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

Heritage and identity (27). An exceptional temple in Tudela with echoes in Spain and Latin America: the Company of Mary.

Fri, 21 Feb 2020 16:01:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The central decades of the 18th century were of great construction activity in Navarre. Stylistically, the architectural models of religious architecture followed criteria of sobriety and simplicity, typical of the conventual models, which continued to weigh on plants and other aspects such as roofs or issue of naves. For its part, in the area of La Ribera and also within the decorative Baroque tradition, the chapel of the Holy Spirit was built in the collegiate church of Tudela, between 1737 and 1744 for the parishioners of Santa María and San Julián.

However, in spite of these clearly majority and traditional trends in austerity or decorative ecstasy, we have a few truly baroque examples, influenced by Italian and international art. At the head of all of them we must mention the church of the high school de la Compañía de Tudela, to which we must add the chevet of San Gregorio Ostiense, the façade of Los Remedios de Sesma, the chapel of the Virgen del Camino de Pamplona, as well as some project not executed as a new chapel of San Fermín (1759-1760) and another proposal unrealized, with plans sent from Rome, for a new basilica of San Ignacio de Pamplona, around 1760.

The Company of Mary in Tudela

The Company of Mary Our Lady was the first religious high school of character educational for women. It was founded in Bordeaux in 1606 by Jeanne de Lestonnac (1556 - 1640), niece of the French humanist Michel de Montaigne. Her project educational was the harmonious result of the rich personal experiences of its founder, combined with Montaigne's principles and the Jesuit method of the Ratio Studiorum.

The first convent-school opened in Spain was the one in Barcelona (1650), called by the people "La teaching", due to the eminently educational purpose of the institution. It was the first formal school for women in Spain. From then on, the schools of the Company of Mary opened in the peninsula and in Latin America were known as "La teaching".

The house of Tudela was founded by nuns from the convent of Barcelona in 1687 and its promoter was Don Francisco Garcés del Garro, a wealthy father of a family, concerned about the lack of female educational centers. The founders arrived in the capital of La Ribera on November 13, 1687.

In the context of the eighteenth century: between high praise and enlightened criticism

plenary session of the Executive Council In the history of the house of Tudela, four nuns stood out at group in the 18th century: María Ignacia de Gante, María Petronila de Aperregui, Francisca Croy and Nicolasa Colmenares. The first of them, daughter of the Lord of Fontellas, died in 1740, barely twenty-three years old, in plenary session of the Executive Council the construction process of the church. Petronila de Aperregui (1710-1790) belonged to the most florid of the nobility of Tudela, her family owned the board of trustees of the Chapel of the Virgen de los Remedios, in San Nicolás and was a founder in San Fernando, where she died and left a great literary bequest . Francisca Croy was the daughter of the former viceroy of Navarre and Prince Chimaz (†1686), she entered in 1703 and died in 1767, after having exercised different offices and that of prioress, between 1725 and 1734, and from 1737. In 1744 she went to the foundation of Zaragoza and after ten years she returned to Tudela. Finally, Nicolasa Colmenares was from Pamplona and sister of the poet and oidor José Ignacio Colmenares. She was the great manager of the increase of vocations in Tudela and went to the foundation of Compostela, after having been one of the forgers of the training of the foundress of Mexico, Ignacia de Azlor. To this group were added many others related to prominent families in that Navarrese Hora, such as the sisters of the famous Jesuit priest Sebastián de Mendiburu, apostle of devotion to the Heart of Jesus, the daughters of the Marquis of Montesa, the Count of Murillo, the Baron of Beorlegui, the Marquis of Vozmediano, the Marquis of San Miguel de Aguayo and lineages such as the Sartolo, Idiáquez, Duke of Estrada, Ibaibazábal, Borda and Beráiz. All of them had a splendid social status that they abandoned for the project of the Company of Mary, always with the motto of its founder of reaching out, when contemplating the great issue of young people lacking financial aid.

The testimonies about the activity of the high school are highly positive at that time. In a report of 1735, we read: "it is in this town of very particular usefulness, because by its high school it admits secular ladies who want to retire, where they find a garden of virtues to be instructed. And even more, because they have a school for all the girls, without any interest for their teaching, and this is not only in all the skills necessary for any lady in her house, but also in other tasks of exquisite hands, the main one being Education in Christian doctrine and in the greatest modesty". Díaz Bravo in his Memorias históricas de Tudela (c. 1759) affirms: "the teaching of Tudela is a very fertile mother who, as fruits of her virtue and perfection, gives generous daughters who not only spread the teaching in our hemisphere, but also passed it on to the other world".

The arrival of the Enlightenment left us a somewhat critical testimony, in keeping with the new times and a certain Frenchness. It is a letter written in Tudela in 1773 by Don Gaspar de Munibe y Tello to his nephew the Count of Peñaflorida, on the sending of the daughters of the latter to the high school of Tudela, where he states: "Here I have been informed of the state of the monastery of the teaching by the two cousins of Arguedas who were raised in it ..... One and the other assure me that there is no better upbringing than the one given by the nuns to form others like them. All their care is to teach them religion and the practices of devotion, with which they go out very shrunken and without any idea of the management of a house in which they enter with work and without more skill than that of doing some sewing and embroidery. The vicar of San Miguel, who is a good priest and who has been for more than six years assigned to his confessional, does not differ in this report, agreeing on the sanctity of the teaching, from which I have inferred that in Spain we still do not have those convents or colleges that exist in France where the Education is extended for God and for the world ...... ". It is clear that, in the opinion of the author of the text, the young women were trained more to be nuns than to be good housewives, in contrast to the Education in France, where they were prepared for both states.

A blueprint for a charism of its own, designed by a Carmelite shoemaker

The material execution of this construction had to wait half a century after the arrival of the founders in Tudela. As for financing, it should not be forgotten that King Philip V granted, in 1719, an annual pension of 1,000 ducats on the income of the Archbishopric of Toledo and that, in 1731, alms began to arrive from New Spain, thanks to the application of the nuns and the timely permission of the Patriarch of the Indies. In 1732 the works began and on April 6, 1744 it was inaugurated with great festivities. The conclusion of the same, documented by Carlos Carrasco, in the second phase and final, was executed by José Marzal between 1756 and 1761, with choirs (high and low), facade and crypt.

The church -conventual and collegiate at the same time- is one of the most exceptional examples of all baroque architecture in Navarre. Its plan presents a large octagonal body surrounded in part by ambulatories interrupted by two low choirs and two other bodies added at the foot, above the last of which rises the choir loft; thus coexisting centrality and longitudinality with evident echoes of Roman and Venetian architecture. Its relationship with the basilica of Loyola has already been made clear, but we cannot forget the regulations on "The elements of layout" in the houses of the Company of Mary, printed in 1638. These regulations recommend a square plan and the construction of two low choirs or tribunes -for nuns and novices and for schoolgirls- plus a high one at the foot of the cloister, which would serve as a link between the convent and the high school and to which only the nuns would have access. Such plan obeys to the function of the high school where apostolate, teaching and contemplation are combined.

Authoring of the plans and the interior of the building 

Years ago, Professor Echeverría Goñi and the undersigned attributed the design of the singular temple to Fray José Alberto Pina, author of numerous churches in Aragón and of the episcopal palace of Albarracín, who would later achieve well-deserved fame in Valencia, where he made position of important works in Játiva and designed the Escuelas Pías of Valencia, which earned him the unanimous award of degree scroll as a member of the Academy of San Carlos in 1769. He resided in Carmen de Tudela at least between 1733 and 1735 and his name is linked to some constructions in the city and different buildings in Cascante, Villafranca and Tarazona.

The attribution of the general project to Fray José Alberto Pina is supported by his presence in the convent of Carmen de Tudela and by some indirect documents. On the one hand, in August of 1733 he declared on the existing differences between the nuns and the chantre and canon Don Agustín de Ichaso. In the aforementioned document he is referred to as the "architecto de fábrica". The following year, specifically on March 12, he testified in favor of the nuns of teaching, together with Juan Antonio Marzal, in the lawsuit they had with Antonio Merino over the location of a window, a fact that speaks to us of the nuns' trust in the friar. 

Leaving aside the genius of the building as an architectural project as such, it is necessary to highlight the interior of the building's decorative casticismo, based on sensory impact, grandiloquence, ornamentation, excess and extravagance, in order to move, impress, enervate and sensorially provoke the individual, marking behaviors through the senses, which are always more vulnerable than the intellect.

The ornamentation is evident in the pulpit, tribunes, plasterwork and three altarpieces made around 1745 by the brothers Antonio and José del Río and beautifully polychromed. The central altarpiece with its dressing room and a tabernacle with stipes is dedicated to the Virgin, while the side altarpieces are dedicated to Saint Raphael, special protector of the community since its foundation, and to the Virgin of Guadalupe, by the wishes and sponsorship of María Ignacia Azlor. The canvas of Saint Raphael is a painting by Vicente Berdusán from the time of the foundation of the high school around 1687.

The inauguration

As it could not be otherwise, the inauguration of the complex, in 1744, had great festivities that were reflected in the chronicle of high school as follows: "Arrived that was the day and time set, all the bells of the parish church, convent of Santo Domingo and home, and very soon the chapter and clergy of the city were gathered with all the best of it and a very considerable issue people. The procession was ordered immediately through the square and while the Lord was being transferred from the old chapel to the newly built church, the music of Santa Maria intoned tender and devout songs ... There were also public rejoicings, fires and bonfires to the use of the country. In the following two days solemn cults were celebrated with great pomp and majesty and attendance of the very illustrious chapter and the most important gentlemen of the city. The eulogy was at position by Fathers Hurtado de Mendoza and Lacunza, both of the Society of Jesus...". None of the elements of the celebration were missing: authorities, music of all kinds, ringing of bells, procession and oratory. The temple was blessed by the treasurer of the collegiate of Tudela, Don Félix de Aperregui, brother of the aforementioned Petronila.

Echoes in Spain and Overseas

From the house in Tudela, the Company of Mary expanded to the following foundations: Zaragoza (1744), Mexico (1754), Santiago de Compostela (1759), San Fernando (1760), Vergara (1799), Valladolid (1880), Almeria (1885), Logroño (1889), Talavera de la Reina (1899) and Pamplona (1966). La teaching in Mexico City was the first formal educational center for women in Latin America and, in turn, a center of expansion to other countries. The general plan of the church was copied, with greater or lesser fidelity, in the schools of the 18th century, always keeping the outline centralized plan with two lower choirs, for the nuns and the girls.

Of particular interest is the foundation of Mexico and its mentor, María Ignacia de Azlor y Echeverz, a noble nun of Navarre descent by maternal lineage who arrived in Tudela to make her novitiate when the church was being completed. After the period of training and making solemn profession in Tudela, where she remained between 1743 and 1752, she left for New Spain, her homeland. In Mexico City she founded the high school and is considered as the introducer of the methods of teaching for the Education of the girls in those lands, making possible an authentic pedagogical revolution.

In Tudela there remained imperishable memories of his munificence, since he paid for the altarpiece of the Guadalupana, gave another canvas of the same Marian devotion with the four apparitions, signed by Antonio de Torres in 1720, contributed 600 ducats for the site of the orchard and donated a rich French dress to make a robe that was premiered on the day of his profession, in 1745. His gifts also reached the chapter of the collegiate church, as sample the donation of 800 reals in 1748 "for the gold cloth robe .... that should serve in the festivities of Our Patron Saint Anne".