Tag Archives: Cathedral of Siguenza

Travels in Spain – Cathedrals

“And so to the great Cathedrals of Spain, Romanesque, Traditional, Gothic or Renaissance, which are the flower of the Spanish constructions and which for the world outside generally epitomises the Spanish presence,  As the Skyscrapers are to New York, the Cathedrals are to Spain”  – Jan Morris, ‘Spain’

Granada Cathedral

Granada, Andalucia

P3230654

Segovia, Castilla y Leon

Palencia Cathedral

Palencia, Castilla y Leon

Burgos Cathedral

Burgos, Castilla y Leon

Siguenza Central Spain

Siguenza, Castilla-la Mancha

Cordoba Andalusia Spain

Cordoba, Andalucia 

Girona Catalonia Spain Cathedral

Girona, Catalonia

Santiago Cathedral

Santiago de Compostela, Galicia

Andalusia 196 Seville Cathedral

Seville, Andalucia

Leon cathedral Spain

León, Castilla y Leon

Asturias Cathedral

Oviedo, Asturias

Malaga Cathedral

Malaga, Andalucia

Madrid Cathedral Exterior

Madrid

Cathedrals of Spain

Palencia Cathedral

Palencia, Castilla y Leon

Burgos Cathedral

Burgos, Castilla y Leon

Siguenza Central Spain

Siguenza, Castilla-la Mancha

Cordoba Andalusia Spain

Cordoba, Andalucia 

Girona Catalonia Spain Cathedral

Girona, Catalonia

Santiago Cathedral

Santiago de Compostela, Galicia

Andalusia 196 Seville Cathedral

Seville, Andalucia

Leon cathedral Spain

León, Castilla y Leon

Asturias Cathedral

Oviedo, Asturias

Travels in Spain – Sigüenza and the Spanish Civil War

Siguenza Cathedral Civil War Mortar Damage

“Does the bloodshed of 1936 mean that the traveller can no longer relax at a café table in Sigüenza?  If so he cannot relax anywhere in Spain.”  –  Christopher Howse – ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

After a long day in the car no one said a great deal but I am fairly certain everyone was pleased to be back in Sigüenza.  It was late afternoon and the sun was still shining so we did the obvious thing and walked to the bar on the Plaza Mayor and ordered some beers.

As the memory of the pointless journey began to slip into instant obscurity and as we sat and chatted amongst ourselves I looked around the Plaza and paid more attention to the details.  The colonnaded façade of the Town Hall, the weathered stone symbols over the doors – the heraldic emblems of previous owners, the street signs, the metal railings and the stonework of the tall cathedral as it began to cast its shadow as the sun shifted position in the sky.

Siquenza Cathedral South Tower

We were sitting close to the South Tower which reaches into the blue and has small-fortress like windows at regular intervals and the description fortress-like is rather appropriate because they bear the marks of shell damage inflicted on the building in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. The Battle of Sigüenza took place from 7th August 1936 to 15th October 1936 and although it seemed difficult to imagine this peaceful and languid afternoon there was heavy fighting here then.

Sigüenza occupied an important strategic geographical position in a narrow valley on the main road and railway line between Madrid and Aragon and Catalonia.  This is not a surprise, the Romans, the Moors and the Catholic Monarchs of the Reconquista had all previously fortified this place.

Early in the conflict the town had fallen under the control of the Nationalist insurgents but was liberated by Republican loyalists in late July and the town came under the control of the left-wing extremist ‘Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification’ or POUM (a Trotskyisk organisation allied to the Left Opposition in Moscow against Stalin) and the Anarchist elements of the Republican army who were a dangerous and incendiary mix of discontented and revolutionary trade-unionists, communists and anti-clerics.

Sigüenza now became a victim of the ‘Red Terror’ which was a period of Republican atrocities during the Civil War including the killing of tens of thousands of people including many members of the Catholic clergy and the desecration, burning and looting of monasteries and churches.  After taking control of the town Republican forces turned their anger against the religious hierarchy and structures, they celebrated their success with a blasphemous procession through the streets and then set fire to the Cathedral of Santa Maria.

During the Civil War twelve Bishops were killed, the first was the seventy year old cleric in Sigüenza, murdered by firing squad along with the Dean and the Chancellor of the Diocese, their bodies burned and hastily buried a couple of kilometres outside the town and left to be discovered by advancing Nationalist troops.  A further sixty or so people quickly suffered a similar fate.

In September the Nationalist army was ready to attack as regulars and crack Foreign Legion troops manoeuvred into position, an air bombardment further damaged the cathedral and the town was completely surrounded.

Reinforcements turned back because of bad weather and failed to arrive and the situation quickly became critical for the defending troops.  Losses were high and eventually the three hundred surviving militiamen and four hundred civilians took refuge and fortified themselves in the Cathedral (I wonder at this point if they regretted burning it down?)  They held out for a week as Franco’s superior forces overran the town but eventually were obliged to surrender, some of the militia tried to make a run for it but they were all gunned down trying to escape.

Siguenza Cathedral Civil War Spain

The Nationalists took control of the town but the Cathedral was almost completely destroyed by a combination of the vandalism of the Republican defenders and the ferocious bombardment of the Nationalist besiegers. It was rebuilt, repaired and restored in the 1940s.

All of this was of course in complete contrast to the serene atmosphere of the late afternoon as families sat together in conversation, young lovers walked hand in hand and visitors stopped every so often to point a camera and eventually the sun began to dip and we finished our second drink and then left and made our way back to the hotel because we hadn’t left ourselves long to change and get ready to come back out again to watch the Semana Santa parade which I previously posted about here.

Semana Santa Holy Week Siguenza 3

Travels in Spain – Sigüenza, the Cathedral and Don Martín Vázquez de Arce

Spain Siguenza

“…Sigüenza, ninety miles from Madrid, remains a quiet spot in an empty landscape.  It sits among narrow valleys celebrated by Camilo José Celar in his ‘Journey to the Acarria’”  –  Christopher Howse – ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

As this was the beginning of Holy Week and because of a frenzy of worship there were restricted opening hours for the cathedral so as we were sure that it was open this lunchtime we made our way along two splendid old streets named after more heroes of the Reconquest, Calle de Cardenal Mendoza and the Plaza del Obispo Don Bernardo to the weather scarred main doors that were thrown back on their creaking metal hinges on account of the Semana Santa.

The seven hundred year period between 722 and 1492 is known in Spain as the ‘Reconquista’ and in legend the focal point of the story is the heroic tale of Rodrigo Díaz de Bivar or El Cid, the National hero of Spain,embellished by history to become a giant of a man and revered by many as being single-handedly responsible for the victory of the Catholic Kingdoms over the North African Moors.

But whilst El Cid was by reputation a great warrior and soldier he was only one of many who contributed to the Crusade and there were other equally heroic figures and one of these was Don Martín Vázquez de Arce who is celebrated in Sigüenza cathedral.

Don Martín Vázquez de Arce was born three hundred years or so after El Cid (The Reconquista took a very long time) somewhere in Castilla and began at an early age to serve the Mendoza family of Guadalajara, the city where his father worked as a secretary to the family whilst living in the city of Alcala de Henares. By all accounts he was the epitome of the heroic knight, trained in the arts, literature and warfare.  He served as a Page of the first Duke of the Infantry and accompanied the Spanish troops in various campaigns in the Vega of Granada.

Sigüenza, The Cathedral and Don Martín Vázquez de Arce

He tragically died a young man when in July 1486, only twenty-six years old he fell into an ambush by the Moors whilst campaigning and although according to a contemporary chronicler he fought bravely and killed many Muslims the Spanish knights were heavily outnumbered and he was eventually overcome and slain.

Six years later, in the year that Granada fell and the Reconquest was complete his body was recovered by his father and moved to Sigüenza where he was laid to rest in a private chapel and a wonderful monument made in the finest stonemasons workshops in Guadalajara was placed over his grave in his memory.

For a small town the cathedral is an immense building and one of the most important late Romanesque buildings in Spain which was built to symbolise the power of Bishop Don Bernardo who began construction in the twelfth century.  It has three naves and a main chapel with an ambulatory and a dome and around the outer walls are a series of commemorative chapels which reads like a who’s who of the local campaigns of the Reconquista.

Eventually we came to the jewel of the Cathedral, the Chapel of St. Catherine which houses the sepulchre of Martín Vázquez de Arce where in what is regarded as one of the finest examples of Spanish funerary art is his alabaster statue decorated with the cross of Santiago as he lies serenely on his side while casually reading a giant book. The authors of the Spanish Generation of 1898 (a group of patriotic artists and philosophers) drew national attention to the statue by naming him ‘el doncel de Sigüenza’ – the boy of Sigüenza.

This statue is so important and so valuable that it isn’t possible to just wander unaccompanied into the chapel and there was a forty minute wait and a €4 entry fee so as we could very clearly see the statue through the locked gates I wasn’t inclined to wait around and contented myself by extending my arm as far as I could through the metal railings to grab a picture.

In the streets outside the cathedral there was a lot of activity and everyone seemed to be going in the same direction so we joined the line of people leaving through one of the medieval town gates and spotted a small market and with the scent of purchase in their nostrils and sensing a shopping opportunity the girls quickened their pace towards the line of flapping canvas and sagging wooden boards.

The first part of the market was vegetables and market garden stalls and in a second section there were second-hand clothing and junk stalls run by gipsies and the only one that mildly interested me was one that was selling various infusions as alternative remedies and reliefs for almost every known common ailment.

Leaving the market it occurred to us that we had practically done everything there was to do in Sigüenza and we really wanted to leave something for another day so we returned to the hotel to collect the car and drive to the nearby town of Atienza.

Siguenza Cathedral