Cathedrals of Spain

Download 0.54 Mb.
Size0.54 Mb.
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9
The Faerie Queene, book I, c. x, lvi.


The best view of the spires of Burgos is from the ruined walls of the Castillo high above the city. From these crumbling ramparts, pierced and gouged by a thousand years of assault and finally rent asunder by the powder of the Napoleonic armies, you look directly down upon the mistress of the city and the sad and ardent plain. A stubbly growth, more like cocoa matting than grass, covers the unroofed floor beneath your feet. From this Castle, Ferdinand Gonzales ruled Castile, and here the Cid led Doña Zimena, and Edward I of England Eleanor of Castile, to the altar. The only colors brightening the melancholy hillside are here and there the brilliant blood-stain of the poppy, the gold of the dandelion, and the episcopal purple of the thistle. Below and beyond, stretches a sea of shaded ochre, broken in the foreground by the corrugations of the many roofs turned by time to the brownish tint of the encircling hillocks and made to blend in one harmony with its monochrome bosom. Fillets of silver pierce the horizon, glittering as they wind nearer between over-hanging birches and poplars. The deep, guttural, roar of the great Cathedral's many voices rises in majestic and undisputed authority from the valley below, now and again joined by the weaker trebles of San Esteban and San Nicolas. Regiments of soldiers march with regular clattering step through holy precincts and up and down the crooked lanes and squares; barracks and parade-grounds occupy consecrated soil,--still Santa Maria la Mayor raises her voice to command obedience and proclaim her undivided dominion over the plains of drowsy, old Castile.

From this height, one does not notice the transformation of the Gothic into seventeenth-century edifices, nor the changes wrought by later centuries. In the glare of the dazzling sun, the tremulous atmosphere, and the lazy, curling smoke of the many chimneys, Burgos still seems Burgos of the Middle Ages, the royal city, mistress of the castles and sweeping plains, and the Cathedral is her stronghold.

She is very old,--tradition says, founded by Count Diego Rodriguez of Alava with the assistance of an Alfonso who ruled in Christian Oviedo towards the end of the ninth century. For many years his descendants, as well as the lords of the many castles strewn along the lonely hills north of the Sierra de Guadarrama, owed allegiance to Leon and the kingdom of the Asturias. Burgos finally threw off the yoke, and chose judges for rulers, until one of them, Ferdinand Gonzalez, assumed for himself and his successors the proud title of "Conde of Castile." Under his great-grandson, Ferdinand I, Castile and Leon were united in 1037, thus laying the foundations of the later monarchy. Burgos became a capital city. Against the dark background of mediæval history and interwoven with many romantic legends, there stands out that greatest of Spanish heroes, the Cid Campeador. This Rodrigo Diaz was born near Burgos. The lady Zimena whom he married was daughter of a Count Diego Rodriguez of Oviedo, probably a descendant of the founder of the city. In the presence of the knights and nobles of Burgos, the Cid forced Alfonso VI to swear that he had no part in the murder of King Sancho, and in the royal city he was then elected King of Castile by the Commons (1071). Alfonso never forgave the Cid this humiliation, and later exiled him. To the Burgalese of to-day, he seems as living and real as he was to mediæval Castilians. Spanish histories and children will tell you of two things that make Burgos immortal--her Cathedral, and her motherhood to Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar.[4]

The importance of the city as a Christian centre becomes evident at the end of the eleventh century (1074), when it receives its own bishop, and shortly afterwards, fully equipped, convokes a church council to protest against the supplanting by the Latin of the earlier Mozarabic rite, so dear to the hearts of the people. The same Alfonso transferred his capital to the newly conquered Toledo and, contemporaneous with the great prosperity of Burgos during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, there was endless jealousy as to precedence, first between Burgos and Toledo and afterwards between these and Valladolid. Burgos reaches the zenith of her power in the reign of Saint Ferdinand and the first half of the thirteenth century, though as late as 1349, Alfonso XI, in the assembled Cortes, still recognizes Burgos's claim as "first city" by calling on her to give her voice first,--"prima voce et fide," saying he would then speak for Toledo. Not long after, Valladolid overshadows them both.

The greatness of Burgos is that of the old Castilian kingdom; with its extinction came hers. Her flowering and expansion were contemporaneous with the most splendid period of Gothic art. Her day was a glorious one, before bigotry had laid its withering hand upon the arts, and while the rich imagination and skilled hands of Moorish and Jewish citizens still ennobled and embellished their capital city.


The present Cathedral is singularly picturesque and by far the most interesting of the three great Gothic Cathedrals of Spain,--Leon, Toledo, and Burgos. The interest is mainly due to her vigorous organism, an outcome of more essentially Spanish predilections (as well as a natural interpretation of the French importations) than we find in either of the sister churches. Later additions and ornamentation have naturally concealed and disfigured, but the old body is still there, admirable, fitting, and sane.


A. Chapel of Santa Thecla. B. Chapel of Santa Anna. C. Chapel of the Holy Birth. D. Chapel of the Annunciation. E. Chapel of Saint Gregory. F. Chapel of the Constable. G. Chapel of the Parish of St. James. H. Chapel of Saint John. I. Chapel of Saint Catherine. K. Chapel of Jean Cuchiller. L. Chapter House. M. Sacristy. N. Minor Sacristy. O. Chapel of Saint Henry. P. Altar. Q. Choir. R. Chapel of the Presentation of the Virgin. S. Choir. T. Golden Staircase. U. Door of the Pellegeria. X. Door of the Sarmental. Y. Door of the Perdon. Z. Door of the Apostles.]

Burgos Cathedral is built upon a hillside, her walls hewn out of and climbing the sides of the mountain, making it necessary either from north or south to approach her through long flights of stairs. What she loses in freedom and access, she certainly gains in picturesqueness. She is flesh of the flesh and blood of the blood of the city, scaling its heights like a great mother and drawing after her the surrounding houses which nestle to her sides. She would not gain in majesty by standing free in an open square, nor by receiving the sunlight on all sides. And so, though many later additions hide much of the early fabric, they combine with it to form a picturesque whole, a wonderful jewelled casket, a sparkling diadem set high on the royal brow of the city, such as possibly no other city of its size in Christendom can boast.

It was King Alfonso VI who at the end of the eleventh century gave his palace-ground for the erection of a Cathedral for the new Episcopal See. We know nothing of its design, nor whether it occupied exactly the same site as the later building. The early one must, however, have been a Romanesque Church;--what might not a later Romanesque Cathedral have been!--for the style had arrived at a point of vitally interesting promise and national development, when it was forced to recoil before the foreign invaders, the Benedictines and Cistercians.

Two great names are linked to the founding of the present Cathedral of Burgos, Saint Ferdinand and Bishop Maurice. The latter was bishop from 1213 to 1238, and probably an Englishman who came to Burgos in the train of the English Queen, Eleanor Plantagenet.[5] He was sent to Speyer as ambassador from the Spanish Court to bring back the Princess Beatrice as bride for Saint Ferdinand. Maurice's mission took him through those parts of Germany and France where the enthusiasm for cathedral-building was at its height, and he had time to admire and study a forest of exquisite spires, newly reared, particularly while the young lady given him in charge was sumptuously entertained by King Philip Augustus. Naturally he returned to his native city burning with ardor to begin a similar work there, and probably brought with him master-builders and skilful artists of long training in Gothic church-building.

Queen Berengaria and King Ferdinand met the Suabian Princess at the frontier of Castile. The first ceremony was the conference of the Order of Knighthood, in the presence of all the "ricos hombres" (ruling men), the cavaliers of the kingdom with their wives and the burgesses. The sword was taken from the altar and girded on by the right noble lady Berengaria. We read that the other arms had been blessed by Bishop Maurice and were donned by the King with his own hands, no one else being high enough for the office. Three days later Ferdinand was married to "dulcissimam Domicellam" in the old Cathedral by the Bishop of Burgos without protest from the Primate of Castile, Archbishop Rodrigo of Toledo. This took place in 1219, and two years after King and Bishop laid the corner-stone of the new edifice.

[Illustration: Photo by J. Lacoste, Madrid


View of the nave]

The work must have been spurred on by all the religious ardor which fired the first half of the thirteenth century, for only nine years later services were held in the eastern end of the building. The good Bishop was laid to rest in the old choir, where he still lies undisturbed, though to-day it is the Capilla Mayor. By the middle of the century, the great bulk of the old structure must have been well advanced. The lower portions of the towers and the eastern termination are fourteenth-century work; the spires themselves, fifteenth. A multitude of changes and additions, new chapels and buildings, gradually, as years went on, transformed the primitive plan from its first harmony and beauty to a confused mass of aisles, vaults, and chapels. When we compare the present fabric with the early plan, we see with what masterly skill and simplicity the original one was conceived.

All that is left or can be seen of this first structure is splendid. Though built in the second period of the great northern style, it has none of the lightness of the French churches which were going up simultaneously, nor even that of Spanish Leon or Toledo. It has heavy supporting walls and is of the family of the early French with a magnificently powerful and efficient system of piers and buttresses. It is not free from a certain Romanesque feeling in its general lines, its windows, and in many of its details. Though a splendid type of Gothic construction, this first church is a convincing proof that the nervous, subtle, fully developed system was foreign to Spanish taste. The complicated solutions, the intricate planning, were not in accordance with their temper nor predilections. Rheims may be said to express the radical temper of its French builders, Burgos, the conservative Spanish. In Spain, construction and artistic principles did not go hand in hand in the glorious manner they were wont to in France. Burgos seems much more emotional than sensitive. Riotous excess and empty display take the place of restrained and appropriate decoration. The organic dependence which should exist between sculpture and architecture, so invariably present in the early French church, is lacking in Burgos. A careful analysis is interesting. It reveals the fusion of foreign elements, the severe monastic of the Cistercians and the later sumptuous secular style, the florid intricacy of the German, the glory of the Romanesque, the dryness of its revival and the bombast of the Plateresque, all more or less transformed by what Spaniards could and would do. In its construction and buttresses, it recalls Sens and Saint-Denis; in its nave, Chartres; in its vaulting, the Angevine School. The symmetry of the early plan is fascinating, and Señor Lamperez y Romea's sincere and beautiful reconstruction must be a faithful reproduction. It makes the side aisles quite free, the broad transepts to consist of two bays, while the crossing is carried by piers heavy enough to support an ordinary vault but not a majestic lantern. Five perfectly formed radial chapels surround the polygonal ambulatory and are continued towards the crossing by three rectangular chapels on each side. The vaulting of nave and transepts is throughout sexpartite; that of the side aisles, quadripartite. Most of this has, as will be seen, been profoundly modified.

The old structure is the kernel of the present church. It consists of a central nave of six bays up to a strongly marked crossing and three beyond, terminating in a pentagonal apse. The side aisles are decidedly lower and continue across the transept round the apse. These again are flanked on the west by the chapel churches of Santa Tecla, Santa Anna, and the Presentacion, as well as by a number of other smaller, vaulted compartments. Only two of the radial chapels outside the polygonal ambulatory remain, the others having been altered or supplanted by the great Chapels of the Constable, of Santiago, Santa Catarina, Corpus Christi, and the Cloisters. The western front is entered by a triple doorway corresponding to nave and side aisles; the southern transept, by an incline 40 feet wide, broken by 28 steps. On reaching the door of the northern transept, one finds the ground risen outside the church some 26 feet above the level of the inner pavement, and instead of descending by the interior staircase, one wanders far to the northeast, there to descend to a portal in the north of the eastern transept. The whole church is about 300 feet long, and in general 83 feet wide, the transepts, 194 feet.

The piers under the crossing, as well as those of the first bay inside the western entrance, are much larger than the others, in order to support the additional weight of crossing and towers, and the piers, abutting aisle and transept walls, are also unusually strong. The interior pillars are of massive cylindrical plan, of well-developed French Gothic type, solid, but kept from any appearance of heaviness by their form and by eight engaged columns. The ornamented bases are high and of characteristic Gothic moldings. The finely carved capitals carry square abaci in the side aisles and circular ones in the nave. Both abaci and bases have been placed at right angles to the arches they support. The three engaged pier columns facing the nave carry the transverse and diagonal groining ribs, while the wall ribs are met by shafts on each side of the clerestory windows.

The four main supports at the angles of the crossing are rather towers than piers. In the original structure, they were probably counterparts of those supporting the inner angles of the tower between nave and side aisles, with a fully developed system of shafts for the support of the various groining ribs. With the collapse of the old crossing and the consequent erection of an even bulkier and far more weighty superstructure, tremendous circular supports upon octagonal bases were substituted. They are thoroughly Plateresque in feeling, 50 feet in circumference and delicately fluted and ribbed as they descend, with Renaissance ornaments on the pedestals and similar statues under Gothic canopies, evidently inserted in their faces as a compromise to the surrounding earlier style.

Glancing up at the superstructure and vaulting, there is a great consciousness of light and joy,--a feeling that it would have been well-nigh perfect, if the choir and its rejas could only have remained in their old proper place east of the crossing, instead of sadly congesting a nave magnificent in length and size. The brightness is due, partly to the stone itself, almost white when first quarried from Ontoria, and partly to the uncolored glass in the greater portion of the clerestory. Here and there the masonry has the mellow tones of meerschaum, shaded with pinkish and lava-gray tints, but the effect is rather that of ancient marble than of limestone. The interior, compared to Toledo, is a bride beside a nun. Granting the loss of original simplicity and a rather distressing mixture of two styles, the combination has been handled with a skill and genius peculiarly Spanish and therefore picturesque. The austerity of the French prototype has been replaced by joyousness and regal splendor. If we examine carefully the older portions of the interior structure and carving as well as the traces of parts that have disappeared, we feel how very French it is, and undoubtedly erected without assistance from Moorish hands. The vaulting is like some of the French, very rounded, especially in the side aisles. It is all plain excepting under the dome and the vaults immediately abutting, where additional ribs were evidently added at a later time. The vaulting ribs of the main arches start unusually low down, almost on a level with the top of the triforium windows, giving the church relatively a much lower effect than Leon or the French Rheims or Amiens.

Both triforium and clerestory are very fine, especially in the nave, where, although they have undergone alterations, these are less radical than in the Capilla Mayor. The triforium, which is early thirteenth-century work, is strikingly singular. Its narrow gallery is covered by a continuous barrel vault parallel to the nave. Six slender columns divide its seven arches, while above them are trefoil and quatrefoil penetrations contained within a segmental arch, broken by carved heads. The fine old shafts, separating the trefoiled or quatrefoiled arcade, are hidden by crocketed pinnacles and a traceried balcony. The triforium east of the crossing has only four arches, with much later traceried work above. The charming old simplicity is of course lost wherever gaudy carving has been added, but the oldest portions belong decidedly to the early Gothic work of northern France. Above rises the clerestory in its early vigor, with comparatively small windows, consisting of two arches and a rose.

Probably the crossing had originally a vault somewhat more elaborate than the others, or, possibly, even a small lantern. To emphasize the crossing, both internally and externally, was always a peculiar delight to Spanish builders. This characteristic was admirably adapted to Romanesque churches and in the Gothic was still felt to be essential, but Burgos shared the fate of Seville and the new Cathedral of Salamanca. The old writer, Cean Bermudez, relates that "the same disaster befell the crossing of Burgos that had happened to Seville,--it collapsed entirely in the middle of the night on the 3d of March, 1539. At that time the Bishop was the Cardinal D. Fray Juan Alvarez de Toledo, famous for the many edifices which he erected and among them S. Esteban of Salamanca. Owing to the zeal of the Prelate and the Chapter and the piety of the generous Burgalese, the rebuilding began the same year. They called upon Maestro Felipe, who was assisted in the planning and construction by Juan de Vallejo and Juan de Castanela, architects of the Cathedral. Felipe died at Toledo, after completing the bas-reliefs of the choir stalls. The Chapter honored his memory in a worthy manner, for they placed in the same choir under the altar of the Descent from the Cross this epitaph: 'Philippus Burgundio statuarius, qui ut manu sanctorum effigies, ita mores animo exprimebat: subsellis chori struendis itentus, opere pene absoluto, immoritur.'"[6]

In place of the old dome rose one of the most marvelous and richest structures in Spain, a crowning glory to the heavenly shrine. It is at once a mountain of patience and a burst of Spanish pomp and pride. It is the labor of giants, daringly executed and lavishly decorated. "The work of angels," said Philip II. Nothing less could have called forth such an exclamation from those acrimonious lips and jaded eyes. The men who designed and erected it were the best known in Spain. There was Philip, the Burgundian sculptor with exquisite and indefatigable chisel, who had come to Spain in the train of the Emperor. Vallejo, one of the famous council that sat at Salamanca, had with Castanela erected the triumphal arch which appeased Charles's wrath kindled against the citizens of Burgos, and is even to-day, after the Cathedral, the city's most familiar landmark. In the year 1567, twenty-eight years after the falling of the first lantern, the new one towered completed in its place. It was a magnificent attempt at a blending, or rather a reconciliation, of the Renaissance and the Gothic. There is the character of one and the form of the other. Gothic trefoil arches and traceries are carried by classical columns. Renaissance balustrades and panels intermingle with crockets and bosses, and Florentine panels and statues with Gothic canopies. They are so interwoven that the careful student of architecture feels himself in a nightmare of styles and different centuries. It was of course an undertaking doomed to failure.

The outline is octagonal. Above the pendentives, forming the transition of the octagon, comes a double frieze of armorial bearings (those of Burgos and Charles V) and inscriptions, and a double clerestory, separated and supported by classical balustraded passages; the window splays and heads are a complete mass of carving and decorations. The vaulting itself contains within its bold ribs and segments an infinite variety of stars, as if one should see the panes of heaven covered with frosty patterns of a clear winter morning.

Théophile Gautier's description of it is interesting as an expression of the effect it produced on a man of artistic emotions rather than trained architectural feeling: "En levant la tête," he says, "on aperçoit une espèce de dôme formé par l'intérieur de la tour,--c'est un groupe de sculpture, d'arabesques, de statues, de colonettes, de nervures, de lancettes, de pendentifs, a vous donner le vertige. On regarderait deux ans qu'on n'aurait pas tout vu. C'est touffu comme un chou, fenestré comme une truelle à poisson; c'est gigantesque comme une pyramide et délicat comme une boucle d'oreille de femme, et l'on ne peut comprendre qu'un semblable filigrane puisse se soutenir en l'air depuis des siècles."

[Illustration: Photo by J. Lacoste, Madrid


Lantern over crossing]

The work immediately around and underneath this gigantic effort is really the earliest part of the church, for, as was usual, the portion indispensable for services was begun first. The transepts, the abutting vaults, the southern and possibly the northern entrance fronts, undoubtedly all belong to the work carried so rapidly forward by Bishop Maurice's contagious enthusiasm. The work of the transepts is very similar to that in the nave, but, in the former, one obtains really a much finer view of the receding bays north and south than in the nave with its choir obstruction. The huge rose of the south transept, placed directly under the arch of the vaulting, is a splendid specimen of a Gothic wheel. Its tracery is composed of a series of colonettes radiating from centre to circumference, every two of which form, as it were, a separate window tracery of central mullion, two arches and upper rose. The other windows of the transepts are, barring their later alterations, typically thirteenth-century Gothic, high and narrow with colonettes in their jambs. While the glazing of the great southern rose is a perfect burst of glory, that of the northern transept arm is later and very mediocre.

There is a little chapel opening to the east out of the northern transept arm which is full of interest from the fact that it belongs to the original, early thirteenth-century structure. Probably there was a corresponding one in the southern arm, with groining equally remarkable. The northern transept arm is filled by the great Renaissance "golden staircase" leading to the Puerta de la Coroneria, now always closed. It must have been a magnificent spectacle to see the purple and scarlet robes of priest and prelate sweep down the divided arms of the stair uniting in the broad flight at the bottom. Such an occasion was the marriage in 1268 of the Infante Ferdinand, son of Alfonso the Wise, to Blanche of France, a niece of Saint Louis. The learned monarch ever had a lavish hand, and he spared no expense to dazzle his distinguished guests, among whom were the King of Aragon and Philip, heir to the French throne. Ferdinand was first armed chevalier by his father, and the marriage was then celebrated in the Cathedral of Burgos with greater pomp and magnificence than had ever before been seen in Spain.

The gilt metal railing is as exquisite in workmanship as in design, carried out by Diego de Siloé, who was the architect of the Cathedral in the beginning of the sixteenth century. There is also a lovely door in the eastern wall of the southern transept, now leading to the great cloisters. The portal itself is early work of the fourteenth century, with the Baptism of Christ in the tympanum, the Annunciation and David and Isaiah in the panels, all of early energy and vitality, as full of feeling as simplicity. And the extraordinary detail of the wooden doors themselves, executed a century and a half later by order of the quizzical-looking old Bishop of Acuna, now peacefully sleeping in the chapel of Santa Anna, is as beautiful an example of wood-carving as we have left us from this period. If Ghiberti's door was the front gate of paradise, this was certainly worthy to be a back gate, and well worth entering, should the front be found closed.

The choir occupies at present as much as one half the length of nave from crossing to western front, or the length of three bays. With its massive Corinthian colonnade, masonry enclosure and rejas rising to the height of the triforium, it is a veritable church within a church. The stalls, mostly Philip of Burgundy's work from about the year 1500, surround the old tomb of the Cathedral's noble founder. As usual, the carvings are elaborate scenes from Bible history and saintly lore,--over the upper stalls, principally from the old Testament, and above the lower, from the New.

A very remarkable family of German architects have left their indelible stamp upon Burgos Cathedral. In 1435 a prominent Hebrew of the tribe of Levi died as Bishop of the See, and was succeeded by his son, Alfonso de Cartagena. Alfonso not only followed in his father's footsteps, but became one of the most renowned churchmen in Spain during the early years of Ferdinand of Aragon. And he looks it too, as he lies to-day near the entrance to his old palace, in fine Flemish lace, mitre covered with pearls, and sparkling, jewelled crozier. As Chancellor of Spain, Alfonso was sent to the Council of Basle, and thereafter, like his predecessor Maurice, he returned to Burgos, bringing with him visions of church-building such as he had never dreamed of before and the architect Juan de Colonia.

The Plateresque style was rapidly developing towards the effulgence so in harmony with Spanish taste. Interwoven and fused with the work Juan was familiar with from his native country, he and his sons, Simon and Diego, encouraged and royally assisted by Alfonso and his successor, D. Luis of Acuna, set about to erect some of the most striking and wonderful portions of Burgos Cathedral,--the towers of the façade, the first lantern and the Chapel of the Constable.

The Chapel of Don Pedro Fernandez de Velasco, Count of Haro and Constable of Castile, was not erected with pious intent, but to the immortal fame of the Constable and his wife. In the centre of the chapel-church on a low base lie the Count and Countess. The white Carrara of the figures is strangely vivid against the dark marble on which they rest, and all is colored by the sunlight striking down through the stained glass. It is very regal. The Constable is clad in full Florentine armor, his hands clasping his sword and his mantle about his shoulders. The carving of the flesh and the veining, and especially the strong knuckles of the hands, are astonishing. The fat cushions of the forefinger and thumb seem to swell and the muscles to contract in their grip on the cross of the hilt. The robe of his spouse, Doña Mencia de Mendoza, is richly studded with pearls, her hand clasps a rosary, while, on the folds of her skirt, her little dog lies peacefully curled up.

The plan of the chapel is an irregular hexagon. It should have been octagonal, but the western sides have not been carried through and end in a broad-armed vestibule, which by rights should be the radial chapel upon the extreme eastern axis of the whole church. Above the vaulting early German pendentives are inserted in the three faulty and five true angles in order to bring the plan into the octagonal vaulting form. The builder seems almost to have made himself difficulties that he might solve them by a tour-de-force. A huge star-fish closes the vault. The recumbent statues face an altar. The remaining sides are subdivided by typically Plateresque band-courses and immense coats-of-arms of the Haro and Mendoza families. The upper surfacing is broken by a clerestory with exquisite, old stained glass. It is melancholy to see tombs of such splendid execution crushed by meaningless, empty display, out of all scale, vulgar, gesticulating, and theatrical, especially so when one notices with what extraordinary mechanical skill much of the detail has been carved. It thrusts itself on your notice even up to the vaulting ribs, which the architect, not satisfied to have meet, actually crossed before they descend upon the capitals below.

[Illustration: Photo by J. Lacoste, Madrid


The Golden Staircase]

The reja closing the chapel off from the apse is among the finest of the Renaissance, the masterpiece of Cristobal Andino, wrought in the year 1523. Curiously enough, the supporters of the shield above might have been modeled by Burne-Jones instead of the mediæval smith.

The interior could not always have been as light and cheerful as at present, for probably all the windows were more or less filled with stained glass from the workshops of the many "vidrieros" for which Burgos was so renowned that even other cathedral cities awarded her the contracts for their glazing. The foreign masters of Burgos were accustomed to see their arches and sculpture mellowed and illumined by rainbow lights from above, and surely here too it was of primary importance.

After the horrible powder explosion of 1813, when the French soldiers blew up the old fortress, making the whole city tremble and totter, the agonized servants of the church found the marble pavements strewn with the glorious sixteenth-century crystals that had been shattered above. They were religiously collected and, where possible, reinserted in new fields.

Chapels stud the ground around the old edifice. The Cloisters, a couple of chapels north of the chevet and small portions here and there, rose with the transepts and the original thirteenth-century structure, but all the others were erected by the piety or pride of later ages or have been transformed by succeeding generations. Their vaulting illustrates every period of French and German Gothic as well as Plateresque art, while their names are taken from a favorite saint or biblical episode or the illustrious founders. The fifteenth century was especially sedulous, building chapels as a rich covering for the splendid Renaissance tombs of its spiritual and temporal lords. They are carved with the admirable skill and genius emanating once more from Italy. The Castilian Constable and his spouse, Bishop Alfonso de Cartagena (in the Capilla de la Visitacion), Bishop Antonia de Velasco, the eminent historian-archbishop (in the Sacristia Nueva), are splendid marbles of the classic revival. They must all have been portraits: for instance Bishop Gonzalvo de Lerma, who sleeps peacefully in the Chapel of the Presentacion; his fat, pursed lips and baggy eyelids are firmly closed, and his soft, double chin reposes in two neat folds upon the jeweled surplice. So, too, Fernando de Villegas, who lies in the north transept and whose scholarly face still seems to shine with the inner light which prompted him to give his people the great Florentine's Divine Comedy.

The poetry and romance that cling to these illustrious dead are equally present as you pass through the lovely Gothic portal into the cloisters which fill the southeastern angle of the church and stand by the figures of the great Burgalese that lie back of the old Gothic railings in many niches of the arcades. To judge from the inscriptions they would, if they could speak, be able to tell us of every phase in their city's religious and political struggles, from the age of Henry II down to the decay of Burgos. Saints, bishops, princes, warriors, and architects lie beneath the beautiful, double-storied arcade. Here lies Pedro Sanchez, the architect, Don Gonzalo of Burgos, and Diego de Santander, and here stand the effigies of Saint Ferdinand and Beatrice of Suabia. The very first church had a cloister to the west of the transept, now altered into chapels. For some reason, early in the fourteenth century, the present cloister was built east of the south transept and with as lovely Gothic arches as are to be found in Spain. We read of great church and state processions, marching under its vaults in 1324, so then it must have been practically completed. Later on the second story was added, much richer and more ornate than the lower. The oldest masonry, with its delicate tracery of four arches and three trefoiled roses to each arcade, seems to have been virtually eaten away by time. New leaves and moldings are being set to-day to replace the old. The pure white, native stone, so easy to carve into spirited crockets and vigorous strings similar to the old, stands out beside the sooty, time-worn blocks, as the fresh sweetness of a child's cheek laid against the weather-beaten furrows of the grand-parent. A careful scrutiny of all the details shows in what a virile age this work was executed. The groining ribs are of fine outline, the key blocks are starred, the foliage is spirited both in capitals and in the cusps of the many arches, the details are carefully molded and distributed, and the early statues in the internal angles and in places against the groining ribs are of rich treatment, strong feeling, and in attitude equal to some of the best French Gothic of the same period. The door that leads out of the cloisters into the old sacristy with the Descent from the Cross in its tympanum is truly a beautiful piece of this Gothic work.

While these cloisters lie to the east, the broad terraces leading to the glorious, southern transept entrance are flanked to the west by the Archbishop's Palace, whose bare sides, gaudy Renaissance doorway and monstrous episcopal arms, repeated at various stages, hide the entire southwestern angle of the church.

Between the cloisters and the Archbishop's Palace at the end of the broad terraces, rises the masonry facing the southern transept arm. It belongs, together with that of the northern, to the oldest portions of the early fabric erected while Maurice was bishop and a certain "Enrique" architect, and shows admirable thirteenth-century work. The Sarmentos family, great in the annals of this century, owned the ground immediately surrounding this transept arm. As a reward for their concession of it to the church, the southern portal was baptized the "Puerta del Sarmental," and they were honored with burial ground within the church's holy precincts. It cannot be much changed, but stands to-day in its original loveliness.

[Illustration: Photo by A. Vadillo


The Chapel of the Constable]

A statue of the benign-looking founder of the church stands between the two doors, which on the outer sides are flanked by Moses, Aaron, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and the two saints so beloved by Spaniards, Saint James and Saint Philip. The archivolts surrounding the tympanum are filled by a heavenly host of angels, all busied with celestial occupations, playing instruments, swinging censers, carrying candelabra, or flapping their wings. Both statues and moldings are of character and outline similar to French work of this best period, nevertheless of a certain distinctly Spanish feeling. The literary company of the tympanum is full of movement and simple charm. In the lowest plane are the twelve Apostles, all, with the exception of two who are conversing, occupied with expounding the Gospels; in the centre is Christ, reading to four Evangelists who surround him as lion, bull, eagle and angel; finally, highest up, two monks writing with feverish haste in wide-open folios, while an angel lightens their labor with the perfume from a swinging censer.

It is sculpture, rich in effect, faithful in detail and of strong expression, admirably placed in relation to the masonry it ornaments. It has none of the whimsical irrelevancy to surroundings characterizing so much of the work to follow, nor its hasty execution. It is not meaningless carving added indefinitely and senselessly repeated, but every bit of it embellishes the position it occupies. Above the portal the stonework is broken and crowned by an exquisite, early rose window and the later, disproportionately high parapet of angels and free-standing quatrefoiled arches and ramps.

The northern doorway, almost as rich in names as in sculpture, is as fine as the southern, so far below it on the hillside. It is called the Doorway of the Apostles from the twelve still splendidly preserved statues, six of which flank it on each side. It is also named the Door of the Coroneria, but to the Burgalese it is known simply as the Puerta Alta, or the "high door." The door proper with its frame is a later makeshift for the original, thirteenth-century one. On a base-course in the form of an arcade with almost all its columns likewise gone, stand in monumental size the Twelve Apostles. The drapery is handled differently on each figure, but with equal excellence; the faces, so full of expression and character, stand out against great halos and represent the apostles of all ages. Similar in treatment to the southern door, the archivolts here are filled with a series of fine statues. There are angels in the two inner arches and in the outer, and the naked figures of the just are rising from their sepulchres in the most astonishing attitudes. The tympanum is also practically a counterpart of the southern one, only here in its centre the predominating figure of the Saviour is set between the Virgin and Saint John.

As the Puerta Alta is so high above the church pavement, and ingress would in daily use have proved difficult, the great door of the Pellejeria was cut in the northeastern arm of the transept at the end of the furriers' street, and down a series of moss-grown, cobblestone planes the Burgalese could gain entrance to their church from this side. The great framework of architecture which encases it is so astonishingly different from the work above and around it that one can scarcely believe it possible that they belong to one and the same building. It is a tremendous piece of Plateresque carving, as exquisite as it is out of place, erected through the munificence of the Archbishop Don Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca in 1514 by the architect Francisco de Colonia. It might have stood in Florence, and most of it might have been set against a Tuscan church at the height of the Renaissance. There is everywhere an overabundance of luxurious detail and rich carving. Between the entablatures and columns stand favorite saints. The Virgin and Child are adored by a very well-fed, fat-jowled bishop and musical angels. In one of the panels the sword is about to descend on the neck of the kneeling Saint John. In another, some unfortunate person has been squeezed into a hot cauldron too small for his naked body, while bellows are applied to the fagots underneath it and hot tar is poured on his head. While the whole work is thoroughly Renaissance, there is here and there a curious Gothic feeling to it, from which the carvers, surrounded and inspired by so much of the earlier art, seem to have been unable to free themselves. This appears in the figure ornamentation in the archivolts around the circular-headed opening, the angel heads that cut it as it were into cusps and the treatment and feeling of some of the figures in the larger panels.

The exterior of Santa Maria is very remarkable. It is a wonderful history of late Gothic and early Renaissance carving. The only clearing whence any freedom of view and perspective may be had is to the west, in front of the late fifteenth-century spires, but wherever one stands, whether in the narrow alleys to the southeast, or above, or below in the sloping city, the three great masses that rise above the cathedral roof, of spires, cimborio, and the Constable's Lantern, dominate majestically all around them. If one stands at the northeast, above the terraces that descend to the Pellejeria door, each of the three successive series of spires that rise one above the other far to the westward might be the steeple of its own mighty church. The two nearest are composed of an infinite number of finely crocketed turrets, tied together by a sober, Renaissance bulk; that furthest off shoots its twin spires in Gothic nervousness airily and unchecked into the sky, showing the blue of the heavens through its flimsy fabric. Between them, tying the huge bulk together, stretch the buttresses, the sinews and muscles of the organism, far less marked and apparent, however, than is ordinarily the case. At various stages above and around, crowning and banding towers, chapels, apse, naves, and transepts, run the many balconies. They are Renaissance in form, but also Gothic in detail and feeling. Like the masts of a great harbor, an innumerable forest of carved and stony trunks rise from every angle, buttress, turret, and pier. In among them, facing their carved trunks and crowning their tops, peeping out from the myriads of stony branches, stands a heavenly legion of saints and martyrs. Crowned and celestial kings and angels people this petrified forest of such picturesque and exuberant beauty.

[Illustration: Photo by A. Vadillo


The spires above the house-tops]

The general mass that rises above the roofs, now flat and covered with reddish ochre tiles, is, whatever may be the defects of its detail, almost unique in its lavish richness. The spires rest upon the house-tops of Burgos like the jeweled points of a monarch's crown. The detail is so profuse that it well-nigh defies analysis. It seems as if the four corners of the earth must for generations have been ransacked to find a sufficient number of carvers for the sculpture. The closer one examines it, the more astonishing is the infinite labor. Rich, crocketed cornices support the numerous, crowning balconies. Figure on figure stands against the many sides of the four great turrets that brace the angles of the cimborio, against the eight turrets that meet its octagon, on the corners of spires, under the parapets crowning the transepts, under the canopied angles of the Constable's Lantern, on balconies, over railings, and on balustrades. Crockets cover the walls like feathers on the breast of a bird. It surely is the temple of the Lord of Hosts, the number of whose angels is legion. It is confused, bewildering, over-done and spectacular, lacking in character and sobriety, sculptural fire-works if you will, a curious mixture of the passing and the coming styles, but nevertheless it is wonderful, and the age that produced it, one of energy and vitality. Curiously enough, the transepts have no flying, but mere heavy, simple buttresses to meet their thrusts. The ornamentation of the lower wall surfaces is in contrast to the superstructure, barren or meaningless. On the plain masonry of the lower walls of the Constable's Chapel stretch gigantic coats-of-arms. Knights support their heads as well as the arms of the nobles interred within. Life-sized roaring lions stand valiantly beside their wheels like immortally faithful mariners. Above, an exquisitely carved, German Gothic balustrade acts as a base for the double clerestory. The angle pinnacles are surrounded by the Fathers of the Church and crowned by angels holding aloft the symbol of the Cross. The gargoyles look like peacefully slumbering cows with unchewed cuds protruding from their stony jaws. Tufts of grass and flowers have sprung from the seeds borne there by the winds of centuries.

Outside the Chapel of Sant Iago are more huge heraldic devices: knights in full armor and lions lifting by razor-strops, as if in some test of strength, great wheels encircling crosses. Above them, gargoyles leer demoniacally over the heads of devout cherubim. In the little street of Diego Porcello, named for the great noble who still protects his city from the gate of Santa Maria, nothing can be seen of the great church but bare walls separated from the adjacent houses by a dozen feet of dirty cobblestones. Ribs of the original chapels that once flanked the eastern end, behind the present chapels of Sant Iago and Santa Catarina, have been broken off flat against the exterior walls, and the cusps of the lower arches have been closed.

Thus the fabric has been added to, altered, mutilated or embellished by foreign masters as well as Spanish hands. Who they all were, when and why they wrought, is not easy to discover. Enrique, Juan Perez, Pedro Sanchez, Juan Sanchez de Molina, Martin Fernandez, Juan and Francisco de Colonia and Juan de Vallejo, all did their part in the attempt to make Santa Maria of Burgos the loveliest church of Spain.

The mighty western façade rises in a confined square where acacia trees lift their fresh, luxuriant heads above the dust. The symmetry of the towers, the general proportions of the mass, the subdivisions and relationship of the stories, the conception as a whole, clearly show that it belongs to an age of triumph and genius, in spite of the disfigurements of later vandals, as well as essentially foreign masters. It is of queenly presence, a queen in her wedding robes with jewels all over her raiment, the costliest of Spanish lace veiling her form and descending from her head, covered with its costly diadem.

North and south the towers are very similar and practically of equal height, giving a happily balanced and uniform general appearance. The lowest stage, containing the three doorways leading respectively into north aisle, nave, and south aisle, has been horribly denuded and disfigured by the barbarous eighteenth century, which boasted so much and created so little. It removed the glorious, early portico, leaving only bare blocks of masonry shorn of sculpture. No greater wrong could have been done the church. In the tympanum above the southern door, the vandals mercifully left a Coronation of the Virgin, and in the northern one, the Conception, while in the piers, between these and the central opening, four solitary statues of the two kings, Alfonso VI and Saint Ferdinand, and the two bishops, Maurice and Asterio, are all that remain of the early glories. The central door is called the Doorway of Pardon.

One can understand the bigotry of Henry VIII and the Roundheads, which in both cases wrought frightful havoc in art, but it is truly incomprehensible that mere artistic conceit in the eighteenth century could compass such destruction. The second tier of the screen facing the nave, below a large pointed arch, is broken by a magnificent rose. Above this are two finely traceried and subdivided arches with eight statues set in between the lowest shafts. The central body is crowned by an open-work balustrade forming the uppermost link between the towers. The Virgin with Child reigns in the centre between the carved inscription, "Pulchra es et decora." Three rows of pure, ogival arches, delicate, and attenuated, break the square sides of the towers above the entrance portals; blind arches, spires and statues ornament the angles. Throughout, the splays and jambs are filled with glittering balls of stone. Inscriptions similar in design to that finishing the screen which hides the roof lines crown the platform of the towers below the base of the spires.

The towers remained without steeples for over two hundred years until the good Bishop Alfonso de Cartagena, returning to his city in 1442 from the Council of Basle, brought with him the German, Juan de Colonia. Bishop Alfonso was not to see their completion, for he died fourteen years later, but his successor, Don Luis de Acuna, immediately ordered the work continued and saw the figures of Saint Peter and Saint Paul placed on the uppermost spires, three hundred feet above the heads of the worshipping multitude.

The spires themselves, essentially German in character, are far from beautiful, perforated on all sides by Gothic tracery of multitudinous designs, too weak to stand without the assistance of iron tie rods, the angles filled with an infinite number of coarse, bold crockets breaking the outlines as they converge into the blue.

When prosperity came again to Burgos, as to many other Spanish cities, it was owing to the wise enactments of Isabella the Catholic. The concordat of 1851 enumerated nine archbishoprics in Spain, among which Burgos stands second on the list.

Such is Burgos, serenely beautiful, rich and exultant, the apotheosis of the Spanish Renaissance as well as studded with exquisitely beautiful Gothic work. She is mighty and magnificent, speaking perhaps rather to the senses than the heart, but in a language which can never be forgotten. Although various epochs created her, radically different in their means and methods, still there is a certain intangible unity in her gorgeous expression and a unique picturesqueness in her dazzling presence.



[Illustration: Photo by J. Lacoste, Madrid


I lift mine eyes, and all the windows blaze With forms of saints and holy men who died, Here martyred and hereafter glorified; And the great Rose upon its leaves displays Christ's Triumph, and the angelic roundelays With splendor upon splendor multiplied.

Share with your friends:
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9

The database is protected by copyright © 2020
send message

    Main page