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

A purpose of the centennial celebration

Tue, 26 Sep 2017 17:04:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

Celebration of centennial anniversaries for the past four centuries: 1617

Nowadays, day by day, it is difficult to turn on the radio or television, or open any magazine, newspaper or digital media without being bombarded by news of some anniversary. The hundred years of a battle or a war, the three hundred of the death of an artist, the two hundred of the foundation of a city or construction of a palace... etc. History seems to be written more and more on the occasion of centenaries that, of course, generate books, exhibition catalogs, videos, reports of all kinds subject, T-shirts and a whole set of souvenir items, in a real commemorative frenzy.

The custom of celebrating these commemorations seems to have its first reference in Germany, specifically in Saxony, four hundred years ago. The testimony is a printed sheet published in 1617 in Leipzig, to commemorate and remember what had happened one hundred years earlier, in 1517, when Luther took a hammer and nailed what in the internship was his religious manifesto - his 95 thesis - on the door of a temple, triggering the Protestant Reformation. The large sheet, printed in 1617, represents that historical passage and was made to celebrate the 100th anniversary of that event, although it also contained other contents. As Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, points out when studying the print in his book History of the World in 100 Objects, during the early 17th century, preparations for war were underway, as European Protestants faced an uncertain and dangerous future, since Rome had prepared a public prayer for the extirpation of heresy and the reunification of Christianity, in a clear call to take up arms against the Reformation.

That centennial celebration would give rise to others, in a very special way on the part of outstanding institutions and at the head the Society of Jesus that, on the centenary of its foundation, in plenary session of the Executive Council triumphant Baroque, of which the Jesuits were a very principal part and manager, published in full luxury with engraved illustrations of emblems, in the Flemish province the famous edition of Imago primi saeculi Societatis Iesu a Provincia Flandro-Belgica eiusdem Societatis Repraesentata.


The chapel of San Fermín celebrates its 300th anniversary

A few days ago, professor and archivist José Luis Molins, a leading authority on the chapel of San Fermín and its historical-artistic contextualization, made some elaborate and accurate reflections on the construction of the building (1696-1717) and its renovation (1797-1805).

Two moments for different aesthetics and mentalities. The first corresponds to the traditional and ornamental Baroque, an art for the senses that allowed itself to be captivated by color, movement and rhetoric, at final for the contemplation of an authentic caelum in terris. The second, in the context of a Spain dominated by the reforms of the Enlightenment and the forms of academicism, where all of the above had to be relegated for the sake of a totally rational art, watched over and defended to the hilt by the Royal Academy of San Fernando. Just before the reform of the chapel, in 1785, we must place the powerful opinion of the former secretary of the Royal Academy, Juan Antonio Ceán Bermúdez, who after his visit to Pamplona left some works sentenced, when he expressed himself in these terms: "I am sorry to have seen in the Parish of San Lorenzo the monstrous ornamentation of the Chapel of San Fermín, and the unspeakable woodwork of the piled up and extravagant altarpieces of San Saturnino. There is nothing reasonable to turn our eyes to in the Church of Carmen, since starting with the classic monstrosity of the main altarpiece, both in architecture and sculpture, the others follow in the same vein".

On both occasions -construction and major renovation- the Pamplona Regiment sought the best, gathering plans, opinions and judgments from masters of the city, a foreign engineer and prominent artists from nearby regions (La Rioja, Zaragoza, Guipúzcoa) and even from the court of Madrid. The goal was always to achieve the best and to surprise and amaze those who contemplated the monument.

For the construction of the building, numerous means of financing were used, with funds that the city channeled in the exercise of its board of trustees, with the participation of members of the Royal Congregation of San Fermín de los Navarros, established in Madrid in 1684, various Indians led by great characters such as the Count of Lizarraga from the Philippines or, a little later, by the Marquis of Castelfuerte and Viceroy of Peru Don José Armendáriz. The simple people also contributed their work staff and free of charge with their own hands or with their horses.


Festival in the streets of Pamplona in 1717

A festive edition from the presses of Pamplona on the occasion of the inauguration of the chapel of San Fermin, gives us an account of how the festivities were experienced at that time, as a kind of balm. The aforementioned José Luis Molins published the synthesis of all that was experienced by the people of Pamplona in a few days of festivities in 1717, in a context in which the cities competed with the chapel of their patron saint and the dimensions and magnificence of their main place , the place par excellence for the development of the festivities. In times of the Baroque, neither the cathedrals were rivaled as in the Age average, nor the soccer teams of our time.

The sumptuous and striking arches and monumental altars erected in the streets for the occasion were full of naturalia atque artificialia, with rich objects, tapestries, jewelry, embroidery, silver pieces. The skill with all those ephemeral architectures erected by parishes and religious orders is evident in the chronicle and its descriptions.

In final, that occasion was the best pretext and opportunity to organize unprecedented celebrations in order to reach the true climax of the Baroque culture, which found in those celebrations a fundamental ally, with the resources of sensory impact that attracts and dazzles through grandiloquence, ornament, excess, extravagance, concealing curtains... etc. All aimed at moving, impressing, enervating and, in final, to sensorially provoke the individual, marking behaviors. In that context of social dirigisme, architects, painters, musicians, moralists and politicians acted in the same direction. As Maravall recalls, "the obscure and the difficult, the new and unknown, the strange and extravagant, the exotic, all of this enters as an effective spring in the baroque precepts that set out to move the wills, leaving them in Fail, admiring them, impassioning them for what they had not seen before".

A monograph condensing the material and immaterial values of the chapel of San Fermín is needed.

A monograph on the chapel published in 1974 by the Institución Príncipe de Viana and the Pamplona City Council, by José Luis Molins, is now completely out of print. It is missing, a fortiori this year, a new edition, suitably corrected and enlarged, in different formats, with graphic materials in color, collecting the ideas and developments that the author presented in the conferences mentioned. It is necessary for all those who come to contemplate the image and chapel of that sign of identity of Pamplona and Navarra that is San Fermín. Learning, reflecting, valuing and tasting what the three centuries-old building contains, as well as its immaterial values can and should be disseminated, but first it is essential to carry out a serious, methodical and rigorous programs of study within the reach not only of historians, but also of all citizens.

In line with this reflection, not long ago I read a article signed by Esteban Hernandez in a well-known digital media. The author reflected on how we are heading towards a lazy and apathetic society, where the comfortable thing is the visual and where the lack of time and accumulation of other stimuli have transformed our minds, unable to maintain attention for a long time. In this context and with very powerful competitors -video games, social networks-, the book, as an object of knowledge and a fundamental part of the training staff and social of people, seems to be losing its place, as a result of the search for simple and fun entertainment that is gaining ground. Faced with this panorama, books must be defended and vindicated, naturally in their different formats, since the culture they contain cannot die, nor can society return to ignorance, replacing the animi culture in the Ciceronian expression, with another much poorer one.

The knowledge of cultural heritage expressed in serious and rigorous publications is a priority in order to know our past, live the present and project the future. Unamuno wrote that "only he who knows is free, and the freer the more he knows", while Francis Bacon, three centuries ago, recalled that "vain and indolent people affect to despise letters, simple men admire them without touching them, and wise men use and honor them".