un recorrido por el arte mudéjar aragonés
webmaster: José Antonio Tolosa (Zaragoza -España-)

Church of the Virgin (TOBED)

Versión en español

In 1359, we theorize that the church construction was not yet concluded, since the arbitration sentence speaks of “the Church or Chapel being built in Tobed,” which seems to indicate that a large part was still to be built. The only thing that is clear is that the three presbytery chapels were already complete. In addition, Gonzalo Borrás established the first building phase within a two-year period, 1356 and 1357, basing this on the theory that these churches were constructed in six-month campaigns, with the aim of raising one nave bay per campaign, which would postulate the completion of two bays during this period. Given that the construction of the church was accomplished during the conflict between Aragon and Castile, it may be difficult to conceive of normal construction campaigns, since they would be determined by the unfolding of the war.


In referring to the interior ornamentation of the church, the greater part, including the initial two nave bays, seems later than 1359. The discovery of the inscription with the name of Mahoma Calahorri during the latest restoration, on a balustrade of one of the windows of the front of the church, gives us a chronology much later into its construction. If we take into account that it appears that Calahorri was working on the Parroquieta chapel of Zaragoza Cathedral around 1379-79 and in the Monastery of Santo Sepulcro in the same city, where he completed construction in 1390, we can establish a chronology for this second phase of the church at Tobed around 1393. In addition, none of the bosses that decorate the vaulting of the first two bays correspond with the dates of their construction. The keystone of the first bay has a sculpted image of the Virgin and Child flanked by two coats of arms, one of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher and the other of the Kingdom of Castile and León, something that is unusual in the middle of a war between both realms. The only logical connection would have been with Enrique of Trastámara, who as king of Castile in 1375, donated the three painted panels for the presbytery chapels, which leaves open to speculation whether the monarch did not also contribute to part of the interior decoration, such as the keystones of the first two bays. As for the muqqarna pendant that decorates the boss of the second bay, it could not date earlier than the late 1370’s, since this ornamental element was done around the time of the Parroquieta of the Cathedral of Zaragoza.


Another aspect to take into consideration is the relationship with the elements undertaken after the Chapter agreement of 1385. On the principal façade are three heraldic shields: the first with the patriarchal cross of the Holy Sepulcher, the one on the right with a pelican over a cup which appears to have religious significance, and the left-hand one, quartered, with a tower in the first and fourth quarters, and the patriarchal cross on the second and third. This same group of three coats of arms in the same order can also be seen on the top part of the left side of the second bay. Their formal aspect differs from the rest of the coats of arms of the bands painted at the time of Benedict XIII. The quartered shield, which has not been identified, may belong to the prior Juan Pérez de Torres. On describing the known seals of the Priors of the Holy Sepulcher, Carmona de los Santos points out that that the only known seal of Juan Pérez de Torres is the one applied to the Chapter Agreement of 1385, which has two little shields with a tower in each one.


If this coat of arms really belongs to the latter Prior, then the façade as well as interior decoration of at least the second bay was done under his auspices, which in that time coincided with the years in which Mahoma Calahorri worked there. Mixtilinear interlaces and grids of six and eight, identical with those found on the exterior wall of the Parroquieta of Zaragoza are found both in the gable and the wall decoration of the chapels of the presbytery. They are also found on the blind ribs of the walls and the first bay, as well as in the stuccowork of the balustrades in the two initial bays. All of this also relates to the muqqarna pendant of the second bay boss that follows the model in the apse of the Parroquieta. What remains to date these elements to this time period is the possibility that they were executed between the end of the work on the Parroquieta, around 1379, and the beginning of construction of the Church of the Sepulcher [in Zaragoza] in 1390.

The last phase of Mudéjar construction occurred during the time of Benedict XIII, and comprised at least the construction of the elevated choir, and the ceiling below it, the stuccowork and the keystone of the third bay, as well as the partial painted redecoration of the church interior, all directed by Mahoma Ramí, the Moorish Master of Works of the Pope, Benedict XIII.

Given that the style of the stuccowork of this last bay and the heraldic emblems that were painted on the bands of its walls and the end of the gable, this last phase started in 1409-1410. The windows show the new vocabulary of flamboyant Gothic, which spread through Aragon when it was introduced through work on Zaragoza Cathedral between 1403 and 1409, so these windows must have been added after that date. As for the coats of arms, they appear in the ceiling under the choir as well as the line of imposts that separate the perimeter of walls and vaults of the nave and side chapels and include those of Benedict XIII, the Martínez de Luna family, the family of Ferrench de Luna, and other families connected to them, such as the Gotors. In addition, there are the arms of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher, the Crown of Aragon, and the Kingdom of Sicily. It is precisely the latter that determines the dating of this last construction phase. Given that Sicily came under Aragonese rule again in 1409, it doesn’t appear possible that these arms would have been included if it were not part of the Realm of Aragon, thus reinforcing the dating to around 1410.


To conclude, it is hardly possible that the patronage of Benedict XIII would have been produced in the first decade of the 15th century, since the decrees of 1401, 1405, 1408 and 1410 to pay for the construction of the church at Tobed only mention the situation at that time of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher owing to its litigation in 1396 with the Archbishop of Tarragona, implying a serious economic situation for the Order.

Beginning on the next page, I will present you with a meticulous journey through this monumental church, that I hope you will like and help you to know one of the icons of this Aragonese Mudéjar style a little better. To facilitate navigation through the different pages, there’s a pull-down menu in the top part of each one that gives you direct access to the different parts of our description.


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