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

The perception of Navarre's monuments in the course of time: some examples

Fri, 30 Dec 2016 10:46:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

How did our ancestors see, judge and feel the cultural heritage they contemplated? With what adjectives did they define and hear the great monuments referred to? These are questions about which we know little or nothing, but they are interesting to judge sensibilities, appreciations and evaluations from certain contexts.

Travel books, chronicles, sermons, reports of festivals, correspondence and other documents, together with the press, are a good source of information on the influence of fashions, changes in taste, the weight of history and the human reaction to monumentality or beauty.

It should also be taken into account that some texts tell us about buildings that did not look as they do today. It is enough to read the description of the parish of San Nicolás de Pamplona of 1748 or to contemplate the photograph of Santa María de Olite of a century ago to realize that the fashions, the liturgy, the uses and customs of other times had many of our great monuments somewhat disfigured by the additions of grilles, chapel covers...etc., that turned their interior space into an authentic labyrinth. The collegiate church of Tudela was in this state when it was elevated to the rank of cathedral, which is why the chapter delegated Canon Ignacio Lecumberri to try to give uniformity to the naves of the temple by eliminating the distorting elements.

On many occasions it was fashion that led to derogatory remarks about old works, judged to be out of date. In many licences to make new altarpieces, this circumstance can be seen between the lines, although it is true that the excuse for obtaining permission was the antiquity and old age of the works, in many cases medieval. On the other hand, when the relationship or the text is contemporary to the work being commented on, self-indulgence and exaggeration are very common tendencies.


"Gothic architecture and Roman imagery."

The classification that our "knowledgeable" ancestors made of buildings and other works sample the scarce knowledge they had, something that is especially evident in the reports they wrote, generally at the request of third parties.

The sanctuary of the Trinity of Arre was judged in 1787 by two masters, compared to the parish of the same place, enlarged in the sixteenth century. We know the testimonies from what has been published by José Luis Sales and Víctor Pastor. The first of them, Simón de Larrondo notes the difference between both buildings in time and with respect to the Trinidad, he indicates that by the vestiges and signs it was similar to the factories that were demolished in San Cernin when the chapel of the Virgen del Camino was built. He judged both constructions as "made in the time when the Goths or Moors lived in this Kingdom". With these expressions he meant that they were very old, medieval works. Another master by the name of Miguel Merino separated the basilica and the parish of Arre by two or three hundred years, something that was evident to "any professor of art" and he also compared the former with the building of San Cernin in Pamplona.

The images of the Virgin, particularly those of greater cult and those called "apparitions" were the object of descriptions by more or less cultured clergymen and of texts destined to their novenas. Very significant is the case of the finding of the Virgin of Araceli of Corella in 1674, in the Shrine of Our Lady of Fair Love of Santa Lucia, to which the chronicles, so inclined to the marvelous, judge as "venerated in times of the Goths", adding that "its sculpture, according to those intelligent in Art, is of Roman Architecture". One of those who testified about the Marian simulacrum was the sculptor Juan Manrique de Lara, from Granada and a traveler through the lands of Naples, Rome and Florence and inquisitorial delegate to remove images unworthy of public worship. With total conviction he declared that the image was "in its workmanship ancient Roman factory, as anyone who has seen the ancient ones of Rome will be able to see". This testimony casts doubt on the international travels of which he boasted.


Self-complacency before the contemporary work: the chapel of Santa Ana de Tudela

The chapel of Santa Ana de Tudela is, without a doubt, one of the quintessential examples of traditional baroque in the Comunidad Foral. It was built between 1712 and 1725 and in the prolegomena of its construction its promoters already noted that they wanted to erect the "most ostentatious chapel that can be found in the whole region".

Shortly after its inauguration, in a response written around 1730 to counteract the opinions of the Bishop of Tarazona on the ecclesiastical state of the city, we read in reference letter to the whole: "The new chapel erected to our Patron Saint Anne, a true wonder that has admired our Spain and has been celebrated as a wonder by foreign nations, whose expenses, having exceeded 30.000 pesos, it is a miracle to have paid for them all, and in a few years the inexhaustible treasure of the devotion of this people with their sweat and with their hands". In addition to the exaggeration typical of this genre of literature, the concept of marvel, so closely linked to the admiration and amazement of the devotee and the visitor before a surprising vision, stands out.

In 1735, in another print with the same purpose, there is another very long description, judging it as "A work worthy of a monarch and with the sole forces of this people paid for, and without having been necessary more Indians than the hidden treasuries of the finest devotion explained here by the daily alms that ask for more than thirty thousand pesos consumed in this factory". After comparing its statues with those of Phidias and its decoration with the celestial, he insists on the admiration it causes to Spaniards and foreigners, concluding that "it is a truly marvelous work and worthy of the most attentive consideration and reflection".

To conclude these commendations, we provide another testimony, taken from the printed report (1739) of the visit of the widow of Charles II, Mariana of Neoburg. The impassioned chronicler affirms: "the primors of Art, which rushed in the construction of the chapel, the lines of Vitruvius, the compasses of Viñola and the proportions of Arfe... Roses splitting the crest, in the Ionic ones; and in those of compound order, distributed, fillets, ribbons, gules, boceles and dentellones... And everything that is images, flying balconies and symmetrical fleurons, is so covered with gold... The horizontal floor is burnished; and so much, that it makes the feet slip, to the one who enters unwary".


The vision of the monastery of Fitero

One of its most famous and intelligent abbots, a profoundly cultured man, possessor of a rich Library Services, who introduced the printing press in the abbey and with extensive knowledge and travels, defined the temple of the monastery he governed between 1592 and 1612, in a manuscript of 1610 preserved in the National Historical file : "The church of the monastery is very sumptuous, it can serve as a cathedral, it was built at the expense of Don Rodrigo Ximénez de Rada". The comparison with a cathedral is something recurrent at the moment when someone wished to magnify what he was describing. The sumptuousness should be equated to the magnificent, large and expensive.

A little more descriptive is sample the erudite abbot Fray Manuel de Calatayud in his Memoirs of the Monastery of Fitero, when he writes: "We know that at the expense of Archbishop Don Rodrigo the church of this monastery was built, which is a magnificent work. It is 319 feet in length and 36 in latitude ... The entire structure is made of carved stone so solid and solid that in more than 550 years of duration, it has never been damaged in any part, nor is it recognized as a worn stone". In addition to the measurements, two ideas stand out: magnificence and durability. Regarding the first, it is well known that it was a concept recovered from the works of Aristotle, who considered it to be proper to public works, the image of the nobleman and proper to works dedicated to the gods. At the time of the Counter-Reformation, its meaning was used on numerous occasions and in all areas. As for durability, it is something that must be related to the Vitruvian idea of firmitas, linked to those well carved stones of good quality.

A Cistercian, in this case not of the house, who knew the Bernardine monasteries in Spain, Father Tomás Muñiz, author of the Médula histórica cisterciense ( 1781), affirms that his church was the "most magnificent and sumptuous that existed at that time in Spain and that even today competes with many of our cathedrals". The adjectives are already familiar to us as they appear repeatedly in the other texts.

At the end of the 18th century, in 1799, another anonymous monk wrote a meticulous description of the town and monastery that is preserved in the Royal Academy of History and transcribed by Faustino Menéndez-Pidal. There we read: "The factory of the monastery is regular and although spacious and very capable, it has no ostentatious works and only the church and the bookshop are magnificent. It has three naves, all of ashlar stone and Gothic architecture; it is, if not the largest, one of the largest in Navarre and it is tradition that it was built". Again we find the concept of magnificent work, adding the word ostentation (worth seeing, according to the Diccionario de Autoridades) and above all the grade of Gothic work for the whole.

We close these judgments on the first Cistercian foundation in the Iberian Peninsula with what Vicente Lampérez y Romea, one of the great historians of Spanish architecture, wrote in 1905: "The architecture of the Cistercians did not produce anything so grandiose in Spain".


The literary image of the Olite palace

In the middle of the 15th century, in 1446, the patrician of Ausburg, Sebastian Ilsung was impressed by the beautiful city of Olite and by the palace complex, which he described as sumptuous "in which there were many chambers decorated with gold ... It is impossible to say how many sumptuously furnished buildings there are there, whose magnificence surpasses everything unimaginable". The author of the text was identified by Professor Carmen Jusué.

In 1516, after the conquest, in a list of fortresses in Navarre, the buildings were judged to be "rich and battered". In 1589 it insisted on the same thing when indicating that they were "battered, that if order is not put in order with brevity, they will end up being demolished". In spite of everything, in 1661 Don Martin de Rada informed the king that it was "the most lustrous of Your Majesty and the lords kings, their progenitors, of this Kingdom..., so magnificent and of so many parts". To the adjectives of other monuments is added here the lustrous (resplendent, lucid, according to the Diccionario de Autoridades).

In the reports on Navarre preserved in the Royal Academy of History in 1800, the brothers Justo and Carlos Martinez stop to briefly describe the palace, which attracts their attention for its extraordinary sumptuousness and magnificence, with its upper garden and nine Gothic towers, its delightful walkways, solid walls, crenellated terraces, balconies with columns full of fretwork and filigree, halls with gilded ceilings and wooden coffered ceilings. In the Dictionary of the aforementioned Academy of 1802 it is again described as magnificent, a few years before its burning by order of General Francisco Espoz y Mina, in February 1813.

In the mid-nineteenth century Madoz notes, succinctly, the presence of "vestiges of the old castle". Justin Cenac-Montaut in his L'Espagne inconnue (1861) writes: "Nothing so majestic nor so menacing as this last effort of Gothic architecture, rising to the highest beauty before perishing.... does not have to resort to fairy tales to attract attention to its palace ... Tafalla was the Versailles of the kings of Navarre, Olite, located seven kilometers south of that city, was the Pierrefonds and the Vincennes".

The literary vision has a before and after in the description of the Sevillian poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. In 1865, Bécquer stopped collaborating in El Contemporáneo and started collaborating in El Museo Universal, one of the most prestigious publications in the country. He wrote for it on March 11, 1866 about Roncesvalles and Olite, staying in the latter city for two days. From his text we extract these lines: "Nowadays it is difficult to determine precisely the plant of this work, of which only isolated walls covered with moss and ivy, loose towers and some foundations of demolished factory remain standing, that in certain points allow to guess the primitive construction, but that in others disappear without leaving ostensible track between the rubble and the high grasses that grow to great height in their blinded moats and in their extensive and abandoned patios. However, the sight of those gigantic and very large remains is deeply impressive and, no matter how little imagination one has, one cannot but offer to the report when contemplating them the image of the chivalrous epoch in which they were built". Other texts by Iturralde y Suit, Mañé y Flaquer and the magazine La Ilustración Española y Americana complete the nineteenth-century vision of the building.


The view of an academic traveler with prejudices: Antonio Ponz

In a context of renovation and Enlightenment, Don Antonio Ponz, secretary of the Royal Academy of San Fernando, when visiting the churches of Pamplona, wrote in 1785 expressions such as these: "I am sorry to have seen in the Parish of S. Lorenzo the monstrous ornamentation of the Chapel of S. Fermín, and the unspeakable woodwork of the piled up and extravagant altarpieces of S. 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". Regarding the cathedral of Pamplona, after praising the Gothic masonry, the façade project and the main altarpiece, he lashes out against the Baroque works with expressions such as these: "but if they do not remove the ridiculous modern tabernacle -of themain altarpiece- and the rest with which they have filled the space occupied by the old one, they will maintain an insufferable deformity, which is what can be seen in the other altarpieces of the chapels". His appreciations and those of Ventura Rodriguez, author of the project of the neoclassical façade of the cathedral, were reflected in the personality of Ochandátegui, who would be in charge of carrying out the façade, and the author of a plan for the interior of the cathedral, in tune with what was published by the Marquis of Ureña in relation to the temples, defended the elimination of many altarpieces and the transfer of the choir, a plan that was gradually carried out over time, until the intervention after the civil war.