The church of San Buenaventura is a temple built in the 17th century as part of the former Colegio de San Buenaventura and is currently the church of the Franciscan Fraternity that is annexed on its west side.
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This article is an excerpt from the extensive description of the temple made for the website of the Brotherhood of Soledad de San Buenaventura.
It is documented that the works of the current temple began in 1622, following the project of the architect Diego López Bueno. However, the church would undergo numerous modifications throughout its history, especially during the tumultuous 19th century. As it has come down to us, it has a rectangular floor plan, with a large central nave and another nave, much less in height and width, on the epistle side.
The exterior is very simple, with hardly any decoration. The entrance is framed by a series of bands in hollow relief, probably initially conceived as a support for a stone doorway that was never built. On the cornice of the main façade there is a space with sloping ceilings, like a belfry, topped by a curved pediment.
The beautiful ceramic altarpiece of the Virgen de la Soledad located to the right of the entrance is practically the only decorative element on the outside of the temple. It was placed in 1952 and is a work of the painter, ceramicist and sculptor Enrique Orce Mármol, constituting one of the most beautiful examples within this art, standing out for its magnificent molding, sculpted by the same author.
Inside, we find a wide main nave, covered by a barrel vault with lunettes, reinforced by five semicircular arches. These rest on very marked cornices, which in turn sit on robust classical pilasters that run along the walls of this central nave. Between them, there is a series of semicircular arches that house five altars on the gospel side and that communicate with the smaller nave on the epistle side.
The area of the presbytery presents a slight widening as a transept and is covered by a hemispherical dome on pendentives, with 24 meters at its highest point and only visible from the inside. At the other end, over the entrance to the temple, stands a large and luminous high choir, supported by very wide lowered arches.
This nave has preserved its rich original decoration based on plasterwork and frescoes, devised by Francisco Herrera el Viejo. The set was carried out between 1626 and 1627, constituting one of the best examples of interior decoration of the Sevillian Baroque. The plasterwork was executed by master builders Juan Bernardo de Velasco and Juan de Segarra, who materialized Herrera's designs based on plant and geometric motifs, interspersed with cherub heads, cartouches, and garlands of flowers and fruit. These reliefs were partially enriched with traces of gold paint, which contribute to enriching and making the interior of the temple more attractive.
Herrera el Viejo himself executed the fresco paintings that, although badly deteriorated, have survived to this day. In the dome, around a central medallion with a relief representation of the Holy Spirit, he arranged the main saints of the Franciscan order: Saint Buenaventura, Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint John of Capistrano, Saint Louis of Tolosa, Saint Peter of Alcántara, San Jacobo de la Marca, San Bernardino de Siena and San Francisco de Asís himself. On the pendentives that support the dome, Herrera has four cartouches with the shields of the Mañara family, a family that exercised important patronage for the construction of the church.
In the center of each of the five sections into which the vault that covers the main nave is divided, we can see ovals with allegorical motifs that allude to the path to communion with God proposed by Saint Buenaventura in his philosophical work, based on a conjunction between knowledge and holiness.
On both sides of each of these symbolic motifs, there is a series of ten portraits of Franciscan theologians and philosophers, such as Alejandro de Sales or Juan Duns Escoto.
The original iconographic program was completed by a series of eight canvases, four by Herrera el Viejo and four by Zurbarán, alluding to the life of San Buenaventura and originally located on the side arches of this main nave. They were looted by the French during the Napoleonic invasion and today they are scattered throughout various museums around the world. The canvases that we can see today in its place are works by various authors, from the 18th and 19th centuries. In general, they represent scenes related to the Franciscan order and, like the frescoes, they are in a much better state of preservation.
The main altarpiece that presides over the church today is not the original, which was also destroyed during the French invasion. The one we can see today is a magnificent Baroque altarpiece from the last third of the 18th century, from the convent of San Francisco de Osuna. It was brought here in the middle of the 20th century and had to be adapted to its new location, smaller than the original, giving the whole a certain concave air.
It stands out for its predominance of curved lines and for the profusion of sculptures of angels and saints, which come to replace the columns as architectural elements to articulate the altarpiece. We see, for example, San Roque, San Pascual Bailón, San Miguel, as well as other saints linked to the order, such as San Buenaventura and San Francisco themselves.
In the center of the base there is a large silver demonstrator temple, framed by the figures of San Juan Nepomuceno and San Lorenzo. In the central niche, an image of the Immaculate Conception known as La Sevillana is venerated, a valuable work by Juan de Mesa from the now-defunct convent church of San Francisco in Seville. In the attic, we can see high reliefs with the Assumption and the Coronation of the Virgin.
As we have already mentioned, on the gospel side, between the pilasters and embedded in semicircular arches, there is a series of five altarpieces, made between the 19th and 20th centuries to replace those that occupied the original chapels, also destroyed during the French occupation.
The first of them, the closest to the High Altar, houses the titular image of the Brotherhood of Soledad de San Buenaventura, a work by Gabriel de Astorga from 1851. Behind it we can see the Holy Cross on Mount Calvario or Cruz de Caño Quebrado, a valuable forge work from the 17th century, around which the Brotherhood was founded in 1656.
The next altarpiece houses a dress image of the Virgen del Carmen, from the 18th century, popularly known as "de la Batata". Originally, this image was worshiped in a small chapel that has now disappeared near the Postigo del Aceite. Apparently, the brotherhood that was in charge of his cult was so humble that to obtain income they auctioned sweet potatoes and other products from the field. That would be the origin of the curious name of this image.
Also from the 18th century are the magnificent high relief of the Coronation of the Virgin and the Immaculate Conception that occupy two of the remaining altars. Both works are of extraordinary quality, especially the Immaculate Conception, which occupied the central niche of the main altarpiece until it was replaced by "la Sevillana". It is a precious image that some authors have located in the circle of the sculptor Cayetano de Acosta, although due to its physiognomy the Italian origin seems more likely than other accounts.
As for the small nave on the epistle side, it shows architectural characteristics that are clearly differentiated from the rest of the temple and is covered by greatly reduced groin vaults. Its current appearance corresponds to the reforms undertaken in the church at the end of the 19th century, coinciding with the construction of the current headquarters of the Franciscan Fraternity of San Buenaventura.
Traditionally it has been affirmed that the church originally had three naves and that the one on the gospel side is currently missing, since it disappeared due to the reforms carried out during the 19th century to create the current Bilbao street.
This was stated by Antonio Martínez Ripoll in his work "La Iglesia del Colegio de San Buenaventura" (1976) and since then it has been collected in various publications, including the "Artistic Guide of Seville and its Province", published by the Diputación.
However, a careful analysis of the temple from the formal point of view, combined with the documentary testimonies that we have from the 17th century, allows us to affirm that the original church had a single large nave with side chapels, a very frequent appearance. in conventual churches during the Baroque.
It would already be at the end of the 19th century, when the Franciscan community returned to take over the temple, when the small nave on the epistle side that has survived to this day would be built.
In it is located, in the first section next to the entrance, the Holy Christ of Salvation, co-owner of the Brotherhood of Soledad de San Buenaventura. It is an image by Manuel Cerquera Becerra from 1935 that clearly draws on the tradition and style of the crucified masters of the Sevillian Baroque.
At the other end of the nave, at the head of the temple, is the current sacramental chapel. It has two neoclassical altarpieces dating from the 19th century, to which María José del Castillo attributes a possible authorship by José Fernández. In the center, a Virgin of Guadalupe is venerated, made by Juan Abascal Fuentes in 1960, a replica of the patron saint of Extremadura and head of her own brotherhood, also based in this church. It is flanked by an anonymous image of San José from the 18th century and a San Francisco from the 17th century, which Matilde Fernández Rojas identifies as coming from the now-defunct convent church of San Francisco, where he would receive worship at one of the side altars that were located at the base. of the main arch that framed the presbytery.
The side altarpiece of this chapel is presided over by a beautiful Baroque carving of the Virgen del Patrocinio, dating from the 17th century and also from the now-defunct convent of San Francisco.