. According to the aforementioned historian "Ortun Salamon made them".

A copy of an engraving by Jacques Grathomme with the same topic of the three-headed Trinity is also kept in the convent of the Discalced Carmelites of Araceli. Its presence could be related to the cult of the Trinitarian mystery in the house, since its feast was founded by Doña Gertrudis Navarro. 

Triandric Trinities paintings from the gothic and novohispanic school periods 

Regarding the iconography of the anthropomorphic Holy Trinity, it has been concluded, contrary to what has been repeated, that there was no express pontifical prohibition in the Breve Sollicitudini Nostrae of Benedict XIV (1745), so often cited as restrictive. 

As Consuelo Maquívar recalls, those images allowed a greater approach, but not understanding, to the mystery of God, one and triune, since it was evident that it was not the same to pray before the image of a human being "like oneself" than before a dove, a symbolic animal. In representing God the Father as Jesus Christ, one had recourse to the image of the Incarnate Word, who out of his infinite love for humanity had sacrificed himself to the point of death to achieve its redemption. According to Heimann, in the average Age the anthropomorphic images of the Trinity were considered heretical, something that does not seem to be compatible with their presence in churches, breviaries and books of hours, as studied by Father Germán de Pamplona. The treatises on iconography echoed the confusion to which the representation of the Holy Spirit as a person lent itself, since his manifestation had been as a dove or as tongues of fire. Juan de Molano, referring to St. Augustine, treated the topic with benevolence and Francisco Pacheco in his Arte de la Pintura, was not very supportive because it could confuse the ignorant. The Mercedarian Juan Interián de Ayala does not reprove the iconography, but recommends "to flee from any kind of novelty", opting for the representation of God the Father as a venerable old man, God the Son as a triumphant and wounded Christ and the Paraclete as a dove.

In Navarre some examples are kept from the Gothic period, highlighting those of the tombs of the Villaespesa family in the cathedral of Tudela (c. 1425) and of Enequo Pinel in Olite (1432). The Tudela example follows a model with precedents in the 12th century but which triumphed two centuries later, where the three persons were depicted seated and frontal. In this case the figures appear erect and it is the first example of the triandric Trinity in Navarre and the first standing version of this iconography in Spain, which must have arrived in Navarre from Torunai, by Jehan de Lome.

The three canvases from the XVIII century in Navarra are first class, while a couple from the previous century in Corella and Viana are more popular. We will stop at the Mexican canvases. The first one is in the altarpiece of the Virgen de las Nieves in the parish of San Pedro de Puente la Reina. It was donated by Miguel Francisco Gambarte (1699-1783), a merchant from Puente de la Reina who made his fortune in New Spain, although he died in extreme poverty. The painting arrived in the town between the end of 1753 and October 1754. It is of B quality and represents the Trinity with Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Francis Xavier. 

The second left New Spain by order of the aforementioned Gambarte for the Poor Clares of Estella, where he also sent a beautiful gilded silver ciborium. The reason was that a niece of his was a nun in that monastery. The painting is documented thanks to a print that is a rara avis regarding the arrival of the canvas to Navarre via the Bay of Biscay and not via Seville. It is a communication from the Royal Customs of Vitoria in 1753 in which it is ordered to let pass to Santa Clara de Estella "a box of tin sheet and inside it a canvas, and in it painted the Holy Trinity, a yard and a third wide ...... priced at one thousand five hundred and thirty maravedís". This is the first testimony related to the arrival of an artistic object by that route to Navarre that contains all the information of measurements, appraisal and origin. Also, it contributes one more piece of information to a little known aspect, referred to the transport of this subject of artistic works, since it tells us that it was in a tin box for its better protection.

The third canvas, located in the presbytery of the parish church of Santiago de Puente la Reina, arrived in the fifties. Compositionally sample to the three characters of the mystery dressed in white on a very rich throne of angels' heads and golden background. As in other canvases, the figures are identified by the three symbols that accompany them: the lamb for the wounded Son, the sun for the Eternal Father who carries the scepter of authority, and the dove for the Holy Spirit. 

An alleged portrait of the condemned nun of Corella and other inquisitorial actions

The beginnings of the history of the Discalced Carmelite nuns of Araceli de Corella were marked by the actions of the Inquisition against their prioress, Sister Agueda de Luna, accused of following the doctrines of Miguel de Molinos. The nun died in the jails of the Inquisition of Logroño, in 1737, in the context of a Spain that liked extraordinary and celestial phenomena, although the news was not communicated until 1744. The very serious accusations are recorded in the account of Juan Antonio Llorente, who published in 1817 in the French capital his Historia crítica de la Inquisición, a work described by Menéndez y Pelayo as "a thicket of truths and calumnies". To this day, there is still no critical study of those events, since there is a bipolarization between those who, following Llorente, affirm authentic atrocities and those who deny everything. Among the proofs of accusation, there was an alleged portrait of Sister Agueda, made by order of her confidant Fray Juan de la Vega, and which was placed in the choir of the convent of Araceli in Corell with a small roundabout, with words of equivocal sense, which read: "Plant Jesus by your hand, / the cross in my heart / and it will bear fruit in season / because the field is lush". Given the possibility that the painting was a portrait of Sister Agueda, the Inquisition took part in the matter, ordering the painting to be erased and the couplet to be destroyed. By the news of the historian of Carmen Descalzo, Silverio de Santa Teresa, we know that the painting was smeared with lime and could be one of the frescoes that, quite retouched, are preserved in the lower choir of the convent of Araceli, whose iconic content coincides with the description of the painting since it presents a Carmelite nun and a Child Jesus with tunic in attitude of nailing with the right hand an arrow in the heart of the nun, while this last one struggles to introduce in him the shaft of the cross that the Child Jesus brandishes in the left hand. In front of this painting another one represents a Carmelite and the Divine Infant holding a chain with two joined hearts. A study of both paintings demonstrates that they are adaptations for the Carmelite life of a pair of emblems of a work very popular in the XVII and XVIII centuries, the Schola cordis of Benedicto Haefteno, which comes to invalidate to a great extent the insidious intentions of the so many times quoted couplet. The figure of the emblem representing the soul has been replaced by a barefoot Carmelite, while that of divine love has become a Child Jesus. The registration of the emblem 51 of the Schola cordis is very similar to that of the painting of the controversy, with slight variations and reads: "Plant for my consolation / your Cross in my heart / that will bear fruit in season / because the soil is fertilized".

Regarding other images and paintings, the documentary vacuum and therefore the knowledge that we have is very scarce. Among the known data stands out that of the image of the Soledad de Fitero, which was donated to the brotherhood of the Vera Cruz in 1659, but as it was not kept in the monastic church, the saint official document intervened so that it was transferred to a sacred place in 1679.

We still know of another action, in the second half of the 18th century, this time in relation to the images of the Virgin of the Light, a devotion born in Sicily and encouraged by the Jesuits, who declared her protector of their missions in 1756, also having some congregations, altarpieces, novenas, holy cards and medals. After the expulsion of the Society, the attacks to its representations increased, based on the fact that the Virgin was represented taking out of hell -or avoiding its fall- the soul of a condemned person, something that attempted against the intercession of the Virgin, who maintains that Mary cannot grant favors by herself, but only intercedes before her son who, as God, is the only source of salvation.

In 1770, in an anti-Jesuit context, the bishopric of Pamplona received a communication from committee of Castile to be published in all parishes, warning of the introduction of medals, holy cards, devotionals and novenas to the Virgin of the Light, with the argument of a prohibition of the Congregation of Rites and for the sake of "to uproot an abuse that I ask for a prompt remedy, for devotion to Our Lady does not need new and reprobate means"..