CHURCH OF SAN BENITO (CALATAYUD)
The early arrival of the Benedictines in the city of Calatayud is documented in the donation granted by King Ramón Berenguer IV, husband of Queen Petronila in 1148, in which he put the Monastery of San Benito of Calatayud under the jurisdiction of the Monastery of San Salvador de Oña: “quod est situ in illo barrio de muzarabs ad illam portam de Caesaraugusta.” The same royal consort raised it to the rank of Parish. In the city, it’s traditionally believed that before the Reconquest a Mozarab chapel existed on the site of the house where San Iñigo was born.
It would be on this same site that the first monastery would be built, and it is quite possible that remains of this early construction now preserved in the present dining room of the Hotel Monasterio Benedictino, which occupies part of the old monastic dependencies.
These are comprised of two series of three brick slightly pointed arches supported by alabaster columns with Cistercian style capitals, which may have been part of the first church. There is nothing Mudéjar about them except for the materials used, brick and alabaster, though the idea that some Mudéjar craftsmen might have been involved in its construction can’t be ruled out. These arcades, which would have been covered by wooden ceilings, remained hidden after the enlargements done to the convent in the 16th century, when the ceiling was opened up to form a light well.
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Also in the 16th century, they added to the Mudéjar church that we will discuss below, a portal open to the plaza with a triple arch in front and a single one to each side. This atrium, of the same width as the nave, was covered by a flat ceiling supported by late Gothic brackets in the Mudéjar tradition.
As for the early church, in the 14th century a new Mudéjar church of greater size was built to its side. Of this church, the apse and plan survive. Oriented towards the north, the apse is straight, of square plan and in its origin was probably covered by simple groin vaulting.
In the restoration carried out by the City Government in 2002, a big window with a pointed arch and center post was revealed in the center of the apse wall. Both the arch openings and the lower portion were covered with stucco screens. In the portions of the latter that were recovered, there are two interlaced patterns. The first, in the arches, is of a work of hexagonal fours that are generated by guidelines of vertical diamonds to form a star of two vertical points and four horizontal ones, which surround the regular hexagons by prolongations of the sides.
The second motif, covering part of the area below, is based on an interlace of eight that generates a webbing of eight pointed stars, with elongated vertical sides. We can also see both of these motifs painted on the walls and vault surfaces of the chapel on the north side of the presbytery of the Church of the Virgen of Tobed, and in the screens that occupy the opening of two of the apse windows in the apse of San Miguel de los Navarros of Zaragoza, both also datable to the 14th century.
The upper part of a second window can be seen on the west wall of the presbytery. What survives here is reduced to the double pointed arch, and a plaster motif in the central part of the arch exterior that seems to be formed of little circles, probably five in number.
Before proceeding to the profound remodeling made to the church during the Baroque era, reference should be made to the wide oculus towards the top of the wall at the church’s foot. In the restoration an opening was placed to illuminate the first nave bay and the high choir. At the advice of Agustín Sanmiguel Mateo it was covered by a replica of the interlace motif found in the medallions that occupy the centers of walls of the right side chapel of the ruined and abandoned church of Nuestra Sseñora de la Huerta of Villanueva de Jalón.