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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