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

Heritage and identity (6). Small talismans

Fri, 07 Dec 2018 11:53:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

A collection of small objects carried personally by our ancestors shows how they relied on the intercession of saints and invocations of the Virgin to ward off mishaps and illnesses. If the amulets were, in general, similar to those of other regions, the medals, reliquaries, scapulars and measures of famous images were more linked to the regional sphere. For the most part, we have found the pieces we are describing in different private collections.


Charms and charms

Of the amulets, that speak of beliefs of subject magic, we have evidence not only by some preserved, but by some painted votive offerings where their protagonists wear them in showy dijeros. We find them hanging from belts next to crosses -sometimes of those used for exorcisms-, medals, reliquaries, gospels, rules of religious orders or orders of another subject. Their presence has much to do with the protection of children and, particularly, against molestation. The Countess D'Aulnoy, in her Relación del viaje de España (1679-1680), explains the evil eye as a kind of poison that certain eyes have and that is discharged at the first glance. The use of amulets consisted of using them to divert the eye's attention so that its poison would be discharged without affecting the child. Thus, the badger's claw, with its multiple hairs, served to entertain the charmer, who would be imprisoned in them, forced to count them.

The most common of the amulets is the bell, which warded off evil spirits. It is followed by a badger's claw, set in silver, to defend against evil. We also find chestnuts, suckers, figs, perfumers and bells. The chestnut, also set in silver, was used against erysipelas, hemorrhoids and rheumatism, so it was worn by children and adults. The glass sucker was attributed the preservation of eye diseases and harmful looks. The figs or closed fists were recognized as beneficial and protective action to ward off diseases. They were made, preferably in jet, crystal or coral, and otherwise in black glass, red paste or bone. The shells, evoking the waters where they are formed, participated in the symbolism of the fertility of the water, they were carried by children as protection and by women to propitiate conception.

As for the perfumer, it should be remembered that the use of pomas or pomanders was an elegant and striking solution, not only as an ornament, but also for the senses, as the wearer benefited from its aromatic effects and at the same time it was believed to preserve against diseases and other people's ills. Regarding the bells and rattles, it should be remembered that they entertained and identified children, also acting as a prophylactic attribute, transmitting strength and courage to them.

The amulets, along with medals, crosses and other religious objects, were hung on belts in large quantities. Depending on the place of origin, they are known as ceñidor, dijero or paxiak. With this last denomination were known in the Barranca those destined to the baptism of children. In other areas of Navarre they were also used including medals, scapulars, various amulets and the Gospels in small editions with the text of St. John. The latter were sometimes placed in showy cases, in the shape of a fish as a Christian symbol and acrostic of Christ in Greek. We know the dijeros in Navarre much more from documentation than from the material objects they contained.


Medals and outstanding examples since the 18th century

Along with the medals of the great Marian advocations and saints of universal character, we know of examples from Navarre, either through documentation or through some that have survived to the present day. Specifically, the first documented ones belong to the Virgen del Sagrario / San Fermín and to Nuestra Señora de Ujué with the co-patrons, in plenary session of the Executive Council XVIII century. To the XIX century belong already diverse copies corresponding to the Virgen de los Conjuros de Arbeiza, the Virgen del Puy, Nuestra Señora de Roncesvalles, San Miguel de Aralar and San Fermín. From the first half of the 20th century are those of the Virgen del Camino de Pamplona, del Yugo de Arguedas or de la Barda de Fitero, Santa Elena de Esquíroz and Santa Felicia de Labiano.

We know that the canon Pascual Beltrán de Gayarre, a canon from Pamplona, was in Rome as an agent of the Pamplona chapter between 1729 and 1731, where he had plates made to print engravings of the Virgin of the Tabernacle and also medals of the same. Some of them traveled overseas along with engravings of the same image and of San Fermín, as a gift from the chapter to Don José de Armendáriz, Marquis of Castelfuerte and Viceroy of Lima. A copy of the medal can be seen in the Marés Museum in Barcelona and another is preserved in the file Municipal de Pamplona.

The medals minted in Rome for the sanctuary of Ujué were demanded in groups of 3,000 and arrived, via Paris or Bayonne, generally through the merchant established in Pamplona Jerónimo Iñiguez, in the central decades of the 18th century. The specimens we have known contain the Marian image dressed in a richly wrapped mantle, the dove and the registration on the obverse and the co-patrons San Fermin and San Francisco Javier with the coat of arms of Navarre on the reverse. The iconographic model was maintained until well into the 19th century, when the Marian icon was stylized. At the beginning of the 19th century they came to be made in silver, copying Roman models. Among the silversmiths who made them were Francisco Giraud, who was examined in the capital of Navarre in 1783, and the Tafalla silversmith Micaela Orbaiceta, who made medals of different sizes.

As for those of St. Francis Xavier, except for his presence next to San Fermin in the example of Ujué, the medals in different metals and enamels that ran through these lands were the general ones that were imported from Rome or from other cities in southern Spain, with the exception of the one belonging to the Archconfraternity of the saint founded in the parish of San Agustin de Pamplona in 1885, which was made specifically in that year.


Around the Cross of St. Benedict

The Benedictine monasteries of Estella, Corella and Lumbier distributed the medals and scapulars with the cross of St. Benedict. We do not know that the medals were minted in Navarre. Regarding the scapulars, we know that at least three plates were ordered from the Corellan monastery, one of them to the Aragonese engraver José Gabriel Lafuente, at the end of the XVIII century, to satisfy the demand for them. The cross of St. Benedict has its origins in the Age average and is accompanied by the following inscriptions on each of the four sides C. S. P. B.(Crux Sancti Patris Benedicto: "Cross of the Holy Father Benedict"). On the vertical pole of the cross C. S. S. S. M. L.(Crux Sácra Sit Mihi Lux: "May the Holy Cross be my light"). On the horizontal pole of the cross N. D. S. M. D:(Non Dráco Sit Mihi Dux: "May the devil not be my boss"). Beginning at the top, clockwise V. R. S.(Vade Retro Satana. Away with Satan) - N. S. M. V.(Non Suade Mihi Vána. "Do not advise me vain things") - S. M. Q. L.(Sunt Mala Quae Libas. "It is bad what you offer me") - I. V. B.(Ipse Venena Bibas. "Drink your own poison"). To the cross of St. Benedict was attributed the remedy against certain diseases of people and animals, against the evils of the spirit and temptations. It used to be placed in the foundations of new buildings as a guarantee of security for its inhabitants.


The clay hearts of the Recoletas of Pamplona: 1649-1774

In relation to the medals, we must remember that from the convent of Augustinian Recollect Nuns of Pamplona came out countless pendants in the form of terracotta medals with the crown of thorns and the nails of the passion on the obverse and the five wounds on the reverse. They were distributed by the thousands in Pamplona on the occasion of the plague of 1649, at the initiative of the prioress and, in 1676, at the request of Murcia and Cartagena. In 1774, in the context of the great cattle epidemic, they were demanded with the name of miraculous medals or hearts, from Artaza, Arzoz, Arruiz, Baraibar. Echarri-Aranaz, Eraul, Barindano, Garisoain. Guetadar, Iturgoyen, Lerga, Liédena, Leoz, Mianos, San Martín de Améscoa, Lesaca, Olave, Olazagutía, Oronz, Tiermas, Cemborain, Urzainqui, Undiano and Navascués. In the petition of Echarri-Aranaz they call them cutunes, term with which in the Barranca they referred to the amulets that were put to the creatures as a preservative against the aojamiento.


Scapulars, measures, pieces of mantles of the famous Marian images, cloths of Codés and Detentes.

The small sized scapulars were made with intaglio copper plates from the 18th century and later with xylographic blocks. We have evidence that they were made in Navarre for Saint Benedict, the Heart of Jesus, the Virgins of the Rosary, of Carmen, of Ujué and of the Way and of the River of Pamplona. Of those of the Virgin of Ujué the Aragonese engraver José Gabriel Lafuente made position, as well as those of San Benito, and the others, in spite of being anonymous works, have the interest of showing us the images as they were venerated at that time, with rich mantles and bejeweled in many cases. As for those of the Heart of Jesus, we have different material and documentary testimonies that evidence their diffusion in the second third of the XVIII century.

Regarding the measurements, it should be remembered that they are ribbons of the height of an image on which the image and name were stamped. They were carried sewn to the clothes, in the pocket or had in accessible places. They were attributed powers of all kinds subject before any negative event. In Navarre we know them from the Virgin of the River and of the Wonders of the capital of Navarre. Of the latter, they were distributed in the porter's lodge of Recoletas de Pamplona until a few decades ago and they were attributed protection in pregnancies and childbirths. The last die for its realization is still preserved.

Of some images like the Virgin of Puy de Estella or the Virgin of Araceli de Corella, small pieces of their old mantles could be acquired in their sanctuaries that when they were already useless they were cut and introduced in some ballots, in which a text was printed that gave faith of its content. From Codés, the people carried since the XVI century, in the times of the hermit Juan de Codés, the famous cloths touched to his image, to which therapeutic and curative properties were assigned, counting on a ritual for his blessing that Juan de Amiax published in his book (1618), collecting more than sixty cures by means of them.

Detentes consisted of the printed or embroidered image of the Heart of Jesus on a piece of felt, as a badge. Its origin dates back to Marseilles in 1720, when Mother Madeleine Remuzat, on the occasion of the plague, had the idea of spreading the small image of a heart with the following registration: Stop, the Heart of Jesus is here. The image worked wonders and was called Safeguard. Under the same circumstances, it spread later in wars and calamities to Amiens during the plague of 1866. Its diffusion made Pius IX grant it indulgences on October 28, 1872 and it was used among others by the Carlist soldiers in various conflicts.


Agnus Dei, other pinjantes and reliquaries

With the denomination of Agnus Dei are known the oval medallions of different sizes made in white wax, coming from the paschal candle, mixed with the holy oils and holy water, that the Popes issued in Rome from the Antiquity until practically the XX century. They were used as a source of protection against any adverse status , danger or illness, obtaining from it benefits for the soul, the body and the houses. From the XVII century, with Clement IX, in one of the faces began to be associated to the Agnus, some saint or Marian devotion, adding the name of the consecrator pope, the year of the blessing and the pontificate, as well as the pontifical coat of arms. Beautiful examples are preserved in Araceli de Corella and Agustinas Recoletas de Pamplona.

In the pilgrimages and large sanctuaries were traditionally distributed circular pinjantes of greater or lesser size that contained in its interior nineteenth-century lithographs of the Virgins of Roncesvalles, Ujué, Santa Felicia, San Urbano ... etc.. The lithographic reproductions mentioned above were inserted between two crystals held in place with fine wires or silver threads from work . Finally, we must point out some reliquaries of different shapes, oval or heart-shaped, which contained relics or pieces of vestments of significant Navarrese devotional icons. They were destined to people of high status who could afford those pieces of sumptuary arts.