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Heritage and identity (44). Starting the year at the cathedral. Feeling and tasting the integration of the arts.


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Diario de Navarra

Ricardo Fernández Gracia

Director of the Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art

On January 1, I attended mass at 12 o'clock in the cathedral of Pamplona. Although it was not the day of the Epiphany, which has a special celebration and a greater tradition, I was able to reflect, after the liturgical ceremony, on the heritage experienced in the religious nature of the whole and its beauty. Thinking and meditating, in the light of experience, is always essential when writing or transmitting something. St. Teresa said: "I will say nothing that I do not know from experience". Centuries later, José María de Pereda added: "Experience does not consist in what has been lived, but in what has been reflected upon".

That same day, which opened this 2021, I read a statement by the painter Josep M. Gort to La Vanguardia: "Art is beauty and beauty is one, like good". Days before I had internalized this thought of Miguel de Unamuno: "Beauty, yes beauty! But beauty is not that, it is not the beauty of art for art's sake, it is not the beauty of aestheticians. Beauty whose contemplation does not make us better is not such beauty". In the light of all this, I wrote the following paragraphs, which address the importance of tasting a historical-artistic ensemble from the hand of multidisciplinarity, bringing together the arts, music, liturgy and intangible heritage.

The domus artium cathedral

If there is a building that is identified with the Gothic period, it is the cathedral which, as is well known, receives its name for being the episcopal see or Chair , from where each bishop presides and guide his flock, teaching, from the service to the community, the life of faith and the doctrine of the Church. Therefore, although used as a noun, the word "cathedral" was an adjective in the expression "cathedral church", from the Latin ecclesia cathedralis. The Chair symbolizes the importance of the temple in the diocese. The cathedral in its material expression, as domus artium - house of the arts - is also domus ecclesiae, domus episcopi et domus capituli - house of the church, of the bishop and of the chapter. Likewise, it has been a true emblem of the city and a sign of its identity, in whose construction the following participated as promoters: royal houses, bishops, chapter, the city, the city, the city's leading men, guilds and brotherhoods. The cathedral is, without a doubt, the urban building where the Gothic style and its culture reached its maximum expression, although later centuries left their mark, mainly in its furnishings.

The cathedrals, including that of Pamplona, have their own characteristics, not only stylistic in their construction and endowment, but also in their ceremonial and uses, some of which have survived to the present day. As heritage assets, they are part of the cultural identity of the city, historically defined through multiple aspects in which its culture is reflected, such as social relations, rituals, ceremonies and collective behavior, that is, the beliefs and immaterial and anonymous values that are the product of the community.

As is well known, every civic celebration was historically closely linked to the cathedral. The celebration, also the religious one, is a dynamic phenomenon and its traditions are maintained, lost, reappear or are created over the years. Within it, there have been continuous changes, and it has a connection with the past and with the future. In general and, apparently, the festivities have been diminished in their rites.osible that the intervention ended with a certain calmness.

The bells summon

The committee of Spanish Historical Heritage approved last month, unanimously and at proposal of the Ministry of Culture, that Spain initiates the procedures for the ringing of bells guide to be declared Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

The functions of the bells have traditionally been liturgical and horary. The ceremonial for the divine worship of cathedrals and temples had codified the different tolls as an external expression of festivities of different character. Their sounds were linked to the festive, but also to the funereal and even to the conjuration of clouds and plagues. Its use is defined by these Latin phrases: Laudo Deum verum (I praise the true God), plebem voco (I call the people), congrego clerum (I congregate the clergy), defunctos ploro (I mourn the dead), pestem fugo (I drive away the plague), daemonia ejicio (I expel the demons) et festa decoro (I rejoice the feast). In addition to these canonical uses, we know that they were also used for other more heterodox purposes, such as summoning to councils, auctions and even ringing them to stop serious contingencies.

About the bells of the Pamplona cathedral, we have news from the Age average and, likewise, we know that they gained special importance since 1092, when King Sancho Ramírez determined that the towns that saw the mother church and heard its bells should go to celebrate certain special feasts of rogation. The cathedral chroniclers and, especially in the Age of Enlightenment, Don Fermín de Lubián, prior, a diligent, highly educated man and a great connoisseur of diocesan and cathedral history, echoed that custom. The aforementioned canon noted in the middle of the XVIII century that that privilege was kept unalterably throughout time, until, in the middle of the XVII century when, due to the distance, some fifty localities were freed from that obligation and, later - at the end of the same century - the rest, with only the churches of Burlada and Ansoain remaining around 1750.

The cathedral of Pamplona preserves among its historical bells one, called María, made in 1584 by the master Villanueva, which is the largest in use in Spain. Its clapper weighs 300 kilos; and the bell, 13,000.

Gothic light and aesthetics

The interior space of a temple or a building, in general, is defined by its floor plan, elevations, roofs and, above all, light. The latter, in the case of the cathedral, is colored, since the sun's rays filter through the stained glass that, from the leave Age average, became an iconographic support. At midday, the stained glass windows of the south nave of Pamplona let their rays of light pass through, which are projected on the north walls, achieving a great effect. The span, in Gothic architecture, is a translucent wall that closes and illuminates everything with a system of colored and non-natural light. Professor Víctor Nieto Alcaide wrote about this topic in a beautiful book graduate "La luz, símbolo y sistema visual", which financial aid to understand this translucent architecture of colored and symbolic illumination.

Along with the aesthetics of light as divine reflection and immaterial sign, there is another very present concept, which is none other than that which refers to the close relationship between good and beauty. St. Thomas Aquinas, inspirer of Gothic aesthetics, referred to the latter in this way: "Pulchra sunt quae visa placent" (beautiful are the things that please the eye), affirming that beautiful are those things whose perception, in its very contemplation, pleases: "Pulchrum est id cuius ipsa aprehensio placet", which is in relation to sight, as the most perfect sense that replaces the language of the rest of the senses.

Concretizing his aesthetic vision, the Dominican saint and philosopher presents us with three principles. The first is "integritas" or perfection, because that which has deficiencies cannot be beautiful. What is deteriorated, or incomplete, is in itself ugly. The second is based on "consonantia" or proper proportion, order and moderation. It deals with the proper harmony and relationship between the parts of the object itself and the connection between the work and the one who perceives it. Finally, in the third place, it refers to the light-brightness or "claritas", a concept that would be replaced, centuries later, by that related to luxury and ostentation.

Moreover, St. Thomas, in dealing with eutrapelia, rediscovering Aristotle, elaborated a doctrine on the aforementioned virtue integrated into Christian ethics, by which he justified laughter and the delectation provided by sight, always in moderation. Like the smile of the Gothic virgins of the Île de France and that of the Good God of Amiens, his doctrine on amusement and distraction inaugurated, in perfect convergence, a new era of moral theology, although it would not be followed much by theologians of the rigorist tradition, except for St. Francis de Sales, who expanded the Thomistic contents in subject of laughter and comedy addressed to the honnêtes gens of the seventeenth century.

Liturgy and music

Gregorian chant, polyphony and the sound of various musical instruments, especially the organ, have always complemented the celebrations inside the cathedral and its canonical dependencies, in harmony with the precept of the Rule of Saint Benedict: "Nihil Operi Dei praeponatur" (nothing comes before divine worship), which is so outstandingly observed, among others, by the monks of Leire.  

The cathedral takes great care in a careful liturgy, rich in symbols and at the same time explained when necessary, with the Latin chants translated beforehand. The professor and organist Raúl del Toro, in a lucid goal and article, full of obvious reasoning, has reflected on the painful attitude developed in the last decades, within some sectors of the Church, in reference letter to the scruples before the visual and sound beauty, by admitting, in some cases, ugliness as a preferential option, transmitting a sad, decadent and vacuous image, with devastating effects in its dialogue with society. The divorce between the Church and artists since the 19th century has undoubtedly influenced all this, without forgetting the difficult discernment between the banal and frivolous of a few versus the true artists and genuine creators of our time, which, as always, there are and excellent ones.

Regarding sacred music in general, I refer the reader to the qualified opinions of the Italian composer Ennio Morricone, author of the soundtrack of "La mission statement" and the Spanish Jesuit José López Calo, a leading figure in international musicology. Both passed away in 2020.

If we follow attentively the gestures and rites of the liturgy we can discover "the arcane of things that seem vulgar and are marvelous" (Valle-Inclán). A Gregorian introit, the Praeconium Epiphaniae, or a Marian antiphon, sung by its cultivated chapel master, with careful interpretation and exquisite taste, evoke the expression of the great Albrecht Dürer, who said: "The supreme expression of beauty is simplicity". If the ceremony includes the participation of the music chapel, the exaltatio gaudii is more than guaranteed.

What to say about the organ, governed by the titular organist with skill, taste and uncommon skills, harmonizing the wills of the registers, which the old chronicler defined as "metaphors of the angelic hierarchies". His sounds in certain moments of the celebration, such as the offertory or the post-communion, are similar to the soundtrack of a movie, because he conducts and interprets the melodies with such mastery that he manages to overwhelm and fascinate in moments core topic of a celebration.

Worship, culture and learning to surprise us and to better understand the history, aesthetics, patronage, techniques, use and function of what is contained in the cathedral. With Virgil we can remember "Felix qui potuit cognoscere rerum per causas" (Blessed is he who can know the causes of things).

The whole cathedral celebration in Pamplona is especially careful, far from the mediocrity that sometimes surrounds us, which Chesterton said consisted in "being in front of greatness and not realizing it". The Church has recognized the via pulchritudinis or beauty, as a special pathway that arouses admiration, and can open the way to the search for God and "is able to dispose the heart and spirit for the meeting with Christ, who is the incarnate Beauty and Holiness, offered by God to men for their salvation".

Evoking an unfortunate intervention

A tour of the naves of the splendid cathedral complex cannot but evoke the unfortunate intervention carried out between 1939 and 1946, with the suppression of the choir, the dismemberment of the choir stalls and the transfer of most of it to a place where it makes no sense in a Hispanic cathedral, destroying the space of the main chapel, which came to encompass that of Wayside Cross and eliminating forever the main altarpiece. A large part of all these reforms did nothing more than recover the unrealized project proposed by Santos Ángel de Ochandátegui in 1800, in a context influenced by severe Jansenism. The post-war actions fall within the "restorationist" tendency of the epigones and disciples of Don Vicente Lampérez, which was the majority in the first third of the 20th century, as opposed to the "conservative" tendency, headed by Don Leopoldo Torres Balbás. These were times, as Gonzalez-Varas points out, when the supporters of the restorations "in style" gained positions again, in what he calls doctrinal regression.

Of those responsible and the context in which some of these absurdities were committed, we are learning various details, which we will leave for another partnership, not without pointing out here that there were many tensions between those responsible for Fine Arts -Francisco Íñiguez and Manuel Chamoso- and the bishop of Pamplona. The mediation of the Marquis of Lozoya, the proposal so that José Yárnoz would become position of the works, at one with the transfer of competences from the General Administration of Madrid to the Institución Príncipe de Viana, made it possible for the bishop of Pamplona to take charge of the works.