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The interior of the basilica of Ujué for two and a half centuries.


Published in

Diario de Navarra

Ricardo Fernández Gracia

Chair of Heritage and Art in Navarre

The interiors of many temples, if not most of them, have changed with the passing of time, so that when we have photographs of them, the surprise is usually great when we see spaces with hardly any pews, with bricked or boxed in floors, with altarpieces quite disfigured by dust and deterioration due to the passing of the centuries, to which we must add a series of elements that were added to their decoration, with more or less fortune and success.

Today we will comment on the interior of the famous sanctuary of Ujué, in which work has been done in the last century, at least three times, in the mid-twentieth century, 1983 and the great intervention of 2001-2010.

In the first of those interventions, in 1950, the altarpieces that were in the frontispiece, just in front of the Romanesque apses, as well as the paintings that were on the great wall that separates the Romanesque and Gothic parts of the complex, were removed, among other furnishings. Unfortunately, almost all of it disappeared without a trace. We are going to deal with all this mostly disappeared decoration: the baroque altarpieces and the paintings, specifying their authors and chronologies.

Baroque altarpieces

In order to baroque the whole, we will make use of a very few photographs and the programs of study of Biurrun, Jimeno Jurío and Teresa Alzugaray, especially the data provided by the latter researcher in her very well documented study, based on the sanctuary's account books. We will add others here, from the notarial protocols.

As in other parishes and sanctuaries, the last decades of the 17th century and the first decades of the next century saw a transformation of the interiors, once the patrons, confraternities and faithful allowed themselves to be carried away by the senses, the gold and color of the altarpieces and paintings, and the sounds of the organ with its new registers. Precisely in Ujué, the Franciscan friar Ignacio Morate was in charge of the tuning of two organs, the major and the minor, in 1675, although a few years later Félix Yoldi had to work on the major organ, with a great intervention. Around 1700 the entire main chapel was painted "with colors" and the dove, icon and motif of the apparition and the name of the patron saint, was gilded and stewed. From then on, the gilded altarpieces as scenographies to house the devotions, old and new, became the protagonists of that sanctuary. The pulpit would finish off the most decorative and traditional baroque stage, while the choir stalls and the altarpiece of San Joaquín belong to the rococo stage.

Regarding the altarpieces seen in the photographs of 1919 and 1944, three in total, two are similar and another located at the wider and less high end, years ago we documented them in our doctoral thesis on the baroque altarpiece in Navarre, as the work of the Pamplona master Fermín de Larráinzar in 1702. As is known, the altarpiece of the Diputación Palace chapel was composed with the mazonerías of the pair, with most of its sculptures disappearing. The third, dedicated to the Cristo de la Vera Cruz, has suffered a better fate and is in the sanctuary. With that action, the baroque style of the temple was completely started, with a great tapestry of golden carved altarpieces at the head of the temple.

They are the work of the best master of the Pamplona workshop and overseer of works of the diocese of Pamplona, Fermín de Larrainzar (c. 1696-1741), author of the main altarpiece of Larraga (1696), the collaterals of the ambulatory of the cathedral of Pamplona (1713) and the main altarpiece and collaterals of San Nicolás of the same city (1708 and 1720), among other works. He made position of them in 1702 and their dedications would be of the Holy Trinity and San Sebastian. For the first one, he would make two packages, the one of the titular group to preside it and the one of San Fermín for the attic, the one of San Sebastián had the carving of San Antón in the niche of the attic. The third, was destined to the Vera Cruz and in its main niche should be represented in sculpture a topic little treated in these lands, such as St. Helena and her son the emperor Constantine clinging to the wood of the cross, in what we can call authentic scene. The auction would be adorned with a pelican and various attributes of the passion. As for the payment, Larráinzar would receive 230 ducats in three installments and the three altars would be finished in deadline two years from the signature of the deed. Transportation from Pamplona, where the master had his workshop, to Ujué would be at his own expense.

In the photographs we observe how the iconography of the two collaterals had been altered, leaving only Saint Anton in the corresponding attic. The same did not happen with that of the Vera Cruz, which was preserved and preserved in its entirety, according to the contract. In a photo published by Clavería in the 1919 edition of his monograph, one can still see the lump of the Holy Trinity commissioned to Fermín de Larráinzar.

Shortly after, in 1706 the prestigious master José de San Juan y Martín, from Tudela, was position of the main altarpiece of the sanctuary and, once it was finished, in 1707, he contracted the side altarpieces of the apse chapels, one dedicated to St. Peter, on behalf of the chapter, and the other to the Dolorosa, paid for by a son of the town, Simón Nicolay. The first would incorporate the sculptures of the patron saint together with Saint Paul and Saint Bartholomew in the main body and Saint Joseph in the attic and the second would have the carvings of Saint John the Evangelist and the Magdalene together with the patron saint and Saint John the Baptist in the attic.

Complementing all those altarpieces was their gilding and polychromy, which was entrusted to Joaquín Suescun de Elizondo, who worked on them for several years.

The last element that was added during the decorative stage was the pulpit that has been preserved in situ. Its construction was done by position, around 1730, by the master Vicente de Frías, a resident of Caparroso and author of the choir stalls of the monastery of La Oliva. It was gilded and polychromated two decades later by José del Rey.

The "cleaning" of all those altarpieces has been done at different times. In fact, Father Clavería, in the 1919 edition of his study, had sentenced them with the contempt of these sentences: "As forthe altars, none of them reach the size to be stamped here or to be praised because all of them stand out for their badness, whether we look at their art or their appearance alone, outside of the main altar, of modern workmanship". This last one was made in 1909 with design of Saturnino Eguaras, although it was finished by the workshops of Arrieta and Artieda in Pamplona, being consecrated on the eve of May 1, 1910.

The paintings of the headboard

The three large canvases have as protagonists the apparition of the Virgin in the center, and King Carlos II and Gonzalo Bustos, father of the Infantes de Lara, who recovered his sight. A data published by Biurrun and copied by Clavería, other researchers and us until recently, repeats that they were made by José Aróstegui in 1782. However, it is necessary to clarify that, according to the unpublished documentation that we handle, he painted them in 1787 and that he was not only in charge of the canvases but also of all the decorations that surrounded the paintings in the form of cheers, panoply and rocailles. This is recorded in the letter of payment signed by the aforementioned Aróstegui "professor in the arts of painting, architecture and gilding" in Ujué on July 1, 1787, after the works were examined by Juan Martín Andrés, author among other works of the altarpiece of the Virgen del Camino in Pamplona. In the aforementioned document it is textually noted that the aforementioned Aróstegui "has built again in the frontispiece of the main chapel of this said parish with its carved ornaments, royal coats of arms, a painting of the history of the apparition of Our Lady, those representing King Carlos Segundo of Navarra and Don Gonzalo de Busto that are on both sides of the altarpiece, its angels and other paintings that are found in said frontispiece".

About José Aróstegui we know that he intervened in the main altarpiece of Gallipienzo (1788-1790), gilded the disappeared altarpiece of Sansomain and that in 1791 he made the altarpiece of the Santo Cristo in Santa María de Tafalla. In 1818, he made position of the main one and collaterals of Cadreita, following the design of José Armendáriz. Years before, between 1759 and 1762, he had been in charge of the gate of the main door of Ujué, for which he was paid 1,215 reales. It is possible that this craftsman can be identified with the homonymous tafallés that quotation J. M. Esparza, in 1792, asking for licence to build a house between the snow well and the corner of the house of the Count of Guenduláin.

The legendary story of the apparition to the shepherd with the dove as the protagonist had been repeated for centuries and was divulged in works of great importance such as the Annals of Navarre by Father Moret and the Historical Compendium in which news is given of the miraculous and devout images of the Queen of Heaven Mary Most Holy that are venerated in the most famous shrines of Spain, (Madrid, 1726 and 1740) by the Jesuit Juan de Villafañe. The protection of Charles II had been treated by historians, with Father Moret at the forefront and the story of the return of the sight to Don Gonzalo Bustos was part of the essence of the sanctuary, having been collected by numerous authors, including the aforementioned Villafañe.

From what the photographs show, these were not paintings of quality, but of apparatus and scenography, to which the rock carvings, shields, inscriptions and angels that surrounded them collaborated. The scene of the apparition sample the shepherd with a large flock of sheep, under the grotto and the image of the Virgin with cloaks with the dove at her feet. The portrait of the Navarrese king is executed as if he were an 18th century monarch with his great mantle and wig, in front of a landscape of Ujué. It is topped in this case with the arms of the Spanish monarchy with the double eagle, carved in wood and polychrome. It is possible that both this coat of arms and others made on painted panels, whose motifs cannot be identified from the photographs, were taken from earlier ones, as evidenced by their silhouettes, much more sober than the curves and counter-curves of the cartouches containing the explanatory texts of the three paintings. In two of them the borders with maces and other military harnesses are painted on the whitewashed wall.

All these heraldic and iconographic anachronisms are justified because the function of the paintings was to present before the faithful as close as possible to the real image at the time of its execution.

The protagonist of the miracle, don Gonzalo Bustos, is found on his way to the sanctuary, with his sword in his waist, according to the texts of his healing. The photographs do not allow us to see the shield that tops the whole, although it seems that it is also accompanied by the double eagle.