December 14, 2016


Christmas scenes in Pamplona Cathedral

Alejandro Aranda Ruiz
graduate in Geography and History

The Christmas cycle is the most important milestone in the liturgical calendar with and after the Easter cycle. Taken in its broadest sense, Christmas was not a feast that was confined to December 25, but went much further, as the popular saying goes, "until the Purification, Easter is Easter". It was a long period that began around December 18 with the feast of the Expectation or Virgen de la O and lasted until February 2 with the celebration of the Purification of the Virgin. Thus, during these weeks not only the birth of Jesus was commemorated, but also previous and subsequent events such as the slaughter of the Innocents, the Circumcision, the Epiphany or the Sweet Name of Jesus.

Consequently, the importance and scope of the Christmas festivities meant that art from a very early date was placed at the service of Christmas and the infancy of Christ. It is for this reason that the iconography of Christmas finds a niche within the walls of the cathedral of Pamplona through numerous manifestations in sculpture and painting. Manifestations and cultural goods that constitute more than mere works of art or exponents of a style and technique. They are assets that must be taken into account in the light of their context and in relation to the purpose for which they were created: the liturgy and the feast in the framework of the cathedral. All this patrimony was an indispensable piece in the ceremonial and the celebration materializing the prayers, the songs and the spirit of the different festivities, making tangible the intangible, visible the invisible, finite the infinite. In the case of this visit it is the Christmas festivities and the art associated with them.

As far as Christmas scenes in the cathedral are concerned, the examples cited in this visit show that all artistic styles from Gothic to Baroque contributed to their expression. The cloister is one of the places where Christmas themes appear most strongly. Two keystones with the Nativity motif, one with the advertisement to the Shepherds and the other with the presentation in the Temple. In addition to these, there is the relief of the Adoration of the Kings by Jacques Perut between the end of the 13th and the middle of the 14th century. This prominence of Christmas iconography in the cloistered enclosure may be due to various causes. However, it is interesting to note that during the construction of the cloister the feasts of Christmas and Epiphany were very popular in Pamplona. If the cloister is begun after the War of the Navarrería of 1276, one of the oldest liturgical documents of the cathedral, the Breviary of Barbazán of 1332, grants Christmas the highest category, placing the Epiphany in a Degree below. Not in vain, the feast of the Epiphany is celebrated with great solemnity in Pamplona by means of a procession with the relic of the Holy Kings that moves to the relief of the Epiphany to be venerated.

Epiphany, by Jacques Perut. Cloister

Epiphany, by Jacques Perut. Cloister.

Again in the interior of the temple, the Gothic style again makes its appearance associated with Christmas in the superb altarpiece of the doubt of Santo Tomás or Caparroso, the work of a foreign painter in 1507. Among the scenes that narrate the life of Christ and the Virgin, the Nativity and the Adoration of the Kings find a place. These same two themes are reproduced again in the Renaissance by means of two panels from the second third of the 16th century. Paintings of Italianate taste that participate in the ideals of the Renaissance through the prominence of classical architecture, perspective and landscape. The relief of the Adoration of the Shepherds by Pedro González de San Pedro for the main altarpiece of the church, today in the parish of San Miguel, dates from the end of the 16th century. Mannerism finds its expression in the Adoration of the Kings located at conference room Capitular. Signed by Jacobus de Marsella, it is a good example of the prominence of engraving in the creative process, as it uses prints by Sadeler and Cornielis Cort.

The Baroque has its maximum expression in the rococo sacristy in which, like the cloister, Christmas has a special prominence. In this sense, the paintings of the lunettes made by Pedro Antonio de Rada in 1762 stand out. In them the Nativity, the Flight into Egypt and Jesus before the Doctors make their appearance. To these is added a Nativity made in a small copper and the magnificent sculpture of the Child Jesus, attributed by Dr. García Gainza to the sculptor Luis Salvador Carmona, and that makes pair with a Sanjuanito. In the image of the Child, which represents the triumph of Christ over death, there is the union of the Nativity and the Passion as it was usual since the Age average and reflected in the texts of numerous authors.

The relief of the slaughter of the Innocents by Francisco Jiménez Bazcardo for the altarpiece of Santa Catalina, contracted in 1686 and which was the focal point of the feast of December 28, also belongs to the Baroque period. The same motif is found in an 18th century painting located in the conference room Capitular. Finally, to the first half of the 17th century corresponds a lavish Adoration of the Kings that presides over the sacristy of the beneficiaries. A painting that at the end of the XIX century was employee in the procession of January 6 when for meteorological reasons the function was moved to the interior of the cathedral.

In short, as can be seen throughout the visit, most of the Christmas themes are represented: the Nativity, the advertisement to the Shepherds, the Adoration of the Shepherds, the Adoration of the Kings, the Flight into Egypt, the Slaughter of the Innocents, the presentation in the Temple or Jesus before the Doctors. However, the most repeated themes correspond to the main festivities of Christmas and Epiphany. These images made sense in the context of the cathedral for which they were created. A context that must be taken into account for their correct interpretation, evaluation and enjoyment.