16.01.07, Senra, ed., En el principio: Génesis de la Catedral Románica de Santiago de Compostela

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Eileen P. McKiernan González

The Medieval Review 16.01.07

Senra, José Luis, ed. En el principio: Génesis de la Catedral Románica de Santiago de Compostela: Contexto, construcción y programa iconográfico. Santiago de Compostela: Teófilo Edicións, 2014. pp. 239. ISBN: 978-84-942086-8-3 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Eileen P. McKiernan González
Berea College

En el principio: Génesis de la Catedral Románica de Santiago de Compostela. Contexto, construcción y programa iconográfico brings together the findings of a Spanish Ministry of Innovation project (HAR 2009-10104) that crossed disciplinary boundaries to reevaluate the first thirty years of construction of the Romanesque basilica (soon to be cathedral). The period (ca. 1070-1100) is marked by the episcopacy of Diego Peláez (1070-1088), and the study does much to vindicate the seminal role of this later-disgraced bishop. José Luis Senra spearheaded the project and has edited this volume, bringing together different approaches of history, religious history, and art and architectural history. With a reevaluation of documentary sources, epigraphic evidence, and the fabric of the apse, and a systematic analysis of mason marks, this careful study goes a long way to revealing the complex and multifaceted vision for this early period of construction and its complicated execution.

In the opening article, "El episcopado iriense del primer don Diego: Contexto, fuentes y perfil biográfico," José M. Andrade frames the construction in light of surviving documents, urban development, political history, the ecclesiastic hierarchies, and the powerful force of pilgrimage affecting Santiago, at this time still under the bishopric of Iria. Andrade highlights the perception of Galicia and Santiago from chronicles, both European and Arab, which equate Galicia with León and Castile. Andrade identifies all documents that include Diego Peláez as actor or as signatory. Through this process, the bishop--who was ordained during the short rule of King Garcia of Galícia (r. 1065-1071, d. 1090), jailed by his more powerful brother Alfonso VI (r. 1065-1109), and disgraced in his final years--no longer appears marginalized. Rather, the documents reveal Peláez as an active player in the period leading up to the adoption of the Roman rite (1077), the conquest of Toledo (1085), and the changes this expansion caused to the status of Galicia and Santiago.

Mercedes López-Mayán, in "Culto y cultura en la catedral compostelana en el siglo XI," analyzes the religious and cultural context of the era leading up to Diego Peláez and the subsequent effects of his deposition in 1088. López-Mayán considers in particular the expansions made by Peláez to the size and intellectual training of the canons of Santiago (increasing the number of canons from seven to twenty-four, and encouraging training in both grammar and the liberal arts), the marginalizing of the monastic community of Antealtares who were charged with the cult of Santiago, the balancing of local traditions with the new Roman rite, and the groundwork for the bishopric to move from Iria to Santiago. López-Mayán, like Andrade and Senra, provides a careful analysis of the documentary evidence, in this case emphasizing the chronicles and cartularies associated with the cathedral in the context of the forging and expansion of the importance of Santiago as pilgrimage and cultural center. It is under the reforms of Peláez that the future Diego Gelmírez was trained and elevated. She focuses particularly on the Cronicon Iriense, Liber sancti Iacobi, and Historia Compostellana. Peláez continues the quest for the apostolic title for Santiago--his predecessor Cresconio (c. 1036-1066) was excommunicated (1049) for using the title reserved at the time for Rome. López-Mayán makes clear a trajectory for the elevation of the bishopric (later archbishopric under Gelmírez) before Peláez, and, through a contextual analysis of the chronicles, the crucial role Peláez plays. The increasing popularity of Santiago as a pilgrimage destination is articulated and lays the groundwork for the shift that leads to the canons taking the liturgical care of the cult of Santiago away from the monks of Antealtares in 1102.

José Luis Senra contributes two chapters to the volume: the first, "Concepto, filiación y talleres del primer proyecto catedralício," reconsidering the fabric of the original construction areas (the apse with its five chapels), along with documentary, epigraphic, and stylistic analysis of its development; the second, "La iconografía del primer proyecto catedralício: un tránsito de perfección hacia el hombre espiritual," considering the iconographic program of this area, focusing on the chapel of the Savior. Senra concentrates on the development of the apse from the last quarter of the eleventh century to 1105 when the altar was consecrated. In this analysis, the ebb and flow of construction is divided into three periods: the first, under Bishop Peláez (1078-1088), when the ground level of the chevet and the three chapels dedicated to the Savior and Sts. Peter and John were completed; the second, a period of stagnation (1088-1093) in the aftermath of Peláez's deposition and during the delay in electing a new bishop; the last seeing the expansion of the two additional chapels of the apse, dedicated to Sts. Faith and Andrew (1094/5-1100). The final expansion under Bishop Dalmacio (r. 1094-1096) presents a shift in iconographic program as well as style of execution, with the use of polygonal chapels. Senra emphasizes the growing internationalization of the architecture and a workforce that connects to various regions of modern day Spain and France. The text is accompanied by clearly articulated, precise diagrams, groundplans, and photography that confirm his observations and analysis. He affirms the connection to Jaca and Toulouse, on the one hand, and Toulouse, Pamplona, and Conques on the other. The rich art historical record of analysis of this period is identified, highlighting in particular the work of Kenneth John Conant and Fernando López Alsina, and problematizing the "pilgrimage" church type. From the rich analysis in the prior chapters on the documentary record, Senra highlights particularly relevant documents, such as the Concordia of Antealtares from 1077 at which point the church of Antealtares would have already been razed, as well as an 1101 document from Pamplona that identifies their new architect as Esteban architect of Santiago. These two documents provide a frame for the early architectural history of the Romanesque site. These documents and others whose veracity have been questioned are delicately handled by Senra and the other authors. To the documentary record, Senra adds two inscriptions, one in the chapel of the Savior identifying Alfonso VI and Bishop Peláez, and another on the jambs of the right doorway of the Puerta de las Platerias. The various interpretations of the two pairs of inscriptions are discussed, favoring the designation of the date as the placement of the first stone on July 11, 1078.

Following this documentary and epigraphic analysis, Senra breaks down the stylistic transformation of the site over this quarter century, highlighting the connections with Toulouse, Jaca, and Conques, with accompanying plans and a breakdown of sculptural elements. In terms of the stylistic development of the capitals (in particular), a first group of masons with a strong connection to Gascony and the Languedoc articulate a program with an eschatological emphasis through a sculptural bestiary. Within this group two workshops are identified, one with connections to the Auvergne region (chapel of the Savior) and a second that connects Gascon and Aragonese masons in the chevet and chapels of Sts. Peter and John. With the addition of the central altar over the crypt, these three chapels make iconographic connections to both the Transfiguration and the Resurrection of Christ. The expansion under Bishop Dalmacio and the architect Esteban affirms the connection to Cluny and Conques and shifts the iconographic program. In the areas constructed under Peláez's architects, Bernardo the elder and Roberto, 64%; of the capitals have an animal theme, either real or fantastic, 28%; are human figures, and only 7%; are floriated (167). In windows of the hemicycle, the pattern shifts as fourteen capitals are figural and sixteen are floriated, and the bestiary disappears.

Senra's final chapter analyzes the early iconographic program, focusing on the chapel of the Savior (the first constructed). In this chapel several unusual figural capitals are explored, and Senra discovers an inscription on the capital of a man holding the necks of two different birds (argued to be a dove and a heron). The inscription appears on either side of the man's head, and the letters SI and N link it to the word SINCERUS. This capital is paired with another of a chalice framed by two griffins. Entry into the chapel includes the image of Alfonso VI, across from whom is a capital of two mermaids. Technically the capital of Bishop Peláez is on the outside of the chapel. The next capitals on either side contain griffins. Senra's exegetical and iconographic analysis of this chapel's capitals and the surrounding bestiary argues for a vision of saving virtue through a moralized nature of humans, providing a lesson for the lay community, ultimately presenting a path of perfection and spiritual preparation of a virtuous man. In this plastic exegesis, Senra relies on spiritual interpretations of the bestiary, biblical texts, representations of St. Martial and Orpheus, the Physiologus, and the hunt as spiritual quest, ultimately arguing for the moral imperative of a virtuous ruler (i.e. Alfonso VI).

Framed by Senra's two chapters is the rich tapestry of masons' marks analyzed by Jane Alexander and Therese Martin in "Sistemas constructivas en las fases iniciales de la catedral de Santiago: una nueva mirada al edificio románico a través de las marcas de cantería." The early areas of construction hold over 2,300 individual marks. The analysis of these is documented to provide a model for analysis of other sites and to emphasize their role in contributing new data that can add to, or confirm, documentary and stylistic analysis. The process undertaken creates a laborious but fascinating database that reveals a consistent and hierarchical system of monitoring and placing stones. This system allowed for marks at the quarry as well as onsite and suggests a tiered system of masons, with some working in bulk, and others dedicated to more specialized planning of specific architectural features laid out in advance for fast incorporation. Martin and Alexander explore the make-up of the workforce, balancing temporary and fixed workers, which would have included Muslim slaves, prisoners of war, and untrained men and women mostly working to transport the stone blocks, sand, and lime; and specialized masons working with granite. The marks shift across the fabric of the apse, including various distinct marks on each stone. This suggests a large workforce who cut the blocks identifying their work with a mark, and an overseer marking their approval. In addition there are marks that identify placement in an architectural feature, such as the different voussoirs and keystone of a tribune arch.

In the first phase of construction (five chapels and the ambulatory) over fifty identifiable marks were found across 235 blocks. These fifty marks affirm the statements of the Liber sancti Iacobi on the architects and workforce hired in the first stage. Marks are deliberately placed on view suggesting that the masons were instructed on which side to place their marks. Marks are individual although there is also the possibility that a mark would be given to a replacement for a worker who leaves the site as there are small variations to recognizable marks that appear in varied locations as the construction progressed. Some of these identifiable marks reveal long periods of work at the site. Alexander and Martin trace three masons identified by their marks as 3qf1 (a capital F marking 67 blocks), 4b2 (capital E marking 69 blocks), and 8q1 (a square with lines extending from each side, largest distribution of 89 blocks). 3qf1 marks, for example, are documented in the chapels of the Savior and St. John, as well as the ambulatory, tribune, both sides of the transept, and in the four central pillars. Marks also reveal periods of construction as there are clear patterns (density and recurrence of certain marks) of construction. An example of this is the capital I (3h7 in the system) that appears exclusively in the chapel of the Savior where construction began. The consistent appearance, though slowing and less diverse in number, also contradicts the supposition that in the aftermath of the deposition of Bishop Peláez, construction had halted. Instead the authors argue for a smaller, but continuous workforce with no stoppage; that construction of the main pillars had begun prior to the completion of the tribune; that most of the original masons worked on both upper and lower floors; and that there were shifts in the master mason (a new consistently used mark appears in the tribune alongwith an increase in marks, suggesting a new mason helping establish the new system). The main pillars reveal the arrival of a new workforce (ten new masons) in preparation for the elevation of the crossing.

Martin and Alexander conclude that the masons' marks confirm the first phase as chapel of the Savior, followed by the chapels of Sts. John and Peter; the second phase starting with the western portion of the apse, including the chapels of Sts. Faith and Andrew (the latter now lost), and the ambulatory; a third phase including the tribune, minus the west portion, and the hemicycle arcade, working from west to east; the fourth phase comprising the eastern main pillars; and finally the portion of the L that connects the tribune to the ambulatory along with the crossing and the extreme east of the transept. These marks affirm the stylistic evidence analyzed by Senra in the third chapter. This study presents a testimony to the privileging of fast and systematic construction as opposed to the erasure of the mark for visual aesthetics. Alexander and Martin note that the marks cannot provide a chronology, but are revealing of process and stages of construction. A clear system would have been essential for a massive undertaking that would have successions of groups of masons as well as different architects overseeing construction. Martin and Alexander present this evidence as another tool in the understanding of medieval workforces and systems of construction. The numbering system, while clinical, provides an avenue to revealing the work life of a mason in eleventh-century Galicia undertaking this extraordinary enterprise.

Senra and his contributors provide a rich view of the first stage of construction of the Romanesque cathedral of Santiago. The text is characterized by careful analysis of primary and secondary sources, reconsideration of standard texts and documents, visual analysis, a depth of interpretation of iconography, and clear and precise analysis of the cathedral fabric, as well as a rich tapestry of historiographic analysis that appears in the footnotes.

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