December 16, 2008

Global Seminars & Invited Speaker Series


Christmas festivities and rites in Navarrese cathedrals and monasteries

D. Ricardo Fernández Gracia.
Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art

The intangible heritage of Christmas includes a series of rites and customs that took place in the great temples and cloistered monasteries during the liturgical period of Christmas, especially around Christmas, the Innocents and the Epiphany. The liturgy and customs of those days never forgot the teaching and the catechesis around the mystery of Christmas, moving and provoking the affections, always more vulnerable than the intellect.
The cathedral of Pamplona celebrated with special solemnity the Matins of Christmas on the night of the 24th with carols interpreted by the members of the chapel, with voices and instruments, special adornment of the main altar and the temple in general. The night had a certain risk of disturbances, both for the abuse of alcoholic beverages and for the presence of elements that took advantage of the event to show their particular protests. The Christmas party had since the Age average in the Pamplona's seo category "excelentísima"equivalent to the festivities that later would be called double of first class and with ceremonial of six layers, with the same rank as the Easter of Resurrection, Pentecost and the Assumption of the Virgin, titular of the cathedral temple.

The night had other more popular connotations in the Franciscan monasteries. In Tudela, the religious themselves made a procession around the temple carrying the Child Jesus to place him in the aforementioned cave or portal that was arranged and prepared next to the main altar, sheltering St. Joseph and the Virgin. In Olite, the municipal corporation, dressed in a golilla costume, attended the Midnight Mass at the Franciscans and, once it was over, a kind of artichoke was lowered from the top of the dome, opening to reveal the Infant Jesus in his cradle, before whose image the local shepherds danced.

On April Fool's Day, the infants of the cathedral of Pamplona or the then collegiate church of Tudela were the real protagonists. As it is known, those young singers lived as collegiate and in their little chapel they celebrated their own functions and novenarios, for which purpose they composed in their own way and with their own knowledge, gozos, songs and motets. As in other Spanish cathedrals, the feast of Innocents was, par excellence, the day of that small community of children, which we know from nineteenth-century documentation when every effort was made to suppress what was left of the so-called "upside-down world" festivals.of the world upside down".

Nativity Miniature

Miniature of the Nativity. Breviary of the Cathedral of Pamplona. 1332

The female cloistered monasteries have preserved, until recent times, secular customs and habits that society had already lost long ago. The unknown life of the cloistered monasteries is revealed to us as a wealth of spirituality and rich experience during the cycles of the liturgical year, which constitute a coherent whole, where one can still trace the characteristics of the piety of past times. The secular customs of the Christmas season had their complement in the installation of the nativity scene, which did not remain the same while it was installed, since its figures took on prominence and life, according to the feast to be celebrated. The shepherds were received by God as a child in the manger, on the humble straws, but the Kings, as King of Kings, on the lap of his Mother, as "Sedes Sapientiae", or seated on a small armchair. 

The feast of Kings in the cathedral of Pamplona was one of the so-called "Main", which also included the Ascension, Trinity, Corpus, St. John the Baptist, Purification, Annunciation, Dedication of the cathedral, Saints Peter and Paul, the Crown of Christ, Santiago, St. Augustine, Nativity of the Virgin, San Miguel, San Fermin, All Saints and St. Martin.

Two peculiar customs were given quotation in the first diocesan temple. The first one still survives with slight modifications: the adoration of the relic of the Magi and the seasonal procession in the cloister in front of the images of the Magi carved at the beginning of the 14th century by Jacques Perut. The second was suppressed in 1899 and consisted of the erection of a tumulus in front of the main altar, in memory of the Kings of Navarre, precisely in the place where the tombstone that today is found at the exit of the cloister on the wall once stood, which has been identified with that of Doña Blanca, daughter of Carlos III and deceased in Olite in 1376 or the princess Doña Magdalena, mother and guardian of Francisco Febo. Beyond the identification of the royal personage of the tomb and if this is the one that today is in the door of the cloister, what is really important is the confirmation that in the main chapel there was at least one stone tomb of the royal house of Navarre, which opens ways and hypotheses in relation to the monarchy and the first diocesan temple. In 1899 the chapter agreed not to continue with that secular internship , with the angry protest of the canon and historian Don Mariano Arigita who wrote: "I claimed in the name of history, but I was ignored".

Infants in the cloister of the monastery of Fitero with the organist and the sacristan, c. 1904.

Infants in the cloister of the monastery of Fitero with the organist and the sacristan, c. 1904.