Piece of the month of September 2008


Santiaga Hidalgo Sánchez
Chair de Patrimonio y Arte Navarro

With the following lines we would like to inform you of the existence of a medieval relief in Pamplona Cathedral, which is little known, despite the fact that its photograph illustrated a card in the 2004 calendar of the association Friends of the Cathedral, written by Mikel Zuza Viniegra.

It is a stone block (84 x 48 cm) depicting St. Michael spearing the devil, under which appears a registration in Gothic script. Today it is embedded in the wall of the cathedral that adjoins the cloister, on the left side - according to the viewer - of the Amparo Door and partly hidden by the gate that was placed on this door in the 18th century.

The nimbed Saint Michael is dressed in a tunic instead of the warrior armour in which he is depicted on other occasions. He is armed with a shield with the trilobed cross, which is customary for Saint Michael, and a spear with which he pierces the devil, depicted in the form of a dragon. The large wings that the archangel spreads out have well preserved the lines of the feathers. At his feet is engraved a Latin registration in Gothic script that is difficult to read. From the subject script, the piece can be dated to between the 13th and 15th centuries. The registration was interpreted by the former dean D. Juan Ollo as follows: "Mucho es buena cosa el conocer a se mesmo, de que logar vine, a que logar ha venido..."

Relief of St Michael in Pamplona Cathedral. Photo: Carlos Martínez Álava

Relief of St Michael in Pamplona Cathedral. Photo: Carlos Martínez Álava

It has been suggested that this piece comes from the old Hospital of San Miguel, of medieval origin and dedicated to the care of the poor and pilgrims. The location of this hospital is uncertain. The possibility has been raised that it was located in Calle Dormitalería, in a building which in 1550 changed its function from a hospital for pilgrims to high school for poor students, and which today still has its 16th century façade with the effigy of the Archangel. On the other hand, according to Juan José Martinena, it is more likely that it was located in the burgh of the same name, which was between what are now Carmen and Navarrería streets. This burgh of San Miguel is mentioned in the documentation until 1319; later, for example in the letter of the Privilege of Repopulation of 1324, no distinction is made between it and Navarrería.

According to the same author, from medieval times until the 18th century, in this area, specifically in what is now the headquarters of the Department of Culture and Tourism of the Government of Navarre, there was the hospitalero's house. This was a dignity of the chapter, whose owner was in charge of distributing the income for the care of pilgrims and the needy. We know that, at least at a late date, in the hospitaller's house there was a chapel dedicated to San Miguel, so the relationship with the hospital mentioned in the documentation could be definitively established.

In any case, we cannot clearly establish the exact origin of the relief we are dealing with at certify . Nor do we know when it was placed in its current location, except that it was before the 18th century, when the gate that partly covers it was put in place. If it really comes from the Hospital de San Miguel, perhaps its decline, with the foundation in the 16th century of what later became the Provincial Hospital, to which most of the pilgrims passed, marks the moment when the relief was transferred to the cathedral.

Whatever its origin, it is interesting to note here that the representation in the relief was very appropriate for the location in this space in the cathedral. This was probably taken into account when it was reused. In fact, in the space between the choir and the access to the cloister there was a chapel, in front of which there was an ossuary, as we are informed in a document from 1406, in which the cathedral worker grants the baster Sancho de Maya a tomb in front of the chapel of San Blas: "aqueilla sepultura et fossario de tierra que es deuant la capieilla de Sant Blas, la quoal es teniendo a la sepultura que iaze Lope de Etunáyn enta la part del coro et de la otra parte con la sepultura que se tiene a la sepultura de Sancho d'Ostiz, çapatero, enta la claustra de la eglesia et do iaze la dicha Gracia, vostra muger".

St. Michael the Archangel, as well as being the one who leads the militia of heaven against the forces of evil, is the one in charge of weighing in his scales the bad or good actions, so that the judged person goes to heaven or hell. He is also a psychompompo angel, a conductor of souls. His role as an introducer into Paradise is indicated by this passage from the Roman Breviary: Archangelus Michael, praepositus paradisi. Venit Michael archangelus cum multitudine angelorum, cui tradidit Deus animas sanctorum ut perducat eas in paradisum exultationis. Archangele Michael, constitui te principem super omnes animas suscipiendas. Because of this relationship with the end of human life, he is invoked by the dying, and together with the Virgin, he is the saint whose intercession is most frequently claimed in the preambles of late medieval wills.

It is probably because of his role as intercessor that our relief was placed in this place in the cathedral, as was, to cite just one example, another image of the warrior archangel, which appears on a corbel in the centre of the tomb of Pedro Pérez de Andosilla (1413-1436) in the church of San Francisco de Olite.

We are grateful to Esperanza Aragonés Estella and Naiara Ardanaz Iñarga for the material provided for this commentary.

ARAGONÉS ESTELLA, E., "El mal, imaginado por el gótico", Príncipe de Viana, nº 225, 2002, pp. 7-82.
GOÑI GAZTAMBIDE, J., "Nuevos documentos sobre la catedral de Pamplona", Príncipe de Viana, no. 207, 1996, pp. 101-142.
MARTINENA RUIZ, J.J., La Pamplona de los Burgos y su evolución urbana, siglos XII-XVI, Pamplona, 1974.