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Cathedral of Nuestra Señora de la Huerta (Our Lady of the Orchard) (Tarazona)

Versión en español

 

MUDÉJAR ART IN THE CITY OF TARAZONA (see catalog)

After being closed for over thirty years, the Cathedral of Nuestra Señora de la Huerta opened to the public and for worship on April 16, 2011. A long project began in 1984, when the church was partially closed, and in 1991 it was closed completely. During this time many interesting elements were recovered and brought to light, some of them so relevant that they merited the title of “the Sistine Chapel of the Spanish Renaissance.” This together with the restoration of its known portions, has recaptured for Tarazona Cathedral all of its splendor, so that now the magnificence of its diverse artistic styles (Gothic, Mudéjar, Renaissance and Baroque) really stand out.

Though so much has been done up to now, one important restoration project remains: the Baroque atrium that shelters the principal doorway and some of its sixteen chapels still need restoration, as well as restoring the cloister to its original appearance, and facilitating the view of archeological remains found in the subsoil, especially the magnificent Roman mosaic located 3.5 meters below the Cathedral floor.

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It is precisely the discovery of this mosaic that speaks to us of the early occupation of the space presently occupied by the Cathedral. We already know that in the early Christian period the Diocese of Tarazona was one of the oldest in Spain, since signatures of its bishops appear in acts of the councils of the 6th and 7th centuries. When the city was conquered by the Muslims in 714, the probable episcopal seat located in the present church of La Magdalena was converted into the principal mosque. This permitted the moving of the church cult to the orchard hermitage, outside the city walls, into what is today the Cathedral. According to Federico Torralba, the church of Santa Maria de la Hídria (so named because of the vase, or hydria of lilies held by its image of the Virgin) was also outside the walls at that time; it is now occupied by the church of La Merced.

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It would be after the Christian conquest by King Alfonso I “El Batallador” in 1119 that the old Episcopal See and its Cathedral church was restored, to which the King named Miguel de Toulouse as Bishop, bestowing on him the necessary rents for the diocesan restoration.

However, if there are no doubts about the origins of the diocese from the very moment of the Christian conquest, there remain plenty about the location of the Cathedral. The only surely documented fact is the generous donation of the goods of the Tarazona citizen Teresa Cajal, mother of Pedro Atarés, was committed to the building fund of the new Romanesque Cathedral. Although it was admitted that this work would be done at the Mudéjar hermitage site, after determining that the original church of La Magdalena had been “contaminated” through its use as a mosque, I myself share the opinion defended by Gonzalo Borrás, that the new Cathedral would actually be built on the Mosque site—that is to say the original church site of La Magdalena, and that Teresa Cajals’ donation was used for its present triple apse there.

It has to be taken into account that this was an established custom, and this is what they did in all the reconquered cities when they passed into Christian hands: to consecrate the existing principal Mosque as the Cathedral. Limiting ourselves only to Aragon, this was done in the cases of Barbastro, Huesca and Zaragoza. In the latter city, though there already existed two Mozarabic churches (Nuestra Señora del Pilar and the Church of las Santas Masas), they still chose the principal mosque as the site of their Cathedral, and seventy years passed between the construction of its triple apse and one of its Romanesque portals. It therefore seems that if it were really the Hermitage site that was used in Tarazona, this would be a strange and practically the only one in Aragonese lands.

In any case, it wouldn’t be until the 13th century, when we have concrete notices of the construction of a new Cathedral on the spot occupied by Nuestra Señora de la Hidria, that, because of its location, became known as “Nuestra Señora de la Huerta.” Thus in 1235 under Bishop García Frontín II and King Jaime I “el Conquistador,” the new Gothic church was begun. The Tarazona Diocese had become very important in the region, and to build a Cathedral commensurate with its rank, a site outside the walls was chosen, near the right bank of the Queiles River, over a part of the orchards and fields where the original late Roman and Visigothic See had been located. This was a space large enough to accommodate such an ambitious project, which was impossible since the limited space of the existing urban fabric made the expansion of the church of La Magdalena impossible

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In this way a long construction process began in the French Gothic style, of a three-aisled church with a transept that aligned with them, and an apse with an ambulatory without chapels except at the two entrances to it. The side aisles would have no chapels either. Gonzalo Borrás believes that a cloister with chapels would have completed the complex.

The Cathedral of Tarazona was consecrated on April 20, 1325, and a century later it was wrecked by Castilian troops who captured the city on March 9, 1357 during the War of the Two Pedros. The church was used as a barracks in front of the walled city center and remained in such bad shape through the Castilian occupation that the Chapter considered abandoning it, demolishing it completely and moving the Cathedral See once more to La Magdalena. In the event, this wasn’t done, its reconstruction being begun by Bishop Pedro Pérez Calvillo.

The restoration was begun in 1362, after Cardinal Ferriz obtained a jubilee in Rome in which indulgences were given conceding funds and workers to help the construction, attracting sufficient recourses to the city to begin the reconstruction of the gothic church. At this time they decided to replace the stone of the original construction with brick, although the intervention of Mudéjares would not come until the following century.

 

 
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