The Church of the Divine Savior of Seville is the second largest temple in the city, only after the Cathedral. It is one of the great architectural jewels of the city and inside it houses a magnificent sculpture collection, with works by the most prominent authors of the Sevillian Baroque.
CC BY-SA 4.0
We know that in the space it occupies today was the so-called Ibn Adabbas Mosque, created around 830 as the main or aljama mosque of the city. It held this rank until the new great mosque was built in the 12th century, in the place now occupied by the Cathedral.
Some elements of the mosque that was located in El Salvador have been preserved, such as part of its patio and the start of its minaret, which corresponds to the lower part of the tower that we find at the north end, on Córdoba street.
Once the city was conquered by the Christians in 1248, the mosque was used as a church, although maintaining the essentials of its structure. It remained like this for centuries, with the architectural characteristics of an Islamic temple but serving for Christian worship, as is still the case today, for example, with the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba.
However, already in the 17th century, it seems that its state was quite dilapidated and it was decided to build a new temple. The works began around 1674, but when the closure of the vaults was underway, there was a resounding collapse that forced a good part of the project to be reconsidered.
The direction of the works ended up being entrusted to Leonardo de Figueroa, the best architect of the Sevillian Baroque, who also took part in other projects such as San Luis de los Franceses or La Magdalena. In this case, Figueroa was in charge of closing the vaults, building the great dome and finishing the interior of the building. The works were not completed until 1712.
The result is a huge and majestic temple with three naves. The transept stands out notably in height from the rest, although it is not perceptible in the plan of the building, which is what is called a living room.
The main façade has very classic baroque lines, close to Renaissance forms. The succession of stone pilasters and reddish brick panels achieve the classic bichrome that is so characteristic of many Sevillian buildings since the Lonja, today the Archivo de Indias, was built in the 16th century. Despite its monumentality, the El Salvador façade stands out for its sparse decoration, which contrasts sharply with the interior. The decoration with a Plateresque air that covers the pilasters and some of the moldings is relatively recent, from the end of the 19th century.
But in addition to its architecture, the Church of El Salvador, which was Collegiate until 1852, stands out for the magnificent art collection that it treasures. It has some of the most outstanding works of Sevillian altarpieces, beginning with the main altarpiece, dedicated to the Ascension of the Lord. It is a work directed by Cayetano de Acosta around 1779, who conceived an exuberant altarpiece, with a baroque profusion close to rococo.
Also magnificent is the altarpiece of the Virgen de las Aguas, on the right side of the transept, a work by José Maestre from 1731 presided over by this Marian image of the so-called “fernandinas”, dated around the 13th century but much remodeled later. These are just two examples of the large collection of altarpieces that this church houses.
And it is that the representation in the temple of great masters of sculpture is exceptional. In all probability, the two great figures of the Sevillian baroque are Juan Martínez Montañés and his disciple Juan de Mesa.
From the first, El Salvador preserves a colossal sculpture of San Cristóbal, reminiscent of Michelangelo due to its monumentality and beauty. But the most outstanding work of this author in El Salvador is surely Nuestro Padre Jesús de la Pasión, a moving image of the Lord with the cross on his back, which marvelously shows the classicism of the Montañés baroque, managing to convey all the feeling and the emotion of the moment, but in a contained, elegant and solemn way. It presides over the silver altarpiece of the Sacramental Chapel and goes out in procession every Holy Thursday. We do not exaggerate when saying that it is one of the most accomplished representations of Jesus Nazareno in the Spanish Baroque.
From the other great master of the Sevillian baroque, Juan de Mesa, we find the Cristo del Amor, who also takes a procession from this temple during Holy Week, this time on Palm Sunday. It is an exceptional size of the crucified, already dead, with a masterful treatment of the anatomy, hair and cloth. An exceptional work within the production of its author, who seems to have taken into account for its realization the model that his teacher Montañés made a few years before with the Cristo de la Clemencia that we found in the Cathedral.
Along with these teachers, the list of great artists with works in this church of El Salvador is almost innumerable. We could cite, for example, Duque Cornejo, José Montes de Oca or Antonio Quirós. But for now we end here this small sketch about the authentic living museum of the Sevillian baroque that is the old collegiate school of El Salvador. We will tell more in future deliveries.