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Diario de Navarra
Ricardo Fernández Gracia
Director of the Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art
The relocation of altarpieces, from their places of origin, was always an option when they were removed for mere questions of fashion, a fortiori if in the place of destination fire, war, fashions or deterioration had left their mark. Think of some examples, such as the new altarpiece of the Puy de Estella, made in 1642, which motivated the sale of the old one to the parish of Aizcorbe, or the one of the Jesuits of Pamplona that went to the basilica of San Ignacio, for its inauguration in 1694 and from the latter to the parish of Azoz, in 1726, where it is currently located.
This process of change increased enormously at two points in time: in the first half of the 19th century and in the last decades for different reasons.
Favorable circumstances in the first half of the nineteenth century
The departure of friars and monks from their secular foundations meant that the furnishings of their temples were left in a deplorable state status . The government delegated to the bishop of Pamplona the distribution of their sacred vessels, ornaments and decorations. The requests of different pieces, from the bells to the valuable ternos or the gold and silver work multiplied with more force, if it is possible, after the destructions and rapiñas of the wars of the Independence and of the first Carlist. Sometimes, fashions or simply the opportunity to get hold of pieces that would otherwise have been impossible to acquire due to their cost, also determined some transfers. Let's see just a few examples.
The parish of Dicastillo, whose interior was destroyed in the first Carlist war, requested a large part of the decoration of the monastery of Irache: main and side altarpieces, as well as the altarpiece of Saint Veremundo and its very valuable Renaissance chest. The main altarpiece of the monastery of La Oliva, A Renaissance work, was bought by the Count of Guenduláin for the Conceptionists of Tafalla in 1858. The latter gave it to the parish of San Pedro of the city in 2005, when the convent was suppressed.
The one of the parish of Navascués was from the old Dominican convent of Sangüesa, work of Pedro Onofre (1723-1724). It was moved in 1822, taking advantage of the departure of the friars during the constitutional triennium. The cause was none other than the expansion of the parish church of Navascués, starting in 1807.
The one of the Carmelitas Calzados of the capital of Navarre ended up in the chapel of the Museum of Navarre. From the same convent came several for the parish of St. Augustine and another for the Augustinian Sisters of St. Peter, to preside over their church in 1847.
To the temples closed by the exclaustration, we have to add those that were suppressed by the effect of the new beneficial plans, as happened in Tudela. That was the cause of the transfer to Monteagudo of the old altarpiece of the parish of San Miguel de Tudela, work of Francisco Gurrea (1697), in 1806.
The last decades: depopulation and church closures
The process of depopulation and secularization in recent decades has led to the need for solutions to safeguard many altarpieces that would otherwise have been destroyed or stolen by withdrawal from different population centers. Also the restorations "in style" of some medieval temples, such as Villamayor de Monjardín or the monastery of Azuelo caused their altarpieces to be removed, with greater or lesser luck in their new locations.
One group is made up of the female cloistered monasteries that have been closed. At the head are the Carmelite monasteries of Lesaca and Benedictine nuns of Estella, whose communities left their original buildings for various reasons. The largest of the former was destined for the parish of Elizondo, while the latter was located in the monastery of Leire in 1971. The collaterals of the Salesas of Pamplona have been relocated to Eugui, while that of the Augustinian Sisters of St. Peter has returned to the parish of the Virgin of the River. The latter came from the Carmelitas Calzados of Pamplona and was acquired by the nuns in 1847. It remained in their church until the community moved to the new monastery of Aranzadi in 1969. After its closure in 2010, it was relocated to the parish of the Virgen del Río, the secular temple of the aforementioned nuns in the capital of Navarre.
As far as altarpieces from closed temples or from depopulated localities are concerned, we will cite some examples. One of the earliest relocations was the largest of Uli Bajo, which was relocated to the residency program of El Vergel in 1974. Those of Guenduláin moved to the old church of Capuchinos de Peralta. That of San Pedro de Lizarra in Estella was relocated to the Conceptionist Recollects of the same city in 1982, the collaterals of the seminar room of Tudela (formerly Discalced Carmelites) were installed in Murchante in 1985. In the latter year, the oldest of Villamayor de Monjardín was transferred to the parish of El Salvador de Pamplona; in 1988, that of Larrángoz to Barañáin; in 1998, that of San Nicolás de Tudela to San Blas de Burlada and, in 2009, that of San Pedro de Echano to Sarriguren. On many occasions, the transfers were not made with all the elements, since the titulars and tabernacles ended up in other places or were transferred to the Diocesan Museum.