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Category Archives: Aragonese Camino

Jaca-Ext-GV-2-WPThe town of Jaca was a major way station of the Compostelan pilgrimage. The topography of its location proved beneficial in several ways. From early on, its surrounding area was one of the first enclaves providing shelter for those Christians who fled north from the Arab conquest, the original nub of what eventually became the powerful kingdom of Aragon.

Situated at the confluence of the Aragon and Gas rivers, Jaca was located on the old Roman road which connected Saragossa with France over the Somport Pass. Another road running westwards linked it to Pamplona and at Jaca the pilgrimage road makes a sharp turn westward towards Navarre to rejoin the the main Spanish road at Puente la Reina.

In the early medieval period it was merely the principal town in a region of shepherds and hill farmers. In the early ninth century it was controlled by a local aristocrat, Aznar Galindez who had formed protective alliances with Franks beyond the Somport. Jaca-Ext-GV-4-WPIt then came under the protection of the fledgling kingdom of Pamplona. On the occasion of the establishment of the new episcopal see of Aragon, the bishop of Pamplona made a donation  in 922, of a tract of land of some six hundred square kilometres between the Aurin and Gallego rivers. After this, the city began to develop an autonomous identity and became the principal residence of the count of Aragon.

Jaca-WP-C1-8-WPThis core territory began to expand gradually with the occasional land grabs from the Moors. Then, in the early eleventh century Jaca’s fortunes took an exponential surge upwards  as trade between Africa and Europe was revived via Pamplona, Narbonne and Jaca.

Sancho el Mayor established trade tariffs for the spices, fabrics, gold coin and silks that were passing northward and the pelts, cloth, metals and weaponry that was being transported to Africa via the Somport Pass.

JacaThirty kilometres from Jaca, a customs house was founded at Canfranc in the narrow gorge of the Rio Aragon, as it ran down from the Somport. In 1063 the city of Jaca was formally established by Sancho Ramirez and grants and fueros were given to encourage the settlement of a population who could add to the commercial prosperity of the town.

Sancho Ramirez further fortified Aragon’s status by placing himself as a vassal of Saint Peter after visiting Pope Alexander II in Rome. Benefiting from its customs rights, Saracen tribute payments and the ever increasing pilgrimage traffic, Jaca became a bustling frontier city and a grand new cathedral was commissioned.

Jaca-SP-Bal-2Reflecting Aragon’s new relationship with the pontifical see the cathedral was dedicated to San Pedro. Pilgrims venerated the relics of a virgin martyr of the Saracen oppression. Tradition held that Santa Eurosia had been forcibly betrothed to a Moorish military leader. Rather than succumb she had attempted to flee. On her capture her hands were amputated before her eventual decapitation. Her relics having been discovered by a shepherd were brought to Jaca on the instruction of Sancho Ramirez.

Jaca’s preeminence in the emerging kingdom of Aragon was limited by two factors. In the first place, strategic location as the point of passage between Europe and the south meant that it would remain a way station. Then, in 1098 the episcopal see was transferred to Huesca two years after its reconquest from the Moors and when Saragossa was ultimately captured in 1118, the focus of the expanded Aragon was shifting away from its initial Pyrenean focus.

Biblio: Canellas-Lopez A.- San Vicente A.‎ · ‎Aragon Roman Edition Zodiaque 1971. Collection la nuit des temps 35

At the beginning of Revelation an enthroned figure holds the Book of Life bound by the seven seals. Of those in attendance, neither the Four Living Beasts nor the Twenty-Four Elders of the Apoocalypse are deemed worthy to open the book.

Jaca-Tymp-6-WPThen a voice proclaims,“ Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book and to loose the seven seals thereof”.

The sculpture above the west entrance to the cathedral of Jaca, dated to around the year 1100, is possibly the earliest carved tympanum in Europe.

It differs radically from the figurative sculptural ensembles which emerged at Toulouse and Compostela by the nature of its deeply allegorical and quasi hieroglyphic style.

Two lions in heraldic pose are positioned either side of a Chrismon. The Jaca Chrismon is made up of the traditional P and X forms of the early Christian symbol with the addition of a cross, from which hang the Alpha and Omega of the Apocalypse. At the base of the cross is an S and in the eight spaces between the arms of the two crosses are flowers of eleven petals. All are enclosed within a wheel, so that the whole resembles a fiery sun, one of the earliest symbols of Death and Resurrection and a reminder that the Roman Emperor Constantine had worshipped the Sun god, Sol Invictus. The inscription around the wheel of the Chrismon describes it as an image of the Trinity.

Jaca-Tymp-CU-6-WPThe lion to the right has a ferocious aspect and holds its right paw over a bear while a basilisk is seemingly imprisoned beneath. In medieval bestiaries both animals symbolised Death. The basilisk was a hybrid creature, said to be born of a serpent’s egg and hatched by a cockerel. According to Pliny the Elder, anyone who looked at it fell dead on the spot. The adjacent inscription reads, “The strong lion is destroying the empire of Death”.

The lion to the left has a regal aspect and stands, without trampling, above a prostrate human figure holding a snake. The inscription reads, “The lion can spare the one prostrating himself and Christ, whosoever is penitent”.

Jaca-Tymp-CU-4-WPIt was medieval practice to hold prolonged liturgical rituals for penitents at Lent before the west entrance to a cathedral such as Jaca. An atrium or porch might provide shelter for the participants, encouraged to remain there for the whole forty-three days separating Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday.

The portal marked the threshold from which they were excluded until the purification had been completed and the carved reliefs of the tympanum provided the backdrop to the penitential liturgy.

Penance in medieval liturgical practice was related closely to Baptism. Both dealt with purging and purification.

Jaca-Tymp-CU-9-WPIn a seventh century Spanish Visigothic exorcism ritual performed as a preparatory to Baptism, a bishop would make three appeals to purge the catechumen, the third declaring that “The lion of Judah hath conquered”.

The symbolism of the carved tympanum is complex and multifarious. The two lions signifying simultaneously the dual aspect of Christ as Redeemer and Victor over Death and the Lion of Judah of Revelation revealing the Book of Life loosed of its seven seals, denoted here by the Chrismon.

The association made at Jaca between the Chrismon and the Book of Life was repeated further along the pilgrimage road, at San Miguel in Excelsis at Estella in Navarre. There, the tympanum sculpture of the Apocalypse presents Christ holding the Book of Life, which is adorned with the Chrismon.

Given Jaca’s long history as a beleaguered Christian enclave within Moorish Spain, the exceptional allegorical emphasis of the tympanum reliefs may have had roots in an awareness of the Islamic injunction against the portrayal of the human form, allied with an iconoclastic sensibility derived from Byzantium, itself a response to the first waves of Arab conquest in the east.

Sources: S.H. Caldwell, Penance, Baptism, Apocalypse: The Easter Context of Jaca’s west tympanum. Art History .3/1 (1980), 25-40

R. Bartal, The survival of early Christian symbols in 12th century Spain. Principe de Viana 48 (1987), S. 299-315

S. Moralejo-Alvarez, La sculpture romane de la cathedral de Jaca: Etat des questions. Les Cahiers de Saint-Michel de Cuxa (10): 79–106

‎Canellas-Lopez A.- San Vicente A.‎ · ‎Aragon Roman Edition Zodiaque 1971. Collection la nuit des temps 35

In Navarre, only a stone’s throw from the pilgrim’s road, stands an isolated chapel. Its octagonal shape and exterior stone cloister arcade grant it a quite exceptional appearance. Despite its location away from an urban centre, there is nothing rustic about the building. On the contrary the fine quality of the stonework and construction bear the mark of an edifice of some consequence.

Eunate-GV-WP-6Situated in a fertile valley near the hamlet of Obanos it is on the route which the Pilgrim’s Guide declares was used by those travelling on the Toulouse Road via the Somport Pass and Jaca and passing through Aragon.

Eunate is located very close to the point where this road joins the other great pilgrimage route from the Roncevaux Pass via Pamplona to Puente la Reina. The Pilgrim’s Guide describes this stretch of the road from Monreal to Puente la Reina as the third day’s journey from the Somport.

Eunate-GV-WP-5The solitary aspect of the church gives it a mournful quality in keeping with its likely function as a funerary chapel.

Long thought to have belonged to the Templars, this was a supposition based simply on the fact that its octagonal shape was a copy of the church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem which the Templars were charged with guarding. The lack of documentary evidence of the presence of the Templars in the area would seem to refute this idea.

Nevertheless the origins and purpose of the church remain somewhat mysterious due to a shortage of contemporary references.

Stylistic considerations suggest a date of construction in the second half of the twelfth century during the reign of King Sancho el Sabio of Navarre.Eunate-Corbs-WP-9

In the mid thirteenth century a Navarrese monastic document makes mention in granting certain privileges to monks of Obanos of a hospice “on the way”.

A document of the Pamplona Cathedral of the sixteenth century refer to numerous ancient sarcophagi and in particular to a sculpted stele which located the burial site of the patroness of the foundation.

Excavations have revealed numerous burials within and without the arcade area including the discovery of a scallop shell.

These would appear to suggest a funerary church which formed part of a hospice complex for the benefit of pilgrims travelling to Santiago. Within Navarre, there were three of these octagonal churches. The Sancti Spiritus at Roncevaux and Santo Sepulcro at Torres del Rio just before Logroño. If one considers the dispersion of these locations it is apparent that they have a strategic and topographic function, Roncevaux being the point where the pilgrim road enters Navarre and Torres del Rio the point where it leaves. Eunate is halfway between and significantly at a point where the two main pilgrimage routes coincide.

Eunate-Ext-WP-1The arcade which surrounds the church at Eunate does not appear to have been joined to the church by a roofing structuring but more likely to have been a part of the now dismantled hospice complex of which the church would have been the central part. The area within the arcade may have been reserved for important burials.

Both Torres del Rio and Eunate incorporated a staircase within the structure of the building. In the case of Torres, this led to a Lantern of the Dead where a beacon was lit and the stairs at Eunate may have had a similar purpose.

The lack of window space provides a suitably dark interior for a Eunate-Int-WP-7church whose main function was the performance of funerary rites. This only serves to enhance the effect of the twelve metre high dome, whose style is redolent of Islamic architecture. Eight starlike holes punctuate the ribbed ceiling to provide the spare lighting.

Of these openings, there are four octagonal and four smaller hexagonal shapes. The symbolic significance of the octagonal structure of the building, once reserved for baptisteries is further emphasised by these skylights. The use of the number eight  was frequent in Romanesque art, symbolic not only of baptism and rebirth but also resurrection.

Biblio. Navarre Romane, Dom L-M de Lojendio

Lexique des Symboles, Olivier Beigbeder

The Rio Aragon turns westwards as it leaves Jaca, the pilgrimage road following along its left bank. Just off the road up a shallow valley lies the monastic buildings of Santa Cruz de la Seros, nestling under the peaks of the Sierra de San Juan de la Peña which tower immediately above.

It was a long established double hermitage

with one building, San Capraiso for monks  and the other, Santa Maria for nuns.

Originally, Santa Maria was part of the monastery of San Juan de la Peña, however it became the royal convent when Doña Sancha of Aragon arrived in 1070 and a major monastic and political centre in its own right.

It was initially settled by a group of hermits seeking refuge from Moorish persecution and started to receive royal attention when Sancho 11 Garces (970-994) and his wife Urraca Fernandez provided the convent of Santa Maria with a substantial endowment.

In 1049 Ramiro Ist made further endowments and in 1061 entered his youngest daughters Urraca and Teresa as nuns, leaving further donations in his will.

Ramiro’s eldest daughter had married count Armengol 111 of Urgel, however after his death in Moorish lands in 1065, she entered the convent to join her two sister in 1070.

From then on the convent started to play a role in the affairs of the nascent kingdom of Aragon with Doña Sancha supporting her brother the king Sancho-Ramirez, who made further donations in 1093. A visit to Santa Maria by the mother of Ramiro 1st, Sancha de Aibar was the occasion for a ceremonial gift offering which took place in fron of the porch of the convent church.

Doña Sancha died in 1097 and a magnificent carved sarcophagus was commissioned by her nephew the new king Pedro 1st.

These endowments helped to pay for the important Romanesque church which dates from the end of the eleventh century. It features a tall bell tower which is built over the southern transept chapel.

The tympanum over the western entrance features a crude copy of the Chrismon surrounded by two lions from Jaca. This symbol, seen at number of Aragonese monasteries implies a royal connection as was the case at Santa Cruz de la Seros and a statement of the Reconquista as a Holy War.

Situated at the mouth of a cave beneath a massive red sandstone cliff, the abbey of San Juan de la Peña benefits from one of the most dramatic locations of any medieval edifice.  The monastery lies about thirty kilometres south of Jaca hidden within a rugged sierra which rises to a height of 1220 metres.

In the tenth and eleventh centuries it was the most important Aragonese monastery and although some way off the direct pilgrimage road and entailing a difficult journey, pilgrims would have been drawn there by its reputation as the major  Cluniac centre of the region and the presence of the relics of San Indalecio.

Indalecio was considered one of Saint James’ original disciples during his ministry  in Spain and had reputedly been ordained bishop by the Apostle himself, of the Roman town of Auca, the modern day Villafranca de Montes de Oca, itself a station further along the camino near Burgos.

After the Arab conquest many Christians fled from the Ebro valley up to the Aragonese mountains for safety. In 781 they were pursued by Abd-el-Rahman Ist who attacked and killed a group of Christians who had taken refuge at Monte Pano. Early in the ninth century a powerful Christan landowner from Jaca named Aznar Galíndez pursued a policy of encouraging Christian resettlement of the region on the southern side of the Aragon river. His son Galindo Aznárez II became the first count of Aragon, and he continued his father’s ressettlement policy.

During this period, two hermits from Saragossa, Voto and Felix established a hermitage at the foot of Mount Pano, where the red sandstone cliff concealed a large grotto which opened out onto a large entrance.

According to legend they found the body of another hermit Juan de Atarès and buried him by three altars which they had erected dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, Saint Julian and Santa Balissa. These were the patrons of a Visigothic monastery at Labasal in the Extxo valley which had been destroyed by Saracens suggesting that the hermits had come from there. They built a Mozarabic church.

The hermitage was known as San Juan del Monte Pano and developed into a monastery which began to play an important role in Aragonese ecclesiastical affairs, becoming the spearhead for the Cluniac expansion in the region.

King Sancho-Ramirez formed an alliance with the Cluniacs of the diocese of Auch just beyond the Pyrenees, which was aimed at bringing the fledgling kingdom of Aragon recognition and support from Rome and the rest of Christendom.  In 1071 he invited the Cluniac monk Aquilino to become abbot of the monastery now renamed Jan Juan de la Peña. On Aquilino’s death the abbacy was taken over by the well travelled Sancho de Arinzana who had visited Rome, Monte Cassino and Compostela. Sancho de Arinzana brought with him the relics of two saints from Almeria, Indalecio and Jaime in 1078.

With these developments San Juan de la Peña expanded into a mighty abbey with substantial dependencies and lands, annexing some territory from the kingdom of Pamplona. The fortunes of the abbey and the political fortunes of the kingdom of Aragon became intertwined, as San Juan de la Peña acquired lands which were recovered from the Moors to the south during the conflicts of the Reconquista, thereby helping to define the territorial limits of the kingdom.

The construction of a new larger Romanesque church was begun with two funerary chapels, one for the laity and the other for the abbey’s monastic community. In 1083 the body of Ramiro 1st was transferred there and two years later the abbot Sancho de Arinzana was entombed.

Subsequently the new abbot Aimericus continued to acquire the older monasteries of the region and their dependent parishes so that San Juan de la Peña assisted by the favourable privileges granted by Rome developed into a veritable independent monastic state in its own right.

In 1094 the consecration ceremony for the new church was  given by the bishop of Jaca in the presence of the king Pedro 1st and the countess Sancha and numerous important figures, including the archbishop of Bordeaux and the abbots of Leyre and Languedocian monastery of Saint Pons-de-Thomières.

The cloister of the abbey dates from around the middle of the twelfth century and the carved capitals are the work of a sculptor notable for his very distinctive stylistic traits.

Unusually large bulbous eyes  lend the figures an air of meditative grace which contrasts with the expressive attitudes of their bodies. The same original hand can be seen at  work in several Romanesque sites in Aragon of the artist who has come to be identified as the Master of San Juan de la Peña.