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Heritage and identity (57). The eagle in Navarre (II) Decorative, emblematic and mythological motif.


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Diario de Navarra

Ricardo Fernández Gracia

Director of the Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art

In this second part on the presence of the eagle in Navarre, we will focus on its accompaniment as an attribute of some saints and its success as a decorative, symbolic and even mythological motif. Also, we will comment on the eagle in victors and, although it is less visible, we will point out how silverware includes it as a punch in numerous silver pieces imported from New Spain, since the mark of the law of metal was expressed there with its figure, since the seventeenth century.

With St. Augustine: the eagle of Hippo

This bird was not alien to other saints, such as Augustine, Elisha (with two heads), Antolin, Vincent and Wenceslaus, although in Navarre there are hardly any examples. Of the first, known as the eagle of Hippo -because of the place of his death-, there are and were examples in convents of his order, in its different branches. The membership derives from the great height of the saint's thought and the loftiness of his sanctity. St. Jerome, in his book Of the Twelve Doctors, says: "Bishop Augustine, flying like an eagle, has soared above the summits of the mountains and from the heights he contemplates the globe and the circle of waters that surround it...". The peripeteia staff of the saint agreed very well with the bird, because after his dalliances with the Manichaeans, he was able to soar above the error and, like the eagle, he could look without blinking at the sun or the divine light that, with its rays, illuminated him. Moreover, just as the eagle rejuvenates and regenerates its plumage and even its eyesight by flying upwards, the saint left the dissipation of his sinful youth for the total submission to the Lord. These were metaphors used by his biographers and preachers, which became one of his attributes. We will cite the case of the dynamic sculpture of the main altarpiece of Lesaca, a work contracted with all its imagery by the sculptor Juan Bautista Mendizábal in 1753. It represents the saint as a bishop, with a book and a model of the founder and the eagle at his feet contemplating him with his head erect and his gaze upwards.

Between decorative and symbolic

Lecterns, sacral, reliquaries, monstrances and other silverware objects have been using the eagle or a double eagle in their designs throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In some cases, it obeys religious or political symbolic criteria, for having been an emblem of the house of Austria. When the molds of the industrial arts triumphed in the 19th century, the queen of birds had its privileged place in clocks and other decorative pieces.

The use of the double-headed eagle in Spanish and Latin American silverware has been studied by Carmen Heredia, pointing out several spectacular ostensories. We will recall, in this regard, an exceptional piece which is the ostensory of the parish of Valtierra, work of Cristóbal de Alfaro (late seventeenth century), made in Madrid as an examination piece, which shows a spectacular double eagle on its knot. In that work shows how the double-headed eagle of the emperor had no importance in works of silverware under his reign, while the monstrances studied from the very late 17th century and the following century would be related to a symbolic meaning, around the devotion and Eucharistic piety of the Spanish monarchy, manifested in cults and in a book published in 1640 by Francisco Martínez, graduate Sumo Sacramento de la Fe (Supreme Sacrament of the Faith). The engraving of its cover, made by María Eugenia Beer, presents the allegories of piety and strength escorting a high pedestal, with the imperial coat of arms held by a great crowned double-headed eagle, supporting an earthly sphere, which supports a monstrance with the Form, in the middle of a great sun immersed in a celestial glory.

The same motif of the double-headed eagle is present in the eighteenth-century sacras of the monastery of Tulebras, exhibited in its museum, as well as in the silver filigree reliquary of Saint Fermin of the Carmelites of Saint Joseph of Pamplona. The sacras of Tulebras belong to the second half of the 18th century and the presence of the eagle is due to the memory of Saint John the Evangelist, since the first fourteen verses of his gospel were contained in one of the sacras, secularly linked to the traditional liturgy of the celebration of the mass. In Roncesvalles, there are preserved some sacras with the eagle, but not double-headed, of a marked neoclassical character and dated 1788.

As for the relic of the Carmelites of St. Joseph, it comes, like the one with the bust of the saint in the parish of San Lorenzo, from the shipment of Captain Francisco de Alava, at the request of his cousin Beatriz de Beaumont, founder of the Discalced Carmelites of the capital of Navarre. It is set in a teak that belongs to the 18th century, possibly reused from another piece to introduce the painting of the co-patron saint of Navarre and his relic. In this regard, it should be remembered that the double-headed eagle is one of the most characteristic iconographic motifs of Spanish jewelry, appearing in numerous pieces related, especially, to the apostle Santiago and the Santa Faz. 

Other sumptuary arts, such as ceramics in pharmacy jars and other pieces bearing heraldic or religious order coats of arms, also made profuse use of it. 

As a receptacle of relics, the Augustinian Recollects keep a crowned double-headed eagle, which presents on its two faces, and on the entire surface, multiple thecae with relics of different saints. The main one is on its chest, although there are also others of some importance on its tail, wings and crown. The rest of the composition is dotted with small Departments with their corresponding relics. It has relics on both sides.

The spread eagle appears on some lecterns, such as those located on the railings of the Library Services chapter house in Pamplona or the one designed by Juan Bautista de Suso for the pulpits of the parish of Santa María de Viana, in 1724. Another similar lectern was found in the pulpit of the parish of San Pedro de Olite. 

In the same temple of Viana, finishing off the ends of the side streets of the main altarpiece (1663-1674), there are two eagles that, because of their size, are sensational and disturbing. We do not find these examples in any other case in such a position. Their significance in such a visible place must be related to the scenography that the queen of the birds provides through her power.

Also of great effect are those that, as a pedestal, support the polychrome plaster figures of the four Fathers of the Church in the chapel of Santa Ana de Tudela (1723-1725).

In the book of drawings of the exams of the goldsmiths of Pamplona we find an eagle of profile, with wings spread out as a finial of a rich framing, corresponding to the exam of Tomás de Lacruz in 1774.

The design of the animal and the seduction of its power made its drawings and profiles decorate titles and calligraphic drawings. Among the former, we can cite some scribes' offices. Xylographic engravings with its image can also be found in some printed matter, such as the borders of some thesis of Degrees. Also, it appears on some clocks and decorating furniture, as in the tenebrarium of the cathedral of Pamplona.

The scene of the abduction of Ganymede

In one of the drawings of the silversmiths' examination book, which is kept in the Municipal file and contains the designs of the Pamplona goldsmiths, the abduction of the young Ganymede by Jupiter, transformed into an eagle, is represented. It was made by Tadeo Pérez, in 1787. The mythological topic , as it is known, has as protagonist Jupiter metamorphosed into an eagle. Among his numerous adventures and conquests of the god of Olympus (Leda, Antiope, Danae, Semele... etc.) the tradition of the cycle of his loves closes with that of Ganymede, the only one of homosexual character, despite the fact that its protagonist is a Trojan prince not very old and that the myth took a long time to acquire its formulation final, as pointed out by M. A. Elvira Barba, in her study on Art and Myth (Madrid, Sílex, 2008). For Homer, Ganymede was "the most beautiful of mortal men; because of his beauty the gods abducted him to be Zeus' draughtsman and to live with the immortals" (Iliad, XX). Later, in the 6th century B.C., the sources point directly to Zeus in love with the young man and, in the middle of the 4th century B.C., different versions of the abduction appear, one that will prevail with the young man abducted by the eagle, either the companion of Zeus or the metamorphosed god himself. The latter version is that of Ovid in his Metamorphoses, where he writes: "It happened that the king of the gods was inflamed with love for the Phrygian Ganymede and had the idea of transforming himself into something more beautiful in appearance than a young man: a bird. But among all the birds, he only deigned to transform himself into the one worthy of carrying the thunderbolts, his weapons. Said and done: beating the air with false feathers, he abducted the youngster...".

In the emblematic speech of the baroque festival

In the light of what we have pointed out, at the beginning of these lines, about the wide presence of the eagle in the classical world, it is very easy to understand its use in the field of the celebration, a fortiori in the royal funerals, for some of its meanings. J. L. Molins and J. J. Azanza have studied this last aspect in detail, pointing out how its presence is endorsed in the context of succession, as a guarantee of dynastic continuity. In this sense, it is very eloquent when he appears leaving the nest with his offspring. Thus he was represented in one of the Pamplona hieroglyphs at the funeral of Philip V, with the motto taken from Psalm 102, which reads Renovabitur ut Aquila. The composition was painted in 1746 by Juan de Lacalle.

The funerals of Carlos III (1789), counted on emblems made by Juan Francisco Santesteban, to the dictation of the programmed by the presbyter Ambrosio de San Juan and the poet and playwright Vicente Rodríguez de Arellano. In one of the emblems was represented a model very repeated in the books of emblematics, consisting of an eagle that represents Carlos III flying in the direction of the sun, wanting to mean that the king, by means of the internship of the prayer, tried to elevate himself and to unite to God, from whom he had received the grace to govern with wisdom. That composition had numerous precedents in emblematic books (Juan de Borja, Antonio Ginther, or the symbolic life of St. Francis de Sales by A. Gambort) and funeral obsequies of other monarchs, such as those of Mariana of Austria.

Native house and town halls

The Diccionario de Autoridades ( 1737) defines as a victor the "poster or board on which a brief eulogy is written in applause of some person with his name, for some glorious feat or action, fixing and exposing him in public". Some of these victors took the form of an eagle with wings spread out, as we can see, for example, in the photograph of the old town hall of Elizondo in the Baztan Valley. As they are wooden pieces, they have disappeared in many places. The praxis, when a son of the locality ascended in military, church, army or administration positions, it was the town council itself who arranged the placement of one in the house of birth and another in the town hall. Several examples are provided by the conference proceedings of the Town Hall of Tudela that placed them in the town hall, the house of the honoree, and even in some occasion in the place of San Jaime. Generally, it is argued that they are "the demonstrations that in such cases the city is accustomed to do for their children, when they achieve jobs of such esteem".