The Basilica de la Macarena, headquarters of the brotherhood of the same name, is the third most visited monument in Seville, behind only the Cathedral and the Alcázar. Every year it receives almost a million visitors, moved by the devotion that awakens the image of Esperanza Macarena, a painful anonymous woman from the 17th century, which is probably the most popular Marian invocation in the city and one of the most prominent both within and outside of Andalusia.
The temple was built during the 40s of the 20th century, according to the project of Aurelio Gómez Millán. Following the guidelines of the brotherhood, it was built in a neo-baroque style, which fits perfectly into the historicist character that characterizes most of this architect's work.
It has a basilica plan, with a single nave covered with a barrel vault with lunettes, four side chapels and a very pronounced front, in which the main altar with the image of the Virgin is located.
As for its façade, the most characteristic element is the atrium, with a central span covered by a semicircular arch and two lintelled openings on each side, supported by six pairs of marble columns. Above it, a niche covered by a split curved pediment houses a sculpture representing the theological virtue of hope. In the background, a graceful belfry rises, which originally had a single body of three bells to which a second body with one more bell was added in 1992, this time topped by a curved pediment.
As is common in regionalist and historicist architecture, of which Aurelio Gómez Millán is a great exponent, there is no hesitation in making use of classical architectural forms and resources, which have been a regular part of the Western architectural tradition. In this case, the atrium we are talking about is formally a Serlian or Serlian arch, so called because it is defined in the treatise Tutte l'opere d'architettura et prospettiva, by Sebastiano Serlio, published in the mid-16th century.
Previously, other Renaissance artists had made use of this form that combines the semicircular arch with the lintel openings. Thus, for example, we see it in the Pazzi Chapel in Florence, designed by Brunelleschi in 1429, and later in numerous works by Andrea Palladio, who was probably the architect who contributed the most to its dissemination.
Like most Renaissance architectural resources, the Serlian has a root in classical antiquity and we find it in temples such as Hadrian's in Ephesus, from the 2nd century AD.
In the case of Seville, we see it very early in the bell body of the Giralda, added by Hernán Ruiz el Joven in the middle of the 16th century. In this case, the architect, who was one of the great introducers of the Renaissance in Spain, added one more lintel span on each side, to form a total of five, including the central one. The beauty of the resulting complex caused this architectural resource to be widely disseminated, in such a way that today we can see it, under the influence of the Giralda, in numerous Sevillian belfries and bell towers.
But in the case of the Basilica de la Macarena, in addition to adopting this Serlian form, it seems to have a clear reference to another lesser-known Sevillian monument. It is the lateral entrance portico to the church of the Santa Clara convent. It was added to the temple in a reform of the early seventeenth century, in a transitional style between Mannerism and Baroque, following the design of Juan de Oviedo and Miguel de Zumárraga. In this case it is not a proper Serlian arch, but the three spaces are covered by semi-circular arches. However, the final result is in its shape and proportions the clearest Sevillian precedent for the Macarena atrium.
In conclusion, it can be pointed out how the historicism that inspired the construction of the basilica means that by looking at some of its elements we can evoke some of the forms and features that have historically defined Western architecture. A temple less than a century old can serve as a beautiful setting for an entire art history lesson.