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

Works and days in Navarrese art (10). Looking at the sky and celebrating: some examples

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 16:35:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The past centuries were times when everything was entrusted to Providence: diseases, plagues, droughts and other calamities. The documentation of the reactions to the setbacks abounds and relates penitential prayers and festive thanksgivings, returning the images of great worship to their temples. The descriptions of official character are frequent, as well as others made from a more subjective and particular point of view. However, the images to gloss those massive events are almost nonexistent, until the arrival of photography, which from the second half of the 19th century provides us with some interesting snapshots of how much those multitudinous acts meant.


Asking and giving thanks: plagues, droughts, storms, wars and public calamities.

The extraordinary rogations, outside the official and ordinary ones of St. Mark's Day (April 25) and the three days preceding the Ascension, were very frequent in times of prolonged drought, plagues, wars and other calamities. They were often penitential in character and were accompanied by the icons of special devotion or the patron saints of the localities.

In Pamplona the images of San Fermín, the Virgins of the Way and the Sagrario and the Christ of Forgiveness of the Trinitarians were frequently carried in procession. The latter image, the work of the Valladolid artist Francisco Diez de Tudanca, did so in 1665 the year after its arrival in Pamplona, in a rogation for the persistent drought, achieving the goal with copious rains, on the third day. The Virgin of the Way did it in 1713 for the serenity of the weather at the request of the city; in the summer of 1719 for extreme drought; in the autumn of 1724, for drought in the whole region, having obtained success that was considered miraculous; in the winter of 1728 for harsh weather and big frosts and lack of firewood and coal; in 1738 due to drought, after having brought out San Fermín and the Virgin of the Sagrario; in 1765 due to the serenity of the weather; in 1770 after a very harsh winter and after the great snowfall of May 4 to stop the storm, and in 1855 due to cholera. The cathedral's written sources and those of the city council give an account of the departures of San Fermín and the patron saint of the cathedral, preceded by proclamations. Generally, they were requested by the city council and organized by the chapter, not without friction, disagreements with other civil and ecclesiastical institutions and frequent lawsuits over preferences and precedence, so common in the society of the Ancien Régime. For reasons related to events of the royal house (births and deaths above all), warlike causes and inclement weather, the Virgen del Sagrario and San Fermín were documented on many occasions, sometimes together. The patron saint of the cathedral did so, in an extraordinary way, at least two dozen times in the 17th century and San Fermín as many times in the following century.

The chronicle of a cultured master of ceremonies of the cathedral, a true specialist in ceremonial and protocol is very exhaustive. Among other events, he gives an account of the rigors of a Pamplona winter, specifically of December 1829 and January 1830, where he points out how the holy water basins of the cathedral froze on December 28, or the frost of January 10 after a heavy snowfall that brought the thermometers down to 16 and 18 Degrees below zero, with many people dying in the hospital, especially elderly people with "chest pain". On that occasion they went to San Fermin and "although the streets were impassable, to please the people, the city asked for a procession with San Fermin, telling the council that they would take care to cover the ice in the streets, as they did with abundant feast. And having agreed to the council, the procession was made on the afternoon of the 18th, taking the saint in the carriage in which the king was received by the Taconera and the usual streets.

In Tudela, during the seventeenth century and part of the eighteenth century, the images that were processed in the rogations were those of the Virgin of Buen Suceso and the Christ of Carmen shoes. If the image of Santa Ana was incorporated, it was always placed because of its rank and importance. The image of the patron saint of the city went out on numerous occasions: in 1773, 1774 (for the plague of cattle), 1779 (with the Cristo del Carmen and the Virgen del Buen Suceso for the severe drought), 1793 (with San Joaquin) and 1789. In 1768 an agreement was signed so that the patron saint Santa Ana would be placed and venerated on the main altar in times of rogation. On specific occasions the Cristo de la Shrine of Our Lady of Fair Love de la Santa Cruz and the Virgen de los Remedios de San Nicolás were also carried in procession, as was the case in 1817, due to drought, and in 1885, due to cholera.

Of the Virgin of Villar de Corella it is necessary to mention the numerous rogations with her image to the parishes of the city, especially at the end of the XVIII century, in 1772, 1779, 1783, 1786, 1788, 1791, 1792 and 1798. The success in many of them and the achievement of water for the fields made it popularly known as the "llovedera", according to Father Juan de Villafañe in the first half of that century in his well-known Marian monograph. From 1801 to 1957 it is documented at least twenty-four times.

In Estella, Jesús Arraiza counts, in his study, 23 descents of the Virgin of El Puy to the city of Estella since 1631, always in times of extreme need (floods, diseases, wars and droughts) and with a fixed and repeated protocol .

The Virgin of the Yoke also took to Arguedas in indicated occasions. In 1817 at the request of the farmers and stockbreeders of the locality for the pertinacious drought and in 1855 on the occasion of the morbid cholera.


St. Gregory Ostiense and the plagues

The dreaded plague of the locust had in the sanctuary of San Gregorio Ostiense and its relics a true talisman, not only in Navarre, but at the Hispanic level. The earliest exit of the "holy head" dates back to 1598. In 1687 the Diputación del Reino asked it to travel through the merindades of Navarre, although its most important and longest journey dates from 1756-1757, paid for by the Royal Treasury, with a route that took it through Aragon, Levante, Andalusia, Extremadura and La Mancha.

San Gregorio Ostiense was not only effective against the plagues of the countryside, but also against ear ailments, and helped people to find a mate. The ringing of the bells of his tower was attributed to the disappearance of lightning and the conversion of stone into water.

A festive and sacred scene at the same time, that many towns contemplated and lived with intensity annually was that of the reception of the Holy Head of San Gregorio Ostiense, that arrived to countless towns of the foral and peninsular geography, in fulfillment of secular promises. In the engravings of the saint, from a model devised by Carlos Casanova in 1737, which is repeated in nineteenth-century lithographs, we find the festive rite of passing water through the silver head containing his relics. Different vows of cities and towns, as well as diverse relations give account of the event.

In the central nave of his basilica in Sorlada hangs a series of paintings with more iconographic than artistic interest, but very interesting to recreate the legendary story of the saint. Its realization ran to position of Ramón Garrido, painter of Logroño, in 1831, for which he charged 760 pesos fuertes. Madrazo was categorical about its artistic value when he stated a century and a half ago: "what a sad disappointment awaits those who, through the façade of this temple, of 17th century Italian taste, are promised to find inside it statues and paintings of the famous machinisti of the same age! (...) Since they brought from outside who carved the beautiful statues of the exterior, why not have brought also, to paint its vaults and walls, frescoes like the Lanfrancos, the Marattas and the Cortonas?". Two of the canvases narrate the affliction of the people before the plague that devoured the fruits, cereals and vineyards in Navarre and La Rioja, asking for a remedy that came with the preaching of the saint and the repentance of the faithful. Curiously, the people represented in both cases wear 19th century costumes and clothing.


Early photographs of cholera in 1885: Tudela and Cascante

Cholera left a total of 3,261 dead in Navarra and according to the data studied by M. P. Sarrasqueta, the merindad of Tudela suffered the most, with 1,682 deaths. In the capital of La Ribera, the epidemic lasted 65 days between the end of July and the end of September and left the sad figure of 357 Tudela citizens dead. When it ceased, on October 4 a Te Deum was celebrated in the cathedral and the images of the Christ of the Cross were returned to their Shrine of Our Lady of Fair Love and the Virgin of the Remedies of San Nicolás. The latter image was venerated as co-patron saint of the city and had been brought on August 9 to the cathedral. In the October procession, of which there are photographs, there were 1,336 men and 967 women, according to data de Pérez de Laborda in his Apuntes Tudelanos.

A photograph taken in October 1885 on the initiative of the residents of the convent of Santa Clara de Tudela for having been spared from the epidemic can be described as an authentic ex-voto. It is given the circumstance that no nun died in the convent either, although the day of Santa Clara was, according to Pérez de Laborda, the one that registered more deaths, with 22 deaths. The photograph, jealously conserved by the Poor Clares of Tudela sample to the neighbors grouped around the litter and a registration of the time on the back reads: "The inhabitants surrounding the convent and church of Saint Clare of Assisi, to the Religious of the same, as a reminder of the feast and procession celebrated on October 20 on behalf of the same to their Mother Saint Clare in thanksgiving for having been freed from the choleric epidemic. Tudela, October 28, 1885. The organizing committee. Romualdo Castellanos, Froilán Arias, Vicente Miguel, Pascasio Clemente, Calixto Pelairea".

In Cascante, cholera left a high number of 308 deaths. From the beginning of July, measures were taken with the acquisition of disinfectant and the lowering of the Virgen del Romero to the parish of the Assumption, something that had been done since centuries ago, in times of difficulties. When the epidemic ended, the doctors were rewarded and the image was taken to its sanctuary on September 22, 1885. In the snapshot you can see the procession stopped with the litter at the door of the parish very decorated and a large group of Cascantinos with candles, along with the parish council with several scepters. For the aforementioned day and the day before, the Jesuit fathers arrived to preach and twenty-three musicians from the cathedral chapel of Tudela. Several arches were erected with Manila shawls and branches of poplars and cypresses, according to an account of the parish priest of La Victoria published by Fernandez framework, which also points out as something very special the taking of several photographs among which "mainly stood out" the one we are referring to.


Corella by Santa Teresa in 1922

A couple of photos taken by Marcelino Garcia have recorded the celebration in Corella of the III Centenary of the canonization of St. Teresa and the II Centenary of the arrival of the Discalced Carmelites of Araceli. The one that we present takes this registration: "Memory of the Solemn Procession of the second Centenary of the Foundation of this convent and third of the Canonization of N. Stª Mother Teresa of Jesus day three of September year 1922".

A couple of texts written by a nun of the convent and by Don Nolasco Viscasillas, give an account of the solemn religious functions that culminated with a great procession, at four o'clock in the afternoon of September 3, 1922, with the images of St. Teresa, the Virgin of Araceli and the Child Jesus of Prague of the Carmelite Fathers, making station in the Benedictine Sisters and in the parish of San Miguel. With the civil presidency of the city council and the accompaniment of the music band, the parade went through several streets and after three hours, arrived at Araceli at dusk. There was no lack of gunpowder and the ringing of bells, nor the flowery sermon at position by the prior of the Carmelites. The music chapel was reinforced with foreign elements from Logroño and Villafranca. The chronicles relate the collective frenzy, the "Vivas!", as well as the repeated sounds of the Royal March that mingled in the organs of Araceli and San Benito and the band of music.

In the photograph you can see the processional cross of the convent with sleeve, the paso of Santa Teresa, the streets enramadas and many people with scapulars, the banner of the brotherhood of San Roque, as well as others who go behind the step escorted by lanterns.

The author of the photo is Marcelino García "el tío Catoles", a painter who had a photographic studio in Corella. The remains of a circular stamp on the lower right side leave no doubt. In 1922 he painted the presbytery of the convent of the Discalced Carmelites in that city and, shortly before, in Fitero he painted the chapel of the Virgen de la Barda. The first news of García as a photographer place him in 1903 and 1904. His production was very abundant and he gave his file, composed of negatives and positives, for its custody to Juan Escudero, who in turn donated it to the town council of Corella, which has custody of it.