9 November 2010


Heritage, Art and Architecture

Foundational process, urban planning and architecture of the women's cloisters: the case of Navarre

Mr. José Javier Azanza López.
Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Navarre became the scene of innumerable religious foundations, so much so that cities such as Pamplona, Tudela and Corella transformed their urban physiognomy and became authentic convent cities. In this general framework , the study of the female cloisters allows us to address a series of aspects related to the foundational process, the location, and the architectural and spatial configuration of the conventual ensembles. 

The chapter dedicated to the founders and patrons leads us to reflect on the special characteristics of the financing of convent architecture, both because of the large financial outlay required and because of the active role played on most occasions by its promoters, who did not limit themselves to merely defraying the costs of the work, but also played a leading role in the construction process of the convent building by choosing the architects and master builders to whom they imposed the guidelines for the building's design , thus playing a role that is somewhat similar to what Francis Haskell refers to in Baroque Italy. In Navarre, it was mainly the nobility and nobility of the nobility who, throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, took a greater interest in the erection of new monasteries in Navarre. Some of these nobles were domiciled in Navarre itself, where they became rich through the administration of their lands and businesses. Other convent complexes were built thanks to the funds sent by those Navarrese established in the Villa y Corte, whose power and influence was based on the posts they held in the royal administration as treasurers, secretaries, intendants or ministers, on their work as assistants or on the diverse and prosperous businesses they ran. Finally, some convent enclosures have their origin in the fortunes amassed by those Navarrese settlers in the Indies who prospered both in the military degree program and in trade relations.

Don Juan de Ciriza

Don Juan de Ciriza, founder of the Recoletas of Pamplona

As for the motives that lead to the foundation, the answer to this question can be found in the founding deeds, a document in which both the concessions and the prerogatives that the founders obtained in the material and fundamentally in the spiritual sphere are recorded. By means of its clauses, the founders assured themselves: degree scroll as founder; suffrages and masses for their souls and those of their successors in the board of trustees; burial place for themselves and for the patrons of the convent; and reservation of places or the right to choose a certain issue of nuns, whether from the locality where the foundation took place or from their own family lineage. To this seems to be added - according to some testimonies of the period - the social prestige that all foundations entail, thanks to the presence of coats of arms and inscriptions in different parts of the building.

An analysis of the location of the female enclosures reveals their urban character, which has its starting point in the agreements adopted at the Council of Trent for security reasons. In the majority of cases, they were erected in the places of origin of some of the founders, although in other cases and due to exceptional circumstances, foundations initially planned outside Navarre ended up in our community (Dominican Sisters of Tudela, Discalced Carmelites of Lesaca). On most occasions, it is the founders and patrons who indicate the specific location, often conditioned by the need for the convent church to have a private gallery that communicates through a passageway with their private homes. Exceptionally, this decision fell to the bishop of the diocese (Barefoot Carmelites of Lesaca), or to the town council (Barefoot Carmelites of Corella).

Recoletas Convent in Tafalla

Recoletas Convent in Tafalla. Early 20th century

Among the different rooms that make up the convent complexes, the greatest architectural concerns centred on churches and cloisters, the bodies around which they were articulated. The convent church takes on a decisive importance in the building, not only because it houses the Blessed Sacrament and worship, but also because it is the space that the religious order shares with the people and becomes the image it seeks to project to the faithful. In the temples of the female cloisters, the Latin cross plan without side chapels is almost always chosen, which in some projects of Madrid origin seeks a certain balance between longitudinality and centrality (Dominican Sisters of Tudela, Poor Clares of Arizcun). Exceptional is the octagonal organism that organises the church of the Compañía de María de Tudela, of clear Jesuit inspiration. Inside, the structural and decorative elements are sober and in keeping with the spirit of poverty professed by the orders. In its spatial configuration, there is no lack of choirs - high and low - and tribunes. On the outside, the façade stands out as a distinguishing and differentiating element, conforming to the Carmelite or Viñolesque façade model , open whenever the urban layout allows for an atrium or compass that creates a space of its own within the city.

The cloisters of the enclosures in Navarre are made up of two or three stories high, with each of their bays divided into four or five sections articulated by pilasters. The remaining rooms of the convent complex are distributed around the cloister, the location of which depends on the needs of monastic life, taking into account everything required by internship of its rule and establishing easy communication between the cloister and the church and its service.