THE DOME OF THE MAGDALENE CHURCH

The Magdalena church in Seville is one of the most outstanding examples of Baroque art in Seville. And this is saying a lot for a city whose heritage includes buildings such as the Hospital de la Caridad, San Luis de los Franceses or the Colegial del Salvador, to name just a few of the magnificent achievements of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The current parish of La Magdalena was originally built as the church of the Dominican convent of San Pablo, which occupied an extensive area of ​​more than 30,000 m2 between the current church and Gravina street. The convent had a primitive temple in Mudejar style, but its dilapidated state made the friars decide at the end of the 17th century to demolish it and build a new church, which is the one that has come down to us.

In 1835 it is expropriated by the State within the framework of the confiscation process and the monks are exclaustrated. All the land of the former convent is parceled out and sold for housing construction, with the exception of the Montserrat church and chapel, which remain to this day, and the main cloister, which for a time served as the offices of the administration until it was pulled down as early as the 20th century.

The church of La Magdalena was a few meters further east, where today is the square with this name. It suffered serious damage during the Napoleonic invasion and, although its reconstruction was initially projected, when the church of the convent was freed, it was decided to move the parish there and leave the aforementioned square in the place of the original. In this way, the primitive conventual church of San Pablo became the parish of La Magdalena.

Obviously, it is necessary to take this past into account when attempting to artistically describe the building, since a large part of its characteristics and iconographic program can only be explained if we understand the church as part of a convent of the Dominican order.

In fact, it was the largest Dominican convent in Andalusia, which explains the monumentality of the church. Its history is closely linked not only to that of the city, but also to that of the Crown of Castile. King Fernando III led to its foundation after the conquest of the city in 1248, ceding to the Dominicans some land that at that time was located next to the Triana Gate of the walls. That is why the convent carried from its origins the name of San Pablo el Real.

The Dominicans were an order closely linked to the Inquisition since its creation by Pope Gregory IX in the 13th century. When in 1478 the institution was created in Castile under the reign of the Catholic Monarchs, this convent was the first seat of the court in Seville and therefore the first trials and death sentences were held in the city.

In fact, it was the largest Dominican convent in Andalusia, which explains the monumentality of the church. Its history is closely linked not only to that of the city, but also to that of the Crown of Castile. King Fernando III led to its foundation after the conquest of the city in 1248, ceding to the Dominicans some land that at that time was located next to the Triana Gate of the walls. That is why the convent carried from its origins the name of San Pablo el Real.

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The Dominicans were an order closely linked to the Inquisition since its creation by Pope Gregory IX in the 13th century. When in 1478 the institution was created in Castile under the reign of the Catholic Monarchs, this convent was the first seat of the court in Seville and therefore the first trials and death sentences were held in the city.

After the discovery of America in 1492, Seville became the seat of the Port of the Indies and centralized all overseas trade. It will be the beginning of a time of splendor to which the convent will not be oblivious. It must be remembered that among the declared priorities of the Crown was always the evangelization of the new territories, so Seville had to be filled with convents and monasteries, from which the religious who would go to America with this mission came. The convent of San Pablo stood out among all of them in this mission, due in part to the very nature of the order, whose official name is Ordo Praedicatorum, that is, order of preachers. In this way, many of the clerics sent to evangelize America and the Philippines came from here. Among them, the famous Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, theologian and jurist known as "the defender of the Indians", who was consecrated bishop of Chiapas in this same church.

Its construction took place between 1691 and 1709, directed by the architect Leonardo de Figueroa, probably the most prominent figure in all of Sevillian baroque architecture. This is shown by his intervention in such relevant buildings of this period in the city as the Hospital de la Caridad, El Salvador, San Luis de los Franceses and the Palacio de San Telmo.

The new construction would preserve some elements of the Mudejar Gothic church that preceded it, such as the marked polygonal head and what is now the Quinta Angustia chapel, which in the Mudejar church were three adjoining chapels on the epistle side, annexed between yes forming the current one with the baroque reform.

Focusing on the magnificent dome, it was the first built in Seville on a drum, followed in this characteristic by those of El Salvador and San Luis de los Franceses, also designed by Leonardo de Figueroa. Specifically, it is an octagonal drum, on which stands the hemisphere topped by a large lantern, also octagonal. An enormous wrought iron royal crown is placed as a finishing touch, recalling the foundation of the convent by the royal initiative of Fernando III and its strong historical link with the Crown.

It is the first dome built by Leonardo de Figueroa and in it he makes clear some of the defining elements of his style, such as the roundness of the lantern, which he will repeat in El Salvador and San Luis, or the wealth of decorative elements, which also They show a remarkable chromatic variety.

In the case of the Magdalena, these decorative elements have a clear iconographic reading linked to the evangelizing work of the order in America. To allude to this, a series of sculptural elements inspired by artistic representations of some of the pre-Hispanic cultures, reinterpreted in a picturesque way, are included.

Thus, for example, the lantern is surrounded by a series of Amerindians who act as cloths, that is, they support the cornice above their heads. In addition, masks with highly emphasized Negroid features appear on the antefixes, wearing curious feathered headdresses in various colors. Other semi-fantastic characters appear in other parts of the façade such as in the pilasters, inspired by pre-Hispanic art but in a very deformed way.

The interior of the dome is decorated with frescoes by Lucas Valdés. On each of the segments, a pair of angels hold a lavishly decorated golden letter. Together they form the inscription AVE MARÍA.

The choice of this theme also has to do with an episode in the history of the order that we have not yet commented on. Seville was always a firm defender of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, that is, of the belief that the Virgin was conceived without original sin, unlike the rest of mortals. Other religious orders based in the city, such as the Dominicans or the Franciscans, were fervent defenders that this doctrine be proclaimed as a dogma of faith, something that did not happen until 1854. The Dominicans, on the other hand, did not share this belief and defended that Mary he was born with the same stain as the rest of the humans.

In the context of a city of such Marian devotion as Seville, this somehow earned them a certain unpopularity among the faithful. In the decoration of its dome, the Dominicans of San Pablo wanted to make it clear that they also shared an enormous faith and affection for the figure of the Virgin, and arranged that the first words of the greeting that the Archangel Gabriel made to her could be read on it to Mary announcing the miraculous conception of Jesus: Hail Mary.

Inside the lantern, at the highest point in the entire space, a splendid golden sun appears on a dark blue background, around which the Latin inscription ET CAEPISSE EST ALQUID, SED FINIS FACTA can be read. That is, having started is something, but the end must be reached. An allusion to the human capacity to undertake and complete undertakings as extraordinary as that of building a church as magnificent as the Magdalena de Sevilla.

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SAINT PAULA MONASTERY IN SEVILLE

The Monastery of Santa Paula, owned by nuns of the Order of San Jerónimo, is located in the heart of Seville, very close to the church of San Marcos and neighbor of another of the great convents of the city, that of Santa Isabel. It came to occupy a much larger area than the current one, since its orchards extended to the north, in what is now the area of ​​warehouses around the Mallol Passage.

In its origin, two women of aristocratic origins played a fundamental role. The first of them was Ana de Santillán y de Guzmán, who, after being widowed and losing her only daughter, founded the monastery in 1473 after obtaining a bull from Pope Sixtus IV.

Barely a decade later, the modest facilities of the new monastery seem to have become too small due to the influx of nuns. It was then that Mrs. Isabel Enríquez intervened as a sponsor, who, also after becoming a widow, took charge of its remodeling and expansion. It was she who paid for the construction of the conventual church that has survived to this day, where we precisely find her tomb and that of her husband, Juan de Braganza.

The monastery complex presents a very complex structure, the result of its long history, and mixes the original Mudejar Gothic style, with Renaissance and Baroque elements, especially from the 16th and 17th centuries. Already in the twentieth century it would undergo another important remodeling, this time at the hands of the one who was its prioress for more than forty years, Sister Cristina de Arteaga, who promoted the idea of ​​creating a museum remodeling some of the monastery's dependencies to expose part of the artistic heritage that had been treasured for centuries. To this patrimony was added the personal contribution of Sister Cristina, as heir to a notable aristocratic family.

The main access to the monastic complex is through a beautiful 16th century portal, made of brick in the shape of an ogee arch, following the Mudejar Gothic style. Above it is a tile panel representing Santa Paula, a work from the late nineteenth century made to replace the original set lost during the Revolution of 1868.

Along with this portal, the most remarkable exterior element of the monastery is its beautiful two-section belfry, made in the 17th century by Diego López Bueno. It is richly decorated with ceramic details, geometric motifs, attached pilasters and symbolic elements that allude to the Order of Saint Jerome.

Once inside, the doorway of the church opens onto a landscaped patio, which constitutes a true artistic jewel of the 16th century in Seville. It is built in two-tone brick that gives it a very pronounced Mudejar air, but at the same time has a marked ogival shape characteristic of the Gothic. It also includes clearly Renaissance elements, such as its exquisite ceramic decoration, in which we know that the Italian based in Triana, Niculoso Pisano, participated. Pedro Millán, the first Sevillian sculptor whose name we know, also worked alongside him, who collaborated with Mercadante de Brittany in the sculptural decoration of the doors of Baptism and of San Miguel de la Catedral. Framing the arch there are a series of clearly Renaissance tondos with the representation of various saints. In fact, the one in the center, with a representation of the Nativity, comes from the famous Florentine workshop of the Della Robbia and probably served as a model for the others. On the tympanum appears the coat of arms of the Catholic Monarchs, framed by two others with their characteristic symbols of the yoke and the bundle of arrows, alluding to the unity of the peninsular kingdoms that occurred during their reign.

Inside, the church has the characteristic shape of Sevillian convent temples, with a box plan, that is, with a single nave. The bulk of the church is covered by wooden coffered ceiling, while the head, the most sacred area, is covered by stone, with Gothic rib vaults. Inside, the sculptural and pictorial decoration is very rich, mainly from the 17th and 18th centuries, which gives the complex a very baroque air. We find works by such prominent authors as Alonso Cano, Martínez Montañés or Alonso Vázquez.

In addition to the church and the rooms dedicated to the museum, its two cloisters are noteworthy in the monastery. The oldest is the so-called small patio, with a square plan framed by a gallery of banked arches on marble columns of different heights, a symptom of its origin from previous constructions. The largest and main cloister of the convent is already a 17th-century work by Diego López Bueno, with a square plan with two levels of galleries with round arches, very banked, on marble columns.

We finish for now this small reference to a monastic group that would give for its artistic treasures to write several volumes. Simply recommend his visit, from which we can also take a sweet memory in the form of some of the exquisite products made by the nuns and put on sale in the monastery itself.

CHURCH OF THE DIVINE SAVIOR

The church of the Divine Savior (iglesia del Divino Salvador) in 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 Sevillian Baroque authors.

We know that in the space it occupies today was the so-called Ibn Adabbas mosque, created around 830 as the aljama or main mosque of the city. It held this rank until the new great mosque was built in the 12th century, on the site that is 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 began to be used as a church, while maintaining the essentials of its structure. Thus it remained for centuries, with the architectural characteristics of an Islamic temple but serving for Christian worship, as it continues to happen today, for example, with the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba.

However, after the seventeenth century, it seems that its condition was quite dilapidated and the construction of a new temple was decided. The works began around 1674, but when the closing of the vaults was being undertaken, a resounding collapse occurred that forced a rethinking of a large part of the project.

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, was commissioned to lead the works. In this case, Figueroa was in charge of closing the vaults, constructing 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 over the rest, although it is not perceptible on the floor of the building, which is called hall.

The main façade has very classic baroque lines, close to the Renaissance forms. The succession of stone pilasters and reddish brick panels achieve the classic bichromy that is so characteristic of many Sevillian buildings since the Lonja, today the Archive of the Indies, was built in the 16th century. Despite its monumentality, the façade of El Salvador stands out for its scant decoration, which contrasts sharply with the interior. The plateresque decoration that runs along 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 collection of art that it treasures. It has some of the most outstanding works of the Sevillian altarpiece, starting with the main altarpiece, dedicated to the Ascension of the Lord. It is a work directed by Cayetano de Acosta around 1779, which conceives an exuberant altarpiece, with a baroque profusion close to the 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. They are just two examples of the great 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.

Of the first, El Salvador preserves a colossal sculpture of San Cristóbal, reminiscent of Michelangelo for its monumentality and beauty. But the most outstanding work of this author in El Salvador is surely Our Father Jesus of the Passion, a moving image of the Lord with the cross on his shoulders, which marvelously shows the classicism of Montañés' baroque, by managing to convey all the sentiment and the emotion of the moment, but in a contained, elegant and solemn way. He presides over the silver altarpiece of the Sacramental Chapel and goes out in procession every Holy Thursday. We are not exaggerating when we say that it is one of the most successful representations of Jesus Nazareno in the Spanish Baroque.

From the other great Sevillian baroque master, Juan de Mesa, we find the Christ of Love, who also processions from this temple at Easter, this time on Palm Sunday. It is an exceptional carving of a crucified man, already dead, with a masterful treatment of the anatomy, the hair and the cloth. An exceptional work within the production of its author, which seems to have taken into account for its realization the model that his teacher Montañés made a few years before with the Christ of Mercy that we find 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 finish here this little sketch about the authentic living museum of the Sevillian baroque that is the old collegiate school of El Salvador. We will have more in future deliveries.

And remember that if you are interested in taking a guided tour so as not to miss any of the details, you can get in touch by the way you prefer from this website.