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Heritage and identity (52). The Basilica of St. Ignatius of Pamplona


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Diario de Navarra

Ricardo Fernández Gracia

Director of the Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art

It was in the second half of the 17th century, when a particular devotee of St. Ignatius took the initiative for the construction of the Pamplona basilica. He was Don Diego de Benavides, Count of Santesteban, Viceroy of Navarre between 1653 and 1661, from where he went to Peru with the same position. In this last viceroyalty, he contacted some Navarrese Jesuits, who collected donations that were sent for the construction of a monument to the saint, in memory of his wound in the defense of the castle of Pamplona.

The interest of the complex, mutilated in 1927 and almost unnoticed between the church of the Redemptorists (1927) and the extension of the Diputación (1965), lies in the fact that today it is the only building with a large part of its decoration of the Society of Jesus in Pamplona, highlighting several canvases of paintings that came from Rome. Ultimately it is an expression of the cultural, artistic and religious level that the Jesuits reached throughout the XVII and XVIII centuries.

The first report in 1601

In 1601, another viceroy of Navarre, Don Juan de Cardona, ordered the erection of a report with a long commemorative registration . Little do we know about its shape, possibly it was a triumphal arch. When the present basilica was erected, the stones containing the registration were embedded in the interior walls, with the degree scroll de vetus inscriptio. Those ashlars are preserved today in the Chamber of Comptos. The long text was collected by Father Alesón in volume V of the Annals of Navarre.

The temple was erected in a context of crisis.

Despite the crisis of the central decades of the 17th century, the construction of sanctuaries, especially Marian ones, was relatively important. Unlike those, supervised by their corresponding patrons and designed by the masters of the land, the Ignatian sanctuary of Pamplona was inspected by the Jesuits, who counted among their members with tracists and architects of all solvency, as well as excellent administrators.  

There is a rich correspondence between Father Juan de Ribadeneyra, procurator of the Jesuits for the affairs of the Indies and Father Baltasar López († Pamplona, 1670), closely related to the Diputación del Reino, for having been its agent in the lawsuit of the co-patronage. We also know that the Andalusian Jesuits, in charge of collecting the money that arrived from the Indies, proposed in 1662 the erection of a triumph, similar to that of the Inmaculada in Granada, the work of Alonso de Mena (1628-1631). The people of Pamplona, anchored in tradition, suggested a humble shrine. Having discarded both ideas, the building was planned, in which Brother Alonso Gómez, resident in Genoa, intervened at the end of 1668, specifying with Father López the layout, with a combined longitudinal plan, covered by barrel vaults with lunettes and a dome.

Financing and construction stages between 1661-1694

As we have indicated, the first amount arrived from the Jesuit Province of Peru, where 2,000 pesos were collected. We should also mention the 500 pesos sent from the Indies by Father Hernando de Labayen, a native of Berrioplano, who also sent silver bequests for the Virgin of Codés. Likewise, the 500 ducats given by the prior of the cathedral, Don Juan de Echalaz, as well as the donations of the future provincial of Castile, Father Antonio Carabeo, of Don Martín de San Martín, accountant of azogues and tributes of the New Spain or the salary of historian of the kingdom contributed by Father Francisco Alesón stand out. In the end, when the funds were exhausted, the President of the high school of Pamplona, Father Ignacio Zabala, asked for the "salary of the captain of San Ignacio", to apply it to the factory.

The aforementioned President asked "that a reformed captain's salary, in the form of the others who serve in this presidio, be released and paid perpetually", taking into account that the saint "defended the castle of this city... where he was wounded and had the principle of having consecrated himself... to the greater glory and honor of God, for which purpose he founded the Society of Jesus". The viceroy answered affirmatively, ordering to pay "his salary in the manner of the others who serve in this presidio, whose portion is to be submit to Father President who is and henceforth will be of the house of the Company of this city, to continue in the work of the chapel or Shrine of Our Lady of Fair Love that is being built in the door of San Nicolas, and after it expires, this salary will be applied to the support of two poor people".

The amount of expenses amounted to 29,653 reales in the first stage, up to 1672. Pedro de Azpíroz worked with his crew, under the supervision of Father Gaspar López. Azpíroz was the best stonemason of the time in the capital of Navarre, counting among his works the facade of the Carmelites (1667 - 1670). He was very devoted to San Ignacio and made his will in 1697, leaving a chaplaincy in the basilica and forgiving different debts.

The following twenty years were of inaction due to lack of money. Finally, the expenses for the completion of the building, between June 1692 and March 1693, amounted to 4,469 reales. The work was carried out at position by the stonemason Francisco de Iztueta, who signed an agreement with Father Alesón. Brother Diego Castellanos supervised the construction, raising the building from the cornice.

Inauguration: October 1694

Exceptionally, the sermon of the inauguration day, October 13, 1694, has been preserved. We have few editions of sermons, pronounced with similar motives. Together with that of the inauguration of the altarpiece of San Nicolás de Pamplona (1715) or that of the consecration of the chapel of the Christ of the guide of the monastery of Fitero (1736), that of San Ignacio is a rare piece.

 In this regard, we must remember that sacred oratory played in past centuries a high role from the cultural and religious point of view. The sermons were very frequent acts and the preachers prepared ad hoc panegyrics, according to the audience, with the corresponding ornatus full of the prevailing rhetoric, always with the triple purpose of teaching, delighting and moving behaviors. The preacher was required to pray and study, as well as to excite fervor, displaying science, eloquence and wit.

Jacinto Aranaz (1650-1724), a real preacher, wise and polished, was in charge of preaching. He used the following proposition: "God brought Ignatius down to raise up the Society, because by razing walls, his grace tends to cast the cord to erect the highest buildings". The prior of the cathedral presided the mass and the viceroy Baltasar de Zúñiga y Guzmán and several authorities attended. During the ceremony, artillery salvos and rifle fire were fired from the citadel.

The old altarpiece, now in the parish of Azoz: a traveling piece

For the inauguration of the building an altarpiece was essential, which was the one that the Jesuits removed from their church, precisely in 1690, when they commissioned a new one to Francisco San Juan.

The old altarpiece, made around 1630-1635, was moved to the basilica. When the new one was made for the latter (1727), it was sold to the town of Azoz, where it is preserved, with an interesting Ignatian cycle of paintings, based on engravings from the life of the saint, by Father Pedro de Ribadeneyra, published in Antwerp, in 1610. The scenes depicted had been made known in books, engravings and oratory since the beginning of the 17th century, in plenary session of the Executive Council period of "construction" of the sanctity of Ignatius of Loyola.

The unfinished facade

Thanks to the text of Father Alesón in the Annals of Navarre, we know that the façade in the form of a fortification, with two battlements-spandrels, was to be fill in with a sculpture of St. Ignatius with an emblem. This is the text of the chronicler: "All of it, although it is small and very neat, consists of architectural ornaments, in which the eyes have their bait; but there is no lack of others that can be more delicate and even delightful for the understanding. These are many expressive hieroglyphs of the subject. We will only place here the most powerful of them all because it is sculpted on the pedestal on which the marble military statue of our glorious captain is to be placed, armed as he was when he was wounded and fell from that same post, and it is at the top, in the middle of the crenellated facade, in the likeness of an ancient castle. The body of this business is a very luxuriant plant of wheat, whose waste falls on the ground, and the soul of the business consists of this letter taken from the Gospel: Cadens in terram multum fructum affert (Joannes ch. 12)". Part of this registration is repeated in the central decorative oval that contained the IHS, work of Juan Miguel Goyeneta (1743).

In 18th century fashion: the triumph of the traditional baroque style

Little time elapsed between the inauguration and the decoration of the interior. The explanation was none other than the triumph of the traditional baroque style in such significant works in the city, such as the chapel of San Fermín or the altarpieces of the Recoletas. From agreement with the development of the style in its decorative phase, the vaults were covered with rich plasterwork, with vegetal bouquets, made around 1720. The pendentives with four scenes from the life of the saint and the medallion with the moment of the fall, completed the whole. Those works imported 210 reales (mason), 1,249 (carver), 176 (lumps), 458 (painter), 770 (colors), 108 (whitewasher) and 75 (scaffolding).

A little later, around 1726-1727, the altarpiece was made, which stands out for its decorative style and its supports: stipes so rarely used in the Pamplona workshop and the columns of smooth shafts with garlands that in those years were making their way into the Navarrese altarpiece. The titular image is of great quality. The saint appears with cassock and mantle, holding the Constitutions of the Society and the sun, which reminds us of what the saint wrote in his Autobiography: "He saw Christ as the sun, especially when he was dealing with important things". The sculpture is from the third decade of the seventeenth century and undoubtedly comes from Valladolid, from where the Jesuits brought several images to their Pamplona high school . It follows the subject of the sculptor Gregorio Fernández and is a copy of the one that the aforementioned sculptor made in 1614 for the high school of Vergara.

The frontal is exceptional in Navarre. It was made in 1755 by the masters who worked in the sanctuary of Loyola, with jasper and inlays from Genoa and Villabona. It cost 1,408 reales. It is one of the few works of inlaid marble, along with the frontal of Santa Ana de Tudela and the disappeared mausoleum of the Marquis of Castelfuerte in the Dominicans of Pamplona, the latter works of Juan Bautista Eizmendi.

In keeping with that decorative display was the feast of the fall of the saint, magnificently endowed, in 1754, by the Duke of Granada de Ega and Count of Javier, Don Antonio de Idiáquez, with a sung mass, sermon, music and siesta. The account books record payments for music, butter, blancmange, veal pies and dozens of rockets. About the siesta, it should be remembered that it was frequent in the great festivities in which, during two or three hours in the afternoon, until the evening performance, the musicians showed off their skills, improvising and interpreting music board member and instrumental.

Some canvases and objects of worship from the Indies, the Madrid Court and Rome

The two ancient collaterals were dedicated to St. Ignatius, watching over the arms before the Virgin of Montserrat and to St. Francis Xavier, interceding for the plague-stricken. The first of these has been preserved. On the walls of the temple hang some interesting paintings such as the saint in armor, sent around 1715 from Rome by Brother Emeterio Montoto who, years before, had been in the care of the young Jesuits in Villagarcía. It is a copy of another painting, conserved in San Ignacio in Rome. Of the same origin is the large landscape canvas of the fall of the saint, sent in 1729 by Father Manuel de la Reguera (1668-1747), private theologian of Cardinal Belluga. The composition is an exact copy of the one found in the vaults of the church of St. Ignatius in Rome, the work of Father Pozzo (1685-1686). From the Eternal City also came other paintings, a large one of the saint before the Risen Christ, a pair of St. Ignatius and two smaller ones of St. Aloysius Gonzaga and St. Stanislaus of Kostka, all framed in 1749. The one of the apparition of the Risen Christ is, in reality and as Father Javier Sagüés has pointed out to me, the approval of the name of the Society with the approval of Christ himself, back in 1537.

Among other gifts, we will highlight: two gilded chalices, sent from Potosí by Tomás Rodríguez in 1719, a silver Jesus sent in 1722, a chalice of the royal confessor, Father Rubinet, in 1709; a silver reliquary, paid for by President Juan de Loyola; intaglio plates to stamp images of the Heart of Jesus, amounts in cash by Father Juan José Eraso from Chile in 1750; 782 pesos by the Indian from Puente la Reina, Francisco Miguel de Gambarte, in 1767....

The last years of the Jesuits and the whole to the present day

The last years of the Jesuits' presence in Pamplona were marked by the attempt to build an exercise house and a nobles' seminar room next to the basilica. The civil service examination of the Carmelites and the arrival of Carlos III to the throne frustrated the project, for which plans from Rome were required. The famous Father Sebastián de Mendiburu had already secured the sum of 20,000 pesos.

After the departure of the Jesuits, the basilica came under the jurisdiction of the parish of San Nicolás. In 1783 there were attempts to demolish it for the construction of a botanical garden and in 1886 to build a public washhouse. In 1890 it was restored and paved under project by the architect Ángel Goicoechea. In 1891 it was given to the Redemptorists and from 1915-1917, it had to endure new attempts to demolish it, which were stopped by the Monuments Commission of Navarre. However, in 1927, after the construction of the Redemptorist complex and the alignment of the street, it was mutilated in a third of its length. In 1974 it was restored and since 2008 it has served as the chapel of Perpetual Adoration.