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Other chains and their significance in the arts of Navarre


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Diario de Navarra

Ricardo Fernández Gracia

Chair of Heritage and Art in Navarre

The presence of chains in the figurative arts of Navarre goes beyond the heraldic emblem of the Comunidad Foral and other local and family coats of arms included in the Libro de Armería del Reino de Navarra (Armory Book of the Kingdom of Navarre). The general meaning of these iron links is usually associated with subjection, imprisonment, slavery and punishment, although, in some cases, it is linked to conjugal harmony or temperance.

We will see how it is an attribute of some saints and is present in passages of their lives, in which they suffered imprisonment and in which they were able to hold vices and sins. Some wear them around their necks, others on their feet and others broken. The patron saint of prisoners, St. Leonard, wears them because of the privilege granted to him by King Clovis to free prisoners. In Navarre they became popular in the legend of Don Teodosio de Goñi and San Miguel de Aralar. There are also houses where they are displayed on their doors or hallways, by virtue of royal privileges.

Captivity: Trinitarians, Mercedarians and the legend of Mendavia

For reasons of charisma and for the purpose of liberating captive Christians(Redemptiones captivorum) from the Barbary pirates, the saints and even the emblems of the religious orders of Mercedarians and Trinitarians are accompanied by chains and shackles. At the head of them all, St. Peter Nolasco himself, who is usually accompanied by broken chains that allude to the captives redeemed on his voyages to Africa to rescue them. However, with another Mercedarian saint they take on special prominence. We refer to St. Raymond Nonnatus, who was captured by Barbary pirates and held hostage in Algeria, martyrizing him by piercing his lips with a red-hot iron and passing a padlock through the two holes to prevent him from preaching the Gospel. To this padlock, which the saint wore for eight months, according to historians, chains are usually added, as well as to his feet and hands. We will emphasize his eighteenth-century canvases of the parishes of Pitillas and San Pedro de Olite, of great quality, as well as the most popular of San Pedro de Estella.

The great doorway of the disappeared church of the Mercedarios de Pamplona had two plaster sculptures of the saints Pedro Nolasco and Ramón Nonato, and there was no shortage of enormous chains and shackles.

As for stories of captives, it is necessary to mention the one that had as protagonist a wonderful event with the Virgin of Legarda de Mendavia. In the cult and devotion to that image there is a before and after in the year 1468, in which there is a miracle by which a Christian captive in Algiers, called Ángel Tomás Ramírez, achieved his liberation thanks to the intercession of the Virgin. After being mistreated and chained by his owner Zuali and locked in a chest, he arrived portentously with the Moor on top of the waters of the Ebro, while the bells of Mendavia, Lodosa and Mués were ringing. After getting out of the chest and freeing himself from the chains, the Moor was also converted. This summary is glossed in a long document, full of details that has been copied and recreated from a manuscript in different publications such as the novena to the Virgin, the gozos that occupy us and different monographs. A print of gozos made around 1930 gives a graphic account of that legendary event in a small engraving in which is represented the moment in which the captive leaves the ark before a priest and other characters, among which stands out the Moor Zuali, who had him tormented and, as a result of the event, he was converted.

San Miguel de Aralar and Teodosio de Goñi

Among the legendary Navarrese characters who sink their roots among the mythical, stands out Don Teodosio de Goñi, the same one who was freed by St. Michael of Aralar after committing parricide and doing penance on long roads. As it is known, throughout the centuries of the Baroque, the legend of St. Michael of Aralar and his appearance to the parricide Teodosio de Goñi seems to have been definitively established. Some printed texts and also, on the other hand, the diffusion of the cycle of the story in engravings of greater or lesser size collaborated to it. Generally, four correlative scenes of the legend are represented: the meeting of Don Teodosio with the demon disguised as a hermit, the parricide and the meeting with his wife undoing the lie instilled by Satan, making him believe that his wife had been unfaithful. Finally, the fourth scene of the legend represents St. Michael appearing to the wandering knight, praying and kneeling, who has invoked him to save himself from the evil one, at the moment when his chains are broken and the winged infernal monster with the head of a dragon comes out of his cavern to be defeated.

With San Fermín and in the veneras of the Tudela City Hall

For different reasons, two of the signs of identity of Pamplona and Tudela, such as the co-patron saint of San Fermín and the scallops of the town hall of Tudela, have very visible chains in their representations. In the case of the saint, when representing him in his imprisonment and martyrdom, large iron links are usually left. Thus it appears in the canvas signed by José Ximénez Donoso in 1687, conserved in the City Hall of Pamplona. They also appear in one of the paintings made in 1736 by the artist Pedro Antonio de Rada for a hagiographic cycle for the walls of the saint's chapel, which we know from a drawing of 1797 by Santos Ángel de Ochandátegui. The setting corresponds to the interior of a prison of classical evocations, illuminated at night by a large lantern, in which there is no lack of enormous chains. An executioner with unsheathed sword, three soldiers and the martyr, without miter, compose the scene.

As for Tudela, the veneras of its town hall, made in 1622 after the viceroy's concession in the previous year, with the condition that on one side it should bear the image of the "glorious Saint Peter, patron saint which is of the said city" and on the other, the coat of arms of the latter. The idea was to distinguish and differentiate the aldermen from the merinos, royal porters and other officials who used rods, elements of authority that other towns also had. The scallops bear the arms of the city and the image of St. Peter ad vincula and chained, as it is tradition that the day of his feast was the day of the reconquest of the city. In any case, on that feast day, the offices of aldermen were renewed in a festive workshop , which included a seasonal procession to the old parish of San Pedro that ended in the collegiate church, as well as a bullfighting festival. Most of the current gilded silver scallops belong to the minting of 1836, when the remaining gold ones were suppressed.

Mastery of evil, rage and the devil: St. Michael, St. Quiteria, St. Bartholomew and St. John of Sahagun

Chains could not be absent in those saints who had subjected passions or defeated Satan himself. St. Michael, in some occasions, is not only represented defeating the devil, but he is also subject with a very visible chain, as it happens for example in the Renaissance carving of Sangüesa, the titular of his parish in Corella from the second decade of the XVIII century and some embroideries from the end of this last century.

Saint Quiteria is usually accompanied by a rabid dog at her feet or a demon, in both cases held by a chain of large links. Tradition has attributed to her numerous miracles of healing, related to rabies, since the dogs were calmed by the presence of her images.

In Navarre she had two confraternities in Tudela and Bigüézal and in both cases she was considered an advocate against rabies. In the first case it had a confraternity since the 14th century, which was associated in the 18th century with Saint Julian, patron saint of hunters. It has its own Shrine of Our Lady of Fair Love , where people used to go to mark the burning coat of arms of the saint on the ribs of their dogs, which was an occasional lazaretto until the 19th century. In Bigüézal she has Shrine of Our Lady of Fair Love and shepherds and neighbors would go to her feast to bless their dogs, with the ritual typical of the monastery of Leire, giving them bread with water and salt previously sprinkled with holy water. His brotherhood had been established in the town in 1731, due to a rabies epidemic, according to the 1772 census.

His images are abundant in Navarre in different artistic periods. We will highlight some examples where the chained dog is the rabid dog itself, such as the late Gothic panel of the Muruzábal altarpiece or its Renaissance representations in Aquerreta or Badostáin.

Also, the apostle Saint Bartholomew represented, usually skinned and with a knife, is usually accompanied by visible chains with which he holds the picturesque demon. The representation is based on a passage from the life of the apostle, specifically the liberation of the demon from the daughter of King Polymius of Armenia, presenting him in chains before the monarch. Among the representations in sculpture of the saint with large chains holding the devil, we will mention the Renaissance ones of Larrángoz, Tabar, Ugar and Ochagavía, the Romanesque ones of Arizaleta and Zabaldica, the Baroque carvings of Goyano and Berbinzana and the eighteenth-century ones of Ribaforada, of Aragonese filiation and the one of the main altarpiece of Lesaca, work of Juan Bautista Mendizábal (1753).

Saint John of Sahagún, patron saint of the Augustinian Province of the Philippines, to which Marcilla belonged, has his place among the canvases made by José María Romero (1890-1891) for the royal staircase of the convent. Although he is represented as the protector of the souls in purgatory, disciplining himself and as the protagonist of numerous miracles, in Marcilla he appears above the orb and the devil, whom he holds with a chain, implying that he defeated both. As attributes, besides the star on the habit and the Crucifix, we find bread and water, for his continuous vigils and fasts. There is also the partridge, protagonist of an event that legend attributes to him, according to which the bird that was served to him when he was sick, recovered its plumage and left when the saint ordered him to continue on his way. Its message is to show the saint as a penitent and conqueror of temptations.

In large mansions by royal privilege

The stay of the royal family in Corella in the summer of 1711, in the house of the Sesma, erected from 1704, brought with it the concession in 1712 of a royal decree, by way of gratitude for the hospitality received. In it, Philip V granted the grace and privilege of hanging the chains on the facade of the building, something that was done in a very obvious place, over the entrance doors and under the main balconies, ostensibly visible, as a great sign of authority, prestige and public image. This symbolized the fact that the building was home to the royal family.

The Navascués-Orovio house in Cintruénigo also had enormous chains on both sides of its main door since 1707, to signify the right of asylum granted by Philip V to Don José Navascués y Arguedas, a monarch who stayed there in 1706. Currently, they are kept in the hallway of the Navascués house.

Pilar Andueza published information on the main house of the Vizcaíno family in Miranda de Arga, built in 1695 by Colonel Juan José Vizcaíno, who obtained from the king, in addition to a seat in the Cortes and the privilege of erecting four towers in his house, the placement of chains on doors and windows, in 1700 thanks to a donation to the royal treasury, B .