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

Church of Santa María Magdalena (Zaragoza)

Parish church of the well-populated la Magdalena neighborhood in Zaragoza, the church of Santa María Magdalena is one of the four mudéjar churches of the city that still retains much of its early appearance. According to José María Lacarra, the church is already mentioned in 1126, a few years after the conquest of Zaragoza by King Alfonso I “the Warrior,” and again in 1145, according to Ignacio de Asso. A few years after that, according to Ángel Canellas in his History of Zaragoza, there is another reference in 1197 in the will of a cleric of this church, in which stone is offered to construct a doorway near its bell tower, an interesting reference since it already talks of the existence of a tower before the construction of the Mudéjar one in the 14th century.

As in so many other cases, and we must suppose that in the vicinity of the Cathedral we have a more relevant example, that after the Christian occupation of the city, the mosque that was originally in this location was consecrated to Christianity, appropriating its minaret as a bell tower, which with all probability corresponds to at least the two lowest levels of the present tower.

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As is normally the case, we don’t have documentation that permits establishing a chronology for the Mudéjar church that was substituted for the mosque. Because of the similarity of its construction to the church of San Miguel de los Navarros, and to a lesser extent with San Gil, we can determine, following Gonzalo Borrás, that it was constructed in the 14th century.

Like the two latter churches, la Magdalena also underwent widespread Baroque reform, in this case carried out by Juan Yarza and his son Juan Yarza y Garín between 1727 and 1730, among which was a change in its liturgical orientation, rendering the apse at its head to become its facade, and opening in its central section a doorway of black alabaster.

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Following the Mudéjar canons of its time, the seven-sided apse lacked buttresses at the corners and was decorated in motifs of brick relief. On the lowest part are panels of crossing mixtilineal arches between some bands of simple angled brick. On the upper part, also bounded horizontally by angled brick bands, is a panel of lozenges with a little central motif, based on series of knots formed by a double band that join in two circles. This motif dates, according to Gonzalo Borrás, to the period of the Banu Hud Zaragoza. Over the upper band of angled brick is the gable sustained by a frieze of projecting brackets.

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Between both panels on each side of the apse are windows with pointed arches, and a double chamfer that alternates exterior convex archivolts and strong arrises.

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The church has a plan of the Mudéjar typology of a single nave of three simple groin vaulted bays, and shallow chapels between the buttresses, which would have originally been groin vaulted with pointed arches transversal to the nave. Although the Baroque reform kept the nave vaulting, lunette vaulting was substituted in the chapels. Like in the church of San Gil, there are tribunes in fortress-church style, of which, according to Gonzalo Borrás, those on the south side, facing the Calle Mayor, still function. One of the buttress-towers is visible on the northeast corner.

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The church of La Magdalena is presently closed to both cult and visitors because it is being restored. We must say that this restoration has already been in progress for two decades. Its first two phases (2002-2003 and 2007-2009) are complete, but work on the interior remains to be done, with an anticipated completion date in 2016-2017. We hope that this will be done so we can enjoy one most interesting of the churches and towers of Zaragoza.


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