‘CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE’ AT THE PUERTA DEL PERDÓN

The Puerta del Perdón of the Cathedral of Seville and its surroundings constitute an enclave of great artistic and aesthetic value in which it is possible to read about some of the most significant episodes in the history of the city.

To begin with, it should be noted that it is the main entrance to the aljama mosque on which the Christian cathedral was built. The new construction from the 15th and 16th centuries is a grandiose Gothic building in its general conception, but retains some of the elements of its predecessor. Among others, the space currently occupied by the Patio de los Naranjos coincides with the old ablutions patio of the mosque, while its main entrance is also preserved in the Puerta del Perdón.

It is a large Almohad horseshoe arch framed in its upper half by a plasterwork decoration that follows arabesque patterns, but was already made in the 16th century. What has been preserved from the original work are the two magnificent bronze-coated leaves of the door, which are profusely decorated with geometric motifs, lacework, atauriques and Kufic writing with verses from surahs 15 and 24 of the Koran. The two large knockers stand out for their beauty, splendid examples of the mastery achieved in Muslim Seville for bronze work.

In the 16th century, the Cathedral Chapter decided to reform the door, giving it a new iconographic meaning. To this end, its decoration was entrusted to the French-born sculptor Miguel Perrin, who had already worked with good results on the realization of 16 figures for the new dome, raised after the collapse of the original dome in 1511. In the door that concerns us, he made between 1519 and 1522 a sculptural program in fired clay, placing on both sides two monumental figures of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, about 2.5 meters high. Higher and on a smaller scale, it places an Annunciation, with the Angel on one side of the door and the Virgin on the other. Commissioned by the Cabildo, the relief depicting The Expulsion of the Merchants from the Temple is placed over the entrance opening.

Perrin's own artistic language is already clearly Renaissance. In this relief we can appreciate it in elements such as the naturalism of the figures, the care of its proportions and the fact that it locates the scene in a three-dimensional space, worrying about the effects of perspective and revealing clearly classical architectural forms in the background. The author shows himself with great mastery in this work, as one of the first and most complete introducers of the artistic Renaissance in Seville. This can be seen if we approach the nearby doors of Palos and Campanillas, in the Plaza Virgen de los Reyes, for whose eardrums he made the scenes of the Adoration of the Magi and the Entry into Jerusalem, respectively, in addition to the sculptures of angels and prophets that frame them.

The scenes to be represented in relief were logically determined by the Cathedral Chapter. In the case of the Door of Forgiveness, a passage of Jesus is represented in the Temple of Jerusalem that the four Gospels collect. Matthew, for example, narrates it thus:

And Jesus entered the temple of God, and drove out all those who bought and sold in it, and overturned the tables of the changers and the chairs of those who sold doves; And he says to them: It is written: My house will be called a house of prayer; But you have made it a den of thieves. (Mt. 21, 12-13)

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It seems clear that the canons wanted to send a resounding message with the choice of theme, recalling this particular passage to the merchants who made their deals in spaces annexed to the cathedral.

It should be noted that the surroundings of the Puerta del Perdón constituted a space in which commercial activity in the city had traditionally been concentrated. Already in Islamic times, the so-called Alcaicería de la Seda was located just opposite, on both sides of the current Hernando Colón street, a commercial area specializing in luxury products such as fabrics, goldsmith's pieces or perfumes. Thus, the Muslim custom of locating the main centers of commerce next to the aljama mosques was followed. This activity continued to be predominant in the area after the arrival of the Christians and even today we can see the traces of old shops open towards Calle Alemanes, in the arcaded spaces that open up on the ground floor of several of their homes.

But the presence of dealers around the cathedral skyrocketed above all as a result of the discovery of America and the decision of the Crown to centralize all trade with the New World in Seville. In this way, the steps of the cathedral became the showcase in which all kinds of merchandise were bought and sold. There are stories that tell us about the bustle of the place and how it was filled with stalls and stalls, probably constituting the busiest and busiest space in the city.

Among the many products traded in the area were also slaves. The steps of the cathedral were the main scene of the trade of human beings in the city, coming mainly from Africa, both from the Maghreb area and from the south of the Sahara. There is numerous documentation that tells us about the growing importance of the slave trade in Seville in the 16th century, pushed by the economic boom that brought the status of Puerto de Indias. Although human trafficking was a common and generally accepted activity in Europe at the time, slavery remains one of the saddest aspects of the city's history.

Right in front of the Puerta del Perdón we find a detail that allows us to remember this past. On the collar of one of the columns of the arcades one can read ARIAS CORREA HE WASHED THIS HOUSE IN THE YEAR OF 1591. We know of this character that he was an important slave trader who decided to build his home next to the place where the business of he.

Despite the clear message launched with the relief of The expulsion that we have been talking about, it seems that the members of the Cabildo did not manage to put an end to the problem and the complaints presented throughout the century are constant. They even point out how the merchants do not hesitate to close their deals inside the cathedral on rainy days.

Aware of the problem of the lack of adequate spaces in the city for the development of large-scale commercial exchanges, Felipe II ordered the construction of a Lonja in 1584, the magnificent Renaissance building designed by Juan de Herrera that is the current headquarters of the Archivo de Indians.

Its completion in 1598 would notably alleviate the commercial pressure around the cathedral, but the area around the Puerta del Perdón continued to be a busy space with intense occupation by small businesses. In fact, there are engravings and paintings that show these stalls and stalls in a beautiful and romantic way, as late as the 19th century.

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