un recorrido por el arte mudéjar aragonés
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Church of Santa María (MALUENDA)

Versión en español

The town of Maluenda, on the banks of the Jiloca River, is the second locality in terms of population of the Community of Calatayud. Dominated by the remains of a Moorish castle on top of a high and narrow mesa, the municipality rests at its foot. It has three mudéjar churches as well as some examples of civic architecture in this style that still exist.

The parish church, under the invocation of the Virgin Mary, is found on the Plaza de la Iglesia. In its present state of preservation, and according to Javier Peña, architect and its restorer, the church is a product of additions and reforms of various building campaigns, the oldest part being a truncated Muslim minaret that has remained enclosed in the southern wall built during the second half of the 13th century or in the first decades of the 14th, at the time of the construction of the early church. This was in turn transformed into a fortress-church in 1400. The last intervention was in the 16th century, when the bell tower was added and a sacristy constructed.

It is to be supposed that when Maluenda passed into Christian hands, after the conquest of the zone by King Alfonso I, they consecrated the existing mosque, eliminating the external Islamic elements (mihrab, mimbar, Qu’ranic inscriptions, etc.), and adding Christian ones (retablo, altar, images, etc.) as happened in many locations such as Zaragoza, where the main mosque consecrated as a Christian church is documented. In this way, the original church of Santa Maria of Maluenda could well have been the old mosque, which was located to the south of the minaret, where the bays of the nave constructed in the 15th century reform now are located.

The old mosque was modified during the second half of the 13th century or the beginning of the 14th, when it was converted into a longitudinal structure towards the northeast with an additional bay, and a seven-sided polygonal apse. It thus became a typical Mudéjar structure when the exterior construction was hidden behind thick adobe walls, or perhaps two parallel walls that hid the buttresses.

Thus this first church of Santa María would have had, both on the interior and exterior, the characteristic aspect of other Aragonese mosques converted into churches, being consistent with the juxtaposition of two very different spaces, one slender and well illuminated by the added apse of the Christians, the other low and dark at the foot in the zone of the mosque. The minaret, which we will study in more detail on the next page, would have been converted into the church’s bell tower.

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Around 1400 the church received its most important transformation. This consisted of the demolition of the part corresponding to the old mosque, except for the former minaret, to erect a new plan with similar volumetric characteristics to the old one. We know from an inscription on the base of the choir ceiling that its builder was the Moorish master Yuçaf Abdulmelic [or Adolmelih]. This amplification produced a fortress-church with two nave bays surrounded by a gallery or corridor that measures 3.5 meters in width along the sides, and 2.5 meters over the principal façade. On the ground floor, the lateral passages give access to four chapels, while at the foot of the church there is a corridor-staircase that permits access to the gallery over the awning, as well as the two side towers of clear Moorish origin with the spiral staircase around a central column. These towers also serve as communication points between the various corridors.

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On both sides of the building are several additions whose ground levels, covered with wooden ceilings, contained two doorways, while the upper stories, which were under the high side passages of the church, created two big rooms, one of which, the only one presently extant, received the name of Chapter Room. In the restoration the southern door was totally recuperated, as well as the pointed arch on the façade that gave access on the north. If the first was preserved intact, of the second only a girder and stubs of the remaining ceiling decorations were found, which were similar to the other door.

Similarly, of the corridors located above the chapels, only the eastern one is preserved in terms of its exterior wall; this was also restored in 1984. The two corridors of the principal façade, opened to the exterior by means of galleries with little pointed arches, as well as another blind one that was found below the two, permitted easy communication between the various levels in the church, suggesting a possible military use for this part of the building. The blind corridor had direct access from below the choir, at the level of 6 meters above the nave floor. It is guessed that there must have been a stairway here, or perhaps a gallery under the choir that ran along the façade wall in its interior.

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Like Javier Peña, we must point out the scarce attention given to this church as the source of galleries with arches and the flat gallery, characteristic of civil Mudéjar architecture in Aragon from the 15th through the 18th centuries, an honor shared with the church of Saints Justina and Rufina in this same town and San Juan Bautista of Herrera de los Navarros. At Santa Maria we find the oldest example of the two gallery typologies: those with semicircular arches and a large roundel on the facade and the flat type sustained by splendid stucco brackets, on the eastern side.

The last important addition to the church occurred in the 15th century, when a new brick bell tower and sacristy were constructed. Later, some of the chapels were modified, the eastern door was partially destroyed, the eastern porch was tiled, and other abutting structures were built that masked much of the church construction.


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