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

The ancient Maundy Thursday monuments

Thu, 09 Apr 2015 10:53:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

Among the artistic commissions of the parishes and convents, until a century ago, the Holy Thursday monuments stood out, authentic ephemeral architectures painted with arches in perspective, frequently enriched with images of the Passion of Christ, soldiers and Eucharistic prefigurations. The fact that they were assembled and disassembled annually meant that they had to be frequently renewed, given the deterioration they suffered.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries they were the work of sculptors and carvers, but in the eighteenth century they were monopolized, almost exclusively, by painters. For the most part they consisted of arches, decreasing in depth the closest, and the last of perspective, gathering the rich experiences of Italian masters, mainly Bernini, Borromini and Father Pozzo, as well as various engraved models of some treatises.

In reality, the idea was to organize false perspectives in order to feign large spaces in narrow places, leading the gaze of the spectators to the tabernacle. To achieve the visual deception, the measures of the orders of columns and pilasters were shortened as they moved away from those who contemplated the scenography.

Illusionism and trompe l'oeil already belong to classical times, while Greek painters were inclined to trompe l'oeil, Romans did it by the ways of spatial illusionism. Perspective is a system of representation of a three-dimensional object or space on a flat surface, as it appears to the eyes of an observer from a certain point of view. Architectural illusionism is something that adds to a reality, making it more grandiose, imaginative and monumental. It can be said that it enlarges the architecture to which it is applied.


Singular examples in Navarra

Works of certain relevance belonged to the 17th century, such as the primitive of the cathedral of Pamplona, which was recomposed in 1706 by José Ortega. In the third decade of the 18th century the design of the parish church of Garianoain was dated, for which the masters José de Ruete, painter, and Antonio de Bellostas, architect, fought against Fermín de Larraínzar, to whom the design must belong.

Unfortunately, none of those enormous scenographies, mostly from the middle of the 18th century, have been preserved. Pedro Echeverría studied and contextualized a few, among them those of Lodosa (Melchor Antonio Garnica and Jose Bejés, 1770), Los Arcos (Francisco Javier Coll and Antonio de Osorio, 1763) and others of Tierra Estella, to which we should add, due to their dimensions and relevance in other lands of Navarra, those of the cathedral of Pamplona (José Pérez de Eulate and Pedro Antonio de Rada, 1741-1743 with traces of Francisco de Ibero), that of the parish of Peralta (José del Rey 1781-1782), that of San Saturnino de Pamplona, work of José Bejés (1778) or those of the parish of Cintruénigo (1768), the cathedral of Tudela and the parish of Santa María de Cascante, made by Diego Díaz del Valle, around 1782, as well as that of the parish of Alsasua, work of the prolific Andrés Mata, whose design with a pair of figures leaning out of two side windows.

A complement of singular importance in those enormous machines was the urn in which the Blessed Sacrament was reserved, which, on many occasions, had the shape of a sepulcher, something that came to be prohibited by the Congregation of Rites, clearly indicating that in its disposition it should not look like a sepulcher or funerary urn, but rather a closed tabernacle.

Among the most outstanding silver ones are those of the Tulebras monastery, the parish of Peralta and the cathedral of Pamplona. The first of these was made in Alfaro by the silversmith Bernardo Peña in 1684. The one in Peralta is a Peruvian work datable around 1725. For the cathedral of Pamplona, the silver tabernacle of the monument was paid for by Bishop Miranda y Argaiz in 1759, made by the silversmiths Antonio and Manuel Beramendi. To these silver pieces must be added countless others of polychrome wood that convents and parishes conserve and that range from the XVI to the XX century, among which the mannerist of Miranda de Arga stands out, as well as other more exotic ones from other localities where tabernacles and lacquer and tortoiseshell chests from New Spain arrived, others of filigree and namban art, which were used on the afternoon of Holy Thursday and were given a very special use and function for the Eucharistic reservation .


Graphic testimonials: original drawings and photographs

To this day, internship totality of those Structures have been lost, in great part, because they are no longer in use. Among the preserved monuments, we must mention the monuments of the parish of Ibero, preserved in the Ethnological Museum of Navarre, and that of the Augustinian Recollect Nuns of Pamplona, both from the 19th century. The few graphic testimonies of which we have evidence are some original designs and a few photographs, such as those of the monuments of Peralta, Lerín or Vidángoz.

From the cathedral monument in Pamplona, only the figure of the Resurrected Christ remains, the work of the Ontañón family, sculptors of Cantabrian origin established in the capital of Navarre. The sculpture was placed, on Easter Sunday, in the place where the Eucharistic urn was located a few days before.

The Peralta was contracted in 1781 with the Tafalla painter José del Rey, a master who did other works of this subject throughout the second half of the eighteenth century. After the completion of the project, in 1782, it was recognized and appraised by the Italian sculptor Santiago Marsili, noting that the designs for its execution had been made by the Riojan painter José Bexes (1729-1785), taking advantage of his stay in the Navarrese town to polychrome the side wings of the main altarpiece he had contracted in 1780.

The photograph of the monument of Peralta that kindly provided us its parish priest Don Javier Leoz presents some canvases attached to their frames in which architectures and some figures have been properly painted, among which the Veronica with the Holy Face and possibly angels with the arma Christi stand out. The illusory perspective is achieved by means of the multiplication of pillars and decreasing arches that lead the look towards the center, where a very rich silver chest of Peruvian origin was placed, dated in the decade of the twenties of the XVIII century and possibly given by an Indian of the Irigaray de Peralta family.

The same model of perspective arches with railings present the original traces of the monuments of Lodosa, Garinoain and Alsasua. At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, those sumptuous machines incorporated elements of classical, neo-Gothic and eclectic architecture, as can be seen in the photographs of those of Lerín and Vidángoz. From 1860 and made in small dimensions is the one that the painter Juan José Nieva made for the Carmelites of Corella, nowadays conserved in a private collection.


Disappeared customs: bird songs

The Baroque was a style that tried to captivate people through the senses, much more vulnerable than the intellect. A famous traveler through peninsular lands in the second half of the 17th century was Madame d'Aulnoy, author of Viaje por España, in which she described a series of interesting accounts of inns, palaces and churches, along with countless customs of the Spain of that time. In describing the churches of the Madrid court he states: "Every Sunday the altar is lit with more than a hundred candles and adorned with a prodigious amount of silver pieces, and that happens in all the churches of Madrid. They place there parterres of grass adorned with flowers, and embellish them with a multitude of fountains, whose water falls into tanks, some of silver, others of marble or porphyry. They put around them a great issue of orange trees as tall as men, which stand in very beautiful boxes, and there they let the birds go, which give in the manner of little concerts. This is almost all the year round, as I have just told you, and in the churches they never fail to have orange and jasmine trees, which perfume them much more pleasantly than incense."

The little birds, canaries and goldfinches, to which the French traveler alludes, were present in some churches of Navarra in singular festivities. In the monument of Holy Week in some localities like Fitero they made an appearance in their cages during the afternoon of Holy Thursday, until seven decades ago, among candles, smells, flowers and the colorful decorations. To increase the effect of surprise, the cages were hidden behind pillars and columns in order to hear the songs of the birds without seeing where they came from.

The other place where the canaries had their annual quotation was in the chapel of the Virgen del Camino de San Saturnino in Pamplona. Coinciding with the Octave of Easter and the Novena of the Virgin in August, cages with canaries were hung on the railing of the dome of the chapel. Don Jesús Arraiza collected the testimony of how their song perfectly matched the trill of a tiple stanza of the Gozos a la Virgen del Camino, set to music by Mariano García. The custom was recorded in this couplet of the time:"Si yo fuera jilguero, / pasaría cantando en su asilo, / los días, las noches, / Virgencita del Camino" (If I were a goldfinch, / I would spend my days and nights singing in her asylum, / Virgencita del Camino).