CHURCH OF SAN PEDRO OF FRANCOS (CALATAYUD)
The church of San Pedro de los Francos is located on La Rua, the main street of Calatayud. It was after the battle of Cutanda in 1120 when a contingent of Frenchmen from Bigorra under the command of the Count Alperche who had aided King Alfonso “el Batallador” in his conquest, entered Calatayud. Since many of them remained to live in the city under the advantages of its concession, the King, in thanks for services rendered, founded a church dedicated to Saint Peter as their parish. It quickly became known as San Pedro de los Francos (Saint Peter of the Frenchmen), both because of the origin of its parishoners, and to differentiate it from San Pedro de los Serranos, founded by the Aragonese in the Pyranees. This latter church was demolished in the 19th century.
The tower is located at the foot of the church, to the right of the portal. The first thing about it that is noticeable is its inclination, of approximately a meter and a half, that seems even more acute given the narrowness of the street. It is square in plan, and lacks any decoration on its surface.
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The first seven meters in height is of cut stone with a skirting board of large stones aligned with the façade of the church, which appears to be some sort of application to correct this inclination. This is because the inclination of the tower suggests that the real base must be repositioned about half a meter with respect to the gable wall. Above this base there was a buttress of plaster rubblework placed against the edge to also hide the inclination of the tower. Around 1980, during the first phase of restoration, they stripped away this added part leaving visible a wall of white limestone. Within this wall there is a Romanesque Christogram and remains of what appears to be a small tri-lobed window. It is possible that they belonged to an earlier Romanesque church that was demolished in the 14th century to make way for the present one.
Over this stone base is the rest of the tower done in brick. Its appearance is peculiar in that it combines rows of long-sided brickwork, others of short-ended bricks, while still others alternate the two, without following a regular pattern. The only thing that breaks the monotony of the walls, apart from the beam holes, are the little windows that illuminate the staircase, zigzagged in conformity with the brickwork, and which have the same dimensions inside and out. The two big openings that are seen towards the top of the main façade date to the 19th century when the bells were relocated after the top level was demolished.
This upper story was eliminated in 1840, because of the plan to lodge Queen Isabel II and Regent Maria Cristina in the palace of the Baron of Warsague, the present day Casino, situated opposite the tower. The City Council must have thought that the view of the leaning tower towards her apartments would frighten the child queen, and for that reason they proceeded to demolish the bell level a few days before the arrival of such exalted people. Of course, the tower was not going to fall on exactly that day after so many centuries of leaning that way.
We know what this level looked like thanks to a drawing that Vicente de la Fuente included in the first volume of his Historia de Calatayud, published in 1880. From what can be deduced from it, its appearance was basically similar to those that are preserved in the churches of Terrer, Belmonte de Gracián and Aniñón. On each side was a wide opening with a pointed arch with a central column from which sprang two arches that crossed with those at the sides of the opening. In the drawing the tower was topped like a minaret with seven merlons per side. All of these details have to be taken with some latitude, since the drawing was not very precise, and was made forty years after the demolition, certainly from the memory of Vicente de la Fuente who could have seen it in his childhood.
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The access to the interior is found high up in the interior of the church by means of a modern metal staircase that substitutes for an earlier wooden one. The entrance is situated around seven meters up, at the level where the stone walls end and the brick levels begin. Its interior structure is similar to the majority of Mudéjar towers and Andalusian minarets, based on an interior post around which the housing of the staircase is installed in a counterclockwise direction. The staircase levels are covered by little stepped vaults.
Like many other Mudéjar towers, that of San Pedro de los Francos has some controversy about its chronology. What seems sure is that it is earlier than the present church. The architect Ángel Peropadre published the plan of the tower in a proposal for its renovation in 1980 that shows the tower aligned with the church, even if its wall is thicker than the rest of the wall of the church, something also seen in the plans made in 1998 by the architect José María Valero for the definitive restoration.
In addition, the latter plan shows perfectly how the tower is not exactly aligned with the church, rather there is a little divergence of 4 degrees, which makes the bay at the side aisle of the church’s foot doesn’t have a perfectly rectangular shape, but is slightly rhomboidal. Logically this deviation wouldn’t have been produced if the tower had been built at the same time as the church, but it would have been the reverse.
All of this suggests a chronology before the 14th century for this tower, perhaps in the 13th century or even earlier. The possibility should be considered that in its origin it was not built with the function of a bell tower at all, but rather as a watchtower to control the lower zone of the town and its environs. This would explain the stone construction of its base, and the absence of decorative motifs, since it would have been essentially a defensive tower.
The same Vicente de la Fuente said that in 1291 the bell of the tower of San Pedro de los Francos could convoke, at royal order, a militia of one hundred men. This tower also served as a watchtower in the War of the Two Pedros in 1362.