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

The Crucified Christ in Navarre: cult, art and legendary accounts

Fri, 19 Apr 2019 11:09:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The archives and cultural heritage treasure numerous testimonies about what the mystery of the cross has meant in western society. In addition to the sculpted, painted or engraved images, there is a large issue of confraternities, cults and legends. In the latter, there is no lack of landscapes, rivers, catastrophes, wars, plagues, Jews, crusaders, anonymous artists, pilgrims and outcasts. Environments and actors, in final, to develop intense stories that increased the attraction and imagination around venerated icons.

However, it is necessary to consider that, although the past has given us bequest rich testimonies, it has also taken with it, forever, others referring to numerous Crucifixions that, in other times, were a source of inspiration for the artist, the poet, the musician, the preacher and the faithful. Times change and the historical evolution, in many occasions, swallows everything, omnia vorat.


The great images since the 12th century

The images of the Crucified varied, formally, in the historical stages, from agreement with changing models of devotion and according to the different contexts. Certain characteristics were used both for great devotional icons and for processional crosses, miniatures and works of sumptuary art. From the Bible of Sancho el Fuerte to contemporary works, countless images have expressed the mystery of the Crucified One, also in Navarre.

The 12th century presented a majestic Christ, alive, without great signs of suffering, with royal crown, long perizonium, four nails and hieratic attitude. Excellent examples are the carvings of Estella, Cizur Mayor, Torres del Río, Caparroso or Pitillas. On the other hand, in the Gothic period, the naturalism of the time led to pathetic and expressive sculptures, with abundant signs of suffering. A large group of late medieval sculptures, with different influences, studied by Clara Fernández-Ladreda, presents models in which the expressive force was intensified in cloths, postures and faces. Because of their originality, we will highlight those of Puente la Reina and Aibar, the former from the second decade of the 14th century, linked to works by Giovanni Pisano and the latter, from the middle of that century, derived from the Devot Christ of Perpignan.

Throughout the 16th century two types followed one another, with examples everywhere: the expressivist with tight purity cloths and large knots (Piedramillera, Huarte-Araquil) and the romanist, dependent on Michelangelesque models, imposed in the last third of the century by Juan de Anchieta (Miserere de Tafalla and Trascoro de Pamplona). At the beginning of the 17th century, the realist models triumphed, with an excellent ensemble due to Juan de Biniés in the lands of La Ribera (Cintruénigo, Cortes) and Juan de Bazcardo. The baroque style in postures, cloths and expressions, tending to achieve snapshots based on the seven words, can be seen in later examples such as those of the Carmen de Tudela or Roncesvalles. An exceptional piece, although of late arrival in Navarre, is the Christ of Alonso Cano, today in Capuchinos de Pamplona, studied by Professor García Gaínza. The academicism has its best representations in examples depending on Luis Salvador Carmona, in Azpilcueta and Errazu, already in the third quarter of the 18th century.

We cannot forget a rich collection of articulated images, commissioned for the ceremony of the Descent from the Cross, preserved in towns such as Corella, Los Arcos, Cintruénigo, Villafranca or the cathedral of Tudela. In this last city, we have the description of that function, written by the French member of the clergy José Branet, in 1798.

Many of those images were carried in procession during Holy Week, but also on extraordinary occasions and in great droughts, as happened, among others, with the Christ of Carmen of Tudela, the Christ of the Waters of Allo and the Christ of the guide of Fitero. In the latter case, the procession, forbidden to women, was at night and with attendance of the Cistercian monks, the regiment and the Capuchins of Cintruénigo, in charge of carrying the image, as today the legionaries carry the Christ of the Good Death.


Legends and miraculous events

We have received few texts about their legends and miracles. Many images are described in the documentation as "miraculous". Father Jacinto Clavería, author of the monograph Crucifixes in Navarra, hardly collected anything on the subject, contrary to what he did in his study of Marian images. Many legendary stories, having been transmitted only orally, have been lost. Some invocations must be linked to legends and miracles, but we cannot say much more.

Let us review some stories about its origin. For the titular of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fair Love of the Holy Cross of Tudela, the tradition placed its origin in the waters of the Ebro and it was affiliated with a brotherhood, of subject military, authorized by Don Rodrigo Ximénez de Rada. In Puente la Reina, the story of the German pilgrim who left the image on his return from Compostela is well known. In Allo, there are two legendary versions: the apparition to a criminal in a haystack, telling him: "Do not be afraid", or in some bushes, next to the haystack. After taking him to the parish, he reappeared in the same place, where the Shrine of Our Lady of Fair Love was built. In Aibar there are also different versions and there are stories of mysterious hands working on the carving or of the Aibar people participating in the crusades, as bearers of the sculpture. Another story tells of a beggar who, in three days, mysteriously disappeared, leaving the image where he had stayed. The legend of the Christ of Bethlehem of Estella, transferred from the Holy Sepulchre to St. Peter's, tells us how he was thrown into the water by a Jew, but the Crucifix rose against the current to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

As for other miracles, we must remember that many of those images were associated with extraordinary and portentous events, very much to the popular taste. Let's see some testimonies of the XVII century, qualified as "miraculous" for its marvelous zeal. To the head of all the one of Javier, of which several authors -Moret or Raimundo Lumbier- affirm that it sweated blood on Fridays of the year in which San Francisco Javier died. In Olite, the Holy Christ of the Good Death, guarded in Santa María and coming from the Shrine of Our Lady of Fair Love of San Lázaro, healed in 1640, to Pedro Cestago, neighbor of San Martín de Unx, who arrived with crutches and pains of death, ordering to anoint his body with oil of the lamp that illuminated to the image.

In the same century, the biographer of the Carmelite brother Juan de Jesús San Joaquín, collected in 1684, two miracles worked by the Christs of Cataláin and Otadía de Alsasua. In this last case, nothing less than the resurrection of the two year old child Joaquín San Román López de Gainza, in 1653. In Cataláin, it is related how its titular image was addressed to the Carmelite brother to dignify his church, with the words "Cleanse me". Through the intercession of the same Christ, a cerero from Puente la Reina, called Diego Lezaun, recovered his life and related the vision of the commission to serve a Crucified One that turned out to be that of Catálain, as the cerero ratified in visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fair Love in 1644.

The Crucified of the Merced of Pamplona was venerated under the invocation of the Miracles, undoubtedly, for its portents. It was identified with the one of the parish of San Nicolás de Pamplona, but Goñi Gaztambide demonstrated that it is the one that, from 1834, is venerated in the basilica of San Fermín de Aldapa. An ex-voto, described by Iribarren, of an enormous chain with crickets, before the Christ of Peña, speaks of the liberation of a captive in Oran who invoked the Christ.

A Crucifix, destined to Pamplona, made in Valencia by the sculptor Marcos de Angós, remained in Villarquemado (Teruel) in March 1721, after some events inspired by Divine Providence. Perhaps the last protagonist of supposed extraordinary facts has been the Christ of Piedramillera, that almost a century ago, in 1920, jumped to the press, as a consequence of visions and healings, assuring that the image moved some of its members or smiled looking with intensity. Postcards, stamps and the periodicals collection give testimony of all this, in a phenomenon contemporary to the extraordinary events of the Santo Cristo de Limpias. In Diario de Navarra of August 27, 1920, there was an account of "the prodigies seen by at least a dozen people, among them some young men" and of the preparations for a pilgrimage from Lezáun with a hymn composed for the occasion by Father Mauricio, a Piarist residing in Alcañiz. On the other hand, in La Avalancha of June 24, 1921 a photograph of the Christ with skirt was published, signed by Luciano, with this explanatory text: "To this sacred effigy are attributed several prodigies made very recently to different devotees of his".


Confraternities, dedications, hermitages, altarpieces and large chapels

Gregorio Silanes, in his study on the confraternities in Navarre, affirms that most of those of the Vera Cruz spread from the second half of the 16th century with a triple component: penitential, indulgencial and passionate. The Franciscans played a great role in their propagation and as for their composition, there was no uniformity, since, in some localities like Estella, they were integrated by all, while, in others like Falces, they were only for the elites. They had a wide echo in rural areas and played a very important social role in cases of illness or family misfortune, with a system of relief and aid. Likewise, its members were obliged to help people to die well, even those condemned to death. On Holy Thursday afternoons, Holy Cross festivities in May and September and special occasions, its members participated in the processions, in communion, together with the images of their Crucifixions.

As far as invocations are concerned, many have been lost or have been relegated in the documentation. Among those that are preserved, some allude to their ownership, such as that of the Chaplains of the cathedral of Pamplona or those of the Curiales and the Pelaires of the same city. In other occasions the reference letter leads us to its location, like the one of the cathedral's Trascoro. A characteristic, as the Enagüillas gives degree scroll to the one of Valtierra, for having carried them until recent times, as well as the one of the Blood of the Augustinians of Monteagudo, for its abundance. The dedication of the Agony or Agonies is found in Urbasa and Morentin, and that of the Consuelo in the parish of Monteagudo - a donation of the Marquis of San Adrián - and the chapel of the Holy Spirit in the cathedral of Tudela. Finally, those of Socorro -Larraga-, Buena muerte -Olite-, guide de Fitero, or de las Aguas -Allo- refer us to their use and function or singular personal or collective favors.

Fernando Pérez Ollo counted, in Navarra, sixty-three hermitages dedicated to the Holy Cross, one to the Vera Cruz and fourteen to the Holy Christ. This speaks per se, together with its status on the top, emulating the Calvary, of its importance and significance. Confraternities, parishes, sanctuaries and convents strove to have rich altarpieces to worship the Crucifixions in their corresponding chapels. In general, the simple and classicist schemes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with a large body -Salinas de Oro, Tafalla, Fitero-, were followed by the Solomonic ones in the second half of the sixteenth century and other more decorative ones in the eighteenth century, in which the box adopted a three-lobed outline in the upper part -Capellanes de Pamplona, Larraga or Morentin-. The second half of the 18th century gave way to more baroque solutions in their designs -Desojo, Cáseda, Armañanzas-. The latter, the work of José López de Porras (1765), incorporates a sinuous framing with sculpted arma Christi.

Regarding the large chapels, as spatial organisms attached to pre-existing temples and of great projection, a couple should be mentioned for their monumental character. That of the Cristo de la guide in the monastery of Fitero (1732-1736) with a combined floor plan and rich frescoes of the Aragonese school and that of the Cristo de la Buena Muerte in Santa María de Olite, erected in 1767 with plans from Madrid, with a centralized plan. You can still see in the room, converted into a sacristy, some angels with the arma Christi.


A couple of references in sacred oratory: Urbasa and Fitero

There are very few references in printed works to Crucifixions in Navarre until the 19th century. With the exception of what we have referred to the Christ of Villarquemado and texts and gozos of some novenas, only in a couple of printed books those images are glossed.  

The first is the Quaresma continua, a work of the famous Carmelite friar Jacinto Aranaz (Pamplona, 1713), dedicated to the Christ of Urbasa. He describes this Neapolitan image, the work of Jacobo Bonavita (1703), as "beautiful, elegant and glorious". On the attraction of the sculpture, the power of sight over hearing and the relationship of the sacred speaker and the image, he affirms that he prostrates himself before the carving "so that it may put to the eyes what my doctrine has not succeeded in putting to the ears. The last combat of the preacher is to show the listeners the Crucifix, because by opening the breach through the eyes, the heart that was obstinate to the battery of the ear, yields its strength, intoxicating sighs and tears".

The other print is a sermon preached by the monk of Veruela Fray Antonio Bozal y Andrés de Ustárroz (Pamplona, 1736), the day of the inauguration of the chapel of the Christ of the guide in the monastery of Fitero, today dedicated to the Virgin of the Barda. Among his lines we highlight these dedicated to the image: "I do not come to unleash torrents of wisdom, to carve out babels of wisdom, but to show you this pitiful Crucifix ..., to point out to you this most perfect image, in whom, betting on the competence of nature and art, art came with its primors to outwit the works of nature".