Publicador de contenidos

Back to 2019_08_17_FYL_opinion_san_bernardo

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

Evoking St. Bernard in Navarre: images and architecture of the Cistercian Order

Sat, 17 Aug 2019 10:14:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The Cistercian Order has its origins in the monk Robert who, with several followers at the end of the 11th century, withdrew to Citeaux, a place section in Burgundy, to put on internship the ideals of the Benedictine rule. His fame attracted Stephen Harding, who took it upon himself to summarize the statement of core values of those reforming monks, restless and eager to participate in an authentically spiritual business . The real impetus developed from 1112, after the arrival of Bernard of Clairvaux (1190-1153) together with several Burgundian nobles and with the pontifical approval of the Carta Caritatis, in 1119. St. Bernard, endowed with great intellectual training and endowed with enormous appeal staff and great power of conviction, was able to attract many young people of his time. 

With him began a rapid expansion of the Cistercian Order, with ideals of austerity and prohibition of all luxury subject in housing, clothing and food. At the same time, he recommended the praise of God, through lectio divina and work, avoiding idleness and, therefore, the temptations of which he affirmed: "the flesh tempts with sweetness, the world with vanities, the devil with bitterness". St. Bernard developed extensively in his writings the ideals of work, poverty, knowledge and the following of Christ and love for the Virgin.

In 1133 there were already 69 foundations. Twenty years later, at the death of the saint in 1153, the issue of monasteries rose to 343. At the end of the Age average, the masculine cenobiums were 742 and those of nuns were more than seven hundred. The new communities maintained a close relationship of dependence with their motherhouse and the General Chapters ensured that there were no exceptions that would break the uniformity of the order. 

Navarra has the first two Cistercian foundations in the Iberian Peninsula: Fitero for the monks (1140) and Tulebras for the nuns (1147). Together with the abbeys of La Oliva, Iranzu, Marcilla and Leire, which became part of the Cistercian Order in 1269, they form a special bequest of history, art, culture and spirituality. plenary session of the Executive Council The female communities of Nuestra Señora la Blanca de Marcilla and Nuestra Señora de Salas in Estella disappeared at the beginning of the 15th century, the male abbeys were extinguished with the disentailment of Mendizábal and in the 20th century, convent life was restored in La Oliva (1927) and a female monastery was founded in Alloz. 


The image of St. Bernard in Navarrese art

The attractiveness staff of St. Bernard, his relationship with the Marian cult, his writings of great common sense and vitality, caused his representations to spread, promoted by prominent people and institutions. His monks and nuns, his early canonization in 1174, the celebration of his feast day on August 20 and his numerous devotees multiplied the interest in his figure, in a process that would lead to his proclamation as a doctor of the Church in 1830.

Navarre was no exception in the reception of his images. His figure was present in a singular way in the Cistercian abbeys and their areas of influence. It is significant that, in his monasteries, for which he himself had banned images, they were populated during the Modern Age with his representations and outstanding scenes of his life.

His iconographic subject as an isolated figure is very repetitive. Dressed in the wide white cowl, he is accompanied by the abbot's crozier, the book in reference letter to his numerous writings and the miters at his feet, in allusion to the bishoprics that he did not want to accept. His monasteries and those of the Benedictines have excellent carvings, such as those of his collateral in the monastery of Fitero (1614), or of the main altarpiece of the monastery of Irache, today in Dicastillo, contracted in 1617 by Juan Imberto III. Other sculptures can be found in Corella, Tafalla, Roncal, Sesma, Tafalla, Uztegui and Cascante. Among the pictorial versions it is necessary to emphasize the table of the attic of the altarpiece of the monastery of La Oliva, today in San Pedro de Tafalla, work of Rolan Mois and Paolo Schepers (1571-1582), where he appears kneeling, in prayerful attitude, with an open book in whose pages he reads the verse Monstra te ese matrem of the hymn Ave maris Stella.

In some cases, as in the attic altarpiece of San Miguel de Corella (1718-1722) or the altarpiece of La Oliva, the saint is found in an Assumptionist context. In this regard, we should mention one of the saint's sermons for August 15, where he states: "May our thirsty soul turn to this source, and may our misery have recourse to this treasure of compassion. Blessed Virgin, may your goodness henceforth make known to the world the grace that you have found with God: obtain with your prayers the forgiveness of the guilty, the health of the sick, the consolation of the afflicted, financial aid and freedom for those in danger". Without leaving Corella, it should be remembered that, in 1703, several lightning bolts from a great storm on the day of the saint left enormous destruction. The City Council to thank the lack of victims agreed to celebrate the day of San Bernardo with procession and mass and in the convent of San Benito doña Paula del Bayo, ordered to make its altarpiece to Juan de Arregui, in 1726.


Two great messages translated into a couple of scenes from his life

The scenes of his life appear in his altarpieces of Fitero and Leire. In the latter, the copy in his scenes by the sculptor Juan de Berroeta (b. 1630) of the engravings of the Vita et miracula divi Bernardi, published in Rome in 1587 with the sponsorship of the Congregation of Castile, is evident. In the Cistercian spirituality the two great messages of the saint would bear fruit. On the one hand, the maxim "to know Jesus and Jesus crucified" and, on the other, the extraordinary love for the Virgin that made him repeat: "Mariae nunquam satis" (Of Mary, never enough). Iconography could not remain oblivious to both directives.

St. Bernard embraced by the Crucified One who hangs from the cross, as with St. Francis of Assisi, provided artists with a special motif of inspiration, although it is true that, in most cases, they followed models of engravings shown to them by the abbots of the monasteries and other promoters. In Navarre, one of the panels of the main altarpiece of Fitero, work of Rolan Mois (1590-1591), the relief of the altarpiece of the saint in Leire and a small painting of the parish of Beire, from La Oliva, stand out with that topic .

The other great scene of his life is related to the Virgin. It started from a legendary account and refers to the lactatio, which depicts the Virgin ceasing to breastfeed the Child to send a small stream of milk to the saint, which made him the mellifluous doctor, alluding to the sweetness and eloquence in dealing with Mary. Accounts of the event differ. According to some, the abbot of Citeaux sent St. Bernard to speak with the bishop of Chalon and, before carrying out mission statement , he wanted to pray before an image of Mary, who threw him a stream of milk. According to others, while he was praying and enraptured before the Virgin, she sprinkled milk from her breast on his lips, clarifying that the prayer he pronounced was: "Monstra te esse matrem", where Mary is asked to show herself as a true mother. The scene is in significant places, like the stairs of the monastery of Leire, the mentioned greater altarpieces of Fitero and Irache, two reliefs of the old altarpiece of the Benedictines of Estella, work of Juan Imberto III (1649), today in Leire and in its mentioned altarpiece of Legerense, the attic of the altarpiece of Santa María de Aibar (1710), and some dynamic and colorful baroque canvases of Tulebras, castle of Javier and Comendadoras de Puente la Reina.


Architecture for the Cistercian charism

Regarding the construction of the Cistercian monasteries, if we go back to St. Bernard himself and his writings, we find guidelines to understand the sobriety of the buildings, when he affirms in the Apology to William: "They try to excite the devotion of the coarse people by the corporal attractions and not to excite it enough in the spiritual ones... As candelabra, one sees real bronze trees carved with admirable art... Oh vanity of vanities, but more folly than vanity! The General Chapter of the order of 1134 prohibited in the: "churches or in any of the dependencies of the monastery there are pictures or sculptures, because precisely to these things one directs one's attention, with which often the benefit of a good meditation is harmed and the Education of the religious seriousness is neglected".

The architecture of the Cistercian monasteries has been qualified and evaluated in different ways by many professors and specialists. Chueca Goitia considers it as a rationalist movement in plenary session of the Executive Council XII century, "with all the characteristics that will have the most modern analogous artistic revolutions... condemnation of all superfluous ornament, free expression of the Structures and frank nudity of the construction materials". Martín González interprets it as a transitional art between Romanesque and Gothic. Professor Azcárate considered Cistercian architecture as another chapter of Proto-Gothic architecture despite its own particularities, with great prominence in the diffusion of pointed arches and ribbed vaults. Finally, J. Yarza denies the existence of a Cistercian style in formal terms, "although not in the field of the organization of a monastery the answer must be affirmative". Víctor Nieto, following this last assessment, considers that the "criticism of the Cistercians against luxury and the ostentation of riches in the temples was not a praise of poverty, but of austerity and interior religious life...".

W. Braunfels' opinion regarding the order's architectural uniformity is argued in his book Monastic Architecture in the West, where he states: "The plan of the ideal Cistercian monastery represents a very mature organism, in which everything has been foreseen, where every superfluous detail has been avoided, capable of being built by elements of equal characteristics and where the temple only occupies a place of honor thanks to its larger dimensions. Severity and clarity dominate the structure of the plan". The monks who observed a strict enclosure within the monastic complexes, had perfectly distributed the time for the canonical hours in the temple.

The conjunction of plan, elevations, roofs and lighting generate a severe and clean interior space in the interior of the Cistercian churches, which is not conceived as a reduction of the celestial space, nor does it intend to perform the miracle of "a space that is above the world" according to the idea present in the nascent Gothic at the same time. The interior of the church is, above all, a place for the community and is intended and dedicated to the prayer and worship of the monks. The church, from agreement with the purifying and simplifying ideas of St. Bernard, is reduced to a pure structure illuminated by natural light. Nothing more opposed to the Cistercian spirit than the Gothic space, illuminated for the sake of the transcendent and celestial with powerful beams of light sifted through stained glass windows.

The cloister, a place for meditation and reading, was at the same time the organizer of the spaces, the axis of community life and the true nerve center of the entire monastery. It had direct access to the church and the rest of the rooms. The four pandas were also used for meditation on detachment from oneself and the world, as well as to evoke love of God and neighbor.

The capitular conference room , following the Rule of St. Benedict, was destined to deal with important matters under the presidency of the abbot. In that room the community met with the abbot, read the rule, and each monk had to ask forgiveness and do penance for his faults. The rest of the rooms, such as the cillas, refectory, dormitories, kitchen, latrines, scriptorium, etc., followed precise rules, in general, in relation to the uses and functions described by the monastic rule, insisting on silence and meditation on the word of God, above the contemplation of images, which in the history of the Church had a real slowdown with the Cistercian period after the emergence of the Romanesque period and the flowering of the Gothic period.

From the monumental nave of Fitero, which made the architect Vicente Lampérez affirm that Cistercian architecture in Spain had never produced anything like it, to the simple interior of Tulebras, passing through the archetypal churches of Iranzu or La Oliva, those who visit visit are offered a particular impression and emotion, as well as an opportunity to meditate on St. Bernard's thoughts on the tangible and the intangible. Let us remember that about the knowledge of himself he writes: "Ignorance of oneself generates pride, but ignorance of God generates despair", and about knowledge he argues: "To know for the sake of knowing: vulgar curiosity; to know for the sake of making oneself known: foolish vanity; to know in order to sell one's science, enrich oneself or receive honors: shameful business; to know in order to edify: that is love; to know for one's own Building: that is prudence".