un recorrido por el arte mudéjar aragonés
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Church of the Virgin (TOBED)

Versión en español

The Church of the Virgin of Tobed is one of the best known and best discussed structures of Aragonese mudéjar architecture.  Three factors have contributed to this reputation: in the first place,, it has undergone few modifications, so that in the 21st century we can see it as it was conceived at the time of construction. This is in unusual, since most churches in this group have continued to modify their structures with the tastes of later periods with enlargements and modifications of doubtful harmony.  Secondly, nearly all the characteristic Aragonese mudéjar elements, both structural and decorative, can be found in this church at Tobed.  These include the typology of the fortress-church, exteriors profusely decorated with geometric brick patterns and ceramics, bell-towers that in size and shape recall Hispano-Islamic minarets, extensive interior painted wall decorations and stuccowork in oculi and windows, and a magnificent painted ceiling on the underside of the choir loft at the foot of the building, not to mention the little peculiar and odd element of the carillon on the north wall.  Finally, a series of documents are known that allow a chronology of its construction, something quite rare in mudéjar churches.


The tradition of the church of the Virgin of Tobed goes far back in time.  In 1845 Mariano de Cos recounted in his “Glorias de Calatayud” that the Church of the Virgin of Tobed dates from the time of the Goths, and was dedicated on April 3, 1066, according to a very old missal in the Real Casa del Sepulcro. The locality of Tobed was given to the Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Calatayud, since on August 29, 1141 an agreement was reached with Ramon Berenguer IV to compensate the order for the loss of the bequest in the will of King Alfonso the Warrior (Batallador) who left the Kingdom of Aragon to the Military Orders in the Holy Land.  This territorial donation, confirmed by Pope Adrian IV, consisted of a site to erect a church and house in Calatayud, where the order established a regular community of canons, and was bestowed with the rents of, among others, Tobed, Nuévalos and Codos.

The middle of the 14th century marked the beginning of hostilities between the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, in which the Order of the Holy Sepulcher actively supported the Aragonese king Alfonso IV in defending the frontier territory around Calatayud. One of the best-known events of this collaboration was the defense that the knights mounted at the plaza and castle of the fiefdom of Nuévalos.


It is precisely at the beginning of this conflict in 1356 that the construction of the church at Tobed began. To be precise, April 1 of that year was cited by Vicente de la Fuente in 1866, as one of the principal events of the priorate of Domingo Martínez de Algaravi (1347-1384), the Commander of Tobed being father Juan Domingo.

On April 3, 1359 the Archbishop of Zaragoza don Lope Fernández de Luna promulgated a judgment between Pedro Pérez de Calvillo, Bishop of Tarazona, and the Prior of the Holy Sepulcher of Calatayud. The cause of the conflict between the two was precisely the church constructed in Tobed that, in the opinion of the Prelate of Tarazona should not have built it without his consent at the same time that they petitioned for rents, since Tobed was within the Bishop’s diocese. The Archbishop of Zaragoza judged in favor of the Order, giving it both the church and the rents because “the Church or Chapel built in Tobed and the Altars within it constructed in honor of the Holy Mother, Saint John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene and other necessary ones that will be constructed, are to be given funds to finished to their perfection and to maintain them. That the rents, produce and benefits that have and will be given and all of their rights be administered, collected and distributed by the Priors of the Holy Sepulcher without the contradiction and accusation of the Bishops of Tarazona.” These two documentary notices permit the establishment of a precise chronology for an initial construction campaign between 1356 and 1359. We also know that the presbytery with its triple chapel construction under the cited dedications was already completed.


The work appears to have continued, since on December 30, 1360 father Martin de Alparir, Commander of Tobed, made a contract with Mahoma Granada, Moorish brick-maker from Pedrola for 50,000 bricks in the locality of Tobed.

Around 1375, Enrique II of Castile, who had allied himself during the War of the Two Pedros for dynastic reasons, donated to the Church of the Virgin of Tobed the three panels of the Nursing Virgin, Narratives of Saint John the Baptist, and Narratives of the Magdalene to preside over the altars of the three chapels cited in the arbitration document of 1359.

The next documentary notice makes reference to a subsequent chapter agreement. On August 8, 1385m the Prior Juan Pérez de Torres 1385-1396) and the Chapter agreed “that the church was not complete, neither in construction nor ornamented with vestments, jewels, ornaments and other things that were necessary, etc., [and] established that all the rents, donations, emoluments and revenues that came to the Church of the Virgin of Tobed, be put on deposit, to perfect the construction and dispose very decent ornaments for its major cult.


Finally, an aspect to be considered in establishing the chronology for the last building phase includes the heraldic arms of Pope Benedict XIII in the vault keystone of the last bay in the nave, in the wainscoting of heraldic bands in the presbytery and in the line of imposts that runs above the chapels and nave at the level of the springing of the ribs, as well as the coats of arms of families and lineages intimately linked with the Papacy. To these documentary sources, we must add another four documents in the Diocesan Archive of Zaragoza dated 1401, 1405, 1408 and 1410. These deal with licenses handed out in these years “to cost out for Santa Maria of Tobed in the Archbishopric of Zaragoza.


Looking at all this, it can be said that construction of the Church of the Virgin of Tobed was begun April 1, 1356 as a fortress-church, given the bellicose context at that time in that area. It doesn’t seem logical to think that it was originally planned to have only two bays and that a third would be added during the time of Benedict XIII, but rather that it was conceived this way from the beginning, and that the construction of the last bay took longer, and that it was built during the second campaign of 1385. We have to take into account that Mudéjar churches and fortress-churches in particular were generally planned with one or two towers at their foot with at least one stairway to give access to the tribunes and their upper parts. Precisely in this church of Tobed the tower buttresses between the second and third bays do not have staircases, being empty in their interiors.


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