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Heritage and identity (60). Pulpits, at the service of oratory and rhetoric


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Diario de Navarra

Ricardo Fernández Gracia

Director of the Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art

Among the pieces of liturgical furnishings that have suffered the most after the last liturgical reform, we must point out the pulpits, to such an extent that in a large majority of churches they have disappeared. For this reason, those that have survived are of added interest.

Pulpit is the raised platform from which preaching took place in churches. They have a parapet or parapet and a lectern or top hat. They were used in early basilicas and were called ambones. They were arranged in the form of a rectangular tribune on a low platform, which was ascended by lateral steps and from which the epistle and the gospel were sung at solemn masses and the feast days were announced to the people.

The ambones continued with greater or lesser amplitude and elevation until the 14th century, when the system of pulpits was adopted, which in the leave Age average and the first Renaissance tended more towards the hexagonal shape, being decorated in all periods with elements characteristic of the current style. The tornavoz or guardavoz became widespread from the 16th century and was used to collect, direct and amplify the preacher's voice. From the 17th century onwards, it had an extensive development, with its rich Chairs, staircases, railings and sumptuous loudspeakers that gracefully rise up towards the vaults and are often crowned with an allegorical figure of the Faith with the cross and the Eucharist in his hands and blindfolded.

Preachers' headquarters

The rhetorical and theatrical devices in sermons were in tune with the images. Sermons were very frequent events and preachers took great care in what they said in the pulpit, preparing ad hoc panegyrics, according to the audience, with the corresponding ornatus, full of the prevailing rhetoric and always with the triple content of teaching, delighting and moving behaviour. The preacher was required to pray and study, as well as to excite fervour, displaying science, eloquence and wit. In addition to all this, the preacher had to master the language of gestures, mainly of the hands, with the study of codifications. 

The affections were a fixed target in the words and arguments of preachers. St. Francis de Sales recalled, at purpose of sermons, that "The test of a preacher is when his congregation does not leave saying: what a beautiful sermon, but: I will do something". plenary session of the Executive Council In line with this thought, Juan de Palafox, in the 17th century, proposed brevity, strength and effectiveness as characteristics of sermons, "three single words alone that weigh more than an infinite number of bookshelves". He advocated clarity, certainty and truth, rather than the rhetoric of the great orators. On many occasions he lashed out against some of the so-called "golden picks" of his time, who entertained in the pulpits, but neither taught nor moved behaviour. This is how he expressed himself in this regard: "A sermon of a single beak, which is reduced only to the voice and which comes from the mouth and not from the soul, may delight, but it is very difficult to persuade. It is necessary that the words come from the heart, so that they warm cold hearts".

Huarte de San Juan, in his Examen de los ingenios (1575), demanded eight components from the preacher, among which are eloquence, invention, the disposition of the speech, pronunciation with a sonorous and peaceful voice, comparisons and fluency in expressing oneself.

Let us not forget that giving the pulpit to preachers by towns to certain speakers was the cause of problems and controversies in past centuries, on the occasion of Lenten sermons or popular missions. In 1576, the chapter of Pamplona Cathedral even brought a lawsuit against the bishop over the right to use the pulpit of the cathedral and to choose preachers.

Also in the refectories

Pulpits were found not only in churches, but also in the refectories of monasteries and cathedrals whose chapter was governed by community rule. The monastic rule of St. Benedict stipulated that "at the brothers' table there should be no lack of reading. But it is not the one who takes the book at once who should read there, but ... the reader .... ... Let the utmost silence be observed, so that neither the whisper nor the voice of anyone else may be heard at the table, but only that of the reader...".

The pulpit in the refectory of Pamplona Cathedral is an excellent example, made around 1430. Its corbel has been studied by Isabel Mateo. It depicts the difficult hunt for the unicorn, a mythical topic that spread throughout the Middle Ages average, through different artistic and literary manifestations. The reason for its representation in the Pamplona refectory is that the unicorn was identified with Christ and his chastity, as a pious animal. Based on the words of Moses in Deuteronomy and in the Psalm of David which says, referring to the Incarnation: "For he raised up in our midst the horn of salvation in the House of David, his servant. When he came down from heaven, he leaped into the Virgin Mary's lap: he was as the son of an unicorn".

Some Renaissance examples

Those of Valtierra, Ochagavía, Roncal, Cáseda and Zulueta, among others, date from the 16th century. Those in Valtierra are attached to the pillars of Wayside Cross and date from the 1970s. Their parapets are decorated with grotesques, circular medallions with busts and balustraded columns. A huge telamon is displayed on the entrance staircase, emerging from a cartouche of twisted leather. 

The Ochagavía altarpieces are of particular interest because the Renaissance louvres have also been preserved, with their typical polygonal shapes and free-standing volutes. Both are the work of Miguel de Espinal and his workshop, which became position of the parish altarpieces in 1574. Both have pilasters with grotesques and trophies, which include various saints under very flat niches. The reliefs depict, among others, the Evangelists and the Risen Christ.

Those from Roncal have a truncated pyramid-shaped base that emerges from a curious human head. Their panels are decorated with vegetal grotesques, from whose stems heads sometimes emerge. They date from around 1580. The ones in the parish of Cáseda, dismantled in 1987, are made of plaster. The one in Zulueta is kept in the sacristy of its parish church and contains reliefs of the four evangelists.

In the centuries of the Baroque

Remarkable examples have disappeared, especially as far as the loudspeakers are concerned. Some truly outstanding ones remain, such as those in the basilica of La Purísima in Cintruénigo and the parishes of Viana with rich grilles, Piedramillera, Sesma, Ujué, Mendigorría, Sesma, Corella and Los Arcos, all of which are Baroque. The design of the one in Viana is the work of the local master Juan Bautista de Suso and dates from 1723. The Mendigorría turnstiles belong to the master Juan Ángel Nagusia from Estella (1715) and stand out for the fretwork on their orange average . Of great proportions are the gilded walnut loudspeakers of the parish church of Santiago de Puente la Reina, for which the sculptor José de Lesaca, from Lerín, was paid 3,744 reales in 1725. The one in Legaria is the work of Lucas de Mena and he carved it in 1722. The one in Sesma dates from 1715, when the rejero Antonio de Elorza made position for its railing.

The one in Ujué, a work from the first third of the 18th century, is colourful and backward-looking for its time, as it incorporates figures in relief of the Evangelists. Its loudspeaker incorporates the coat of arms of the Navarrese monarchs of the Evreux dynasty and is topped, like many others, with the allegorical figure of faith.

Of extraordinary height, and undoubtedly the tallest in Navarre, is the monastery of Fitero, the work of José Serrano, master builder of Cascante around 1734, whose valuation was carried out by Baltasar de Gambarte and José de Lesaca, who valued it at 3,124 reales. Its design copies an architectural lantern, with a base with Atlantean children supporting the octagonal body with eight semicircular windows, a drum with oculi and a small dome crowned by the allegorical figure of Faith, carrying the Eucharist and blindfolded. In the same year, 1734, the master from Cárcar Tomás Martínez made position of the guardavoces of the parish church of Lodosa, in which his extremely delicate decorative carving stands out.

Halfway through the century, in 1757, by decision of the board of trustees of the parish of Cárcar, the local master Tomás Martínez Puelles was commissioned by position to build the two loudspeakers, exquisite works of art invoice and of considerable height. To the Rococo period belong, among others, the guardavoces of the parish churches of Valtierra, Errazu and Peralta, with a greater mastery of the architecture of moving lines and with a very restrained and light decoration of rocailles. The missing pair from Cintruénigo belonged to this period, contracted by the Fitero master Juan de Angós in 1764. Those of the parish church of San Juan Evangelista in Peralta were made by Miguel Zufía and examined in 1766 by Tomás Martínez Egúzquiza.

19th and 20th centuries: neo-gothic and eclecticism

In 1809 the architect Juan Antonio Pagola presented the plan for the construction of the pulpits of the parish church of San Lorenzo in Pamplona, with the condition that they should be like the one in the chapel of San Fermín. The following year, in 1910, the contractor Francisco Cruz de Aramburu made the agreement for its execution.

There was no lack of neo-Gothic, neo-Baroque and eclectic examples in the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century, taking advantage of the strength of some of the artistic carpentry workshops established in Pamplona. Among the neo-Gothic ones, the splendid ones in the parish church of San Saturnino (1908, Florentino Istúriz) and that of the Salesas (1905, Talleres Istúriz) stand out, with their unmistakable unpolychromed wooden spires. The one in Recoletas is neo-Baroque and eclectic in character, like the spectacular ones in the parish of San Nicolás in Pamplona (1914), made under the direction of Ángel Goicoechea, by Talleres Artieda y Arrieta and mosaics by Casa Maumejean (1914). The one in the parish church of Lesaca dates from 1917.