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Romanesque and Gothic

The Camino de Santiago was the most important pilgrimage route in medieval Europe and one of the most significant economic and cultural features in the history of Spain. This historical trail opened up small and isolated realms to Europe and led to the development of an unprecedented cultural exchange which catapulted Romanesque and Gothic art to their greatest heights.

The Romanesque in Navarre

The trail was an intense focal point of artistic development. The Romanesque 'pilgrimage style' coincided with the most splendid age of the Camino de Santiago in the 11th and 12th centuries, although the Cluny religious order also played a key role in this artistic boom.

The bustle of pilgrims, and the artisans, stonemasons and sculptors who built temples to house them, along with the merchants who filled the trail with their stalls, all contributed to the growth in civil and religious architecture. They started by building churches, monasteries, inns, hospitals, bridges and quarters to house the throngs that traversed the Camino de Santiago. Little by little medieval hamlets were raised, and in the centre the Romanesque church with its domes and apses.

Romanesque art is characterised by the purity of its lines, and by simplicity and austerity. The churches usually have a Latin cross ground plan and three naves, the central of which is higher and wider than those at the side. The cross is crowned with a tower or dome and the high altar is situated in the semi-circular apse.

The stonemasons of the time knew very little of architectural techniques and resorted to thick ashlar walls reinforced with buttresses in order to support the weight of the vaults. The lack of windows also plunged the Romanesque temple into a half-light which encouraged meditation and obliged the painters decorate the walls with vivid colours. The capitals which rounded off the columns were decorated with biblical stories and passages which served as the catechism for a mostly illiterate population.

The Romanesque influence on the Camino de Santiago in Navarre left behind a fundamental legacy. Examples are:

On the Camino Francés (French Way), the monuments of Orreaga/Roncesvalles, the la Magdalena and San Pedro bridges in Pamplona, the magnificent Romanesque bridge and the Santiago and el Crucifijo churches in Puente la Reina, the Eunate and Torres del Río churches with their octagonal ground plans, and the San Pedro de la Rúa, San Miguel and Santa María Jus del Castillo churches in Estella-Lizarra, which is also the site of the beautiful Palacio de los Reyes de Navarra.

And in the stretch of the trail which passes through the Aragon region the most interesting examples are the Monastery of Leyre, the Church of Santiago in Sangüesa, the palace of the Prince of Viana and the impressive facade of the Church of Santa María la Real - a veritable bible set in stone.


The Gothic in Navarre

Towards the end of the 12th century the Way of St. James remained a popular pilgrimage route. It was at that time when the trail became the entry point into the Peninsula and Navarre for the conception of the new European art - the Gothic - led by the French Cistercian order.

The heavy and thick Romanesque walls are replaced in the Gothic style by slender towers, beautiful vaults and elegant shapes. The Roman arch gives way to the pointed arch and the darkness to light, which this time penetrates the structure through large colourful stained glass windows, but the monastic and conventual way of life continues. Churches, facades, refectories and cloisters are remodelled...and hospitals are built to provide refuge for sick pilgrims.

The finest examples of Gothic architecture along the Jacobean route through Navarre are the Collegiate Church of Orreaga/Roncesvalles (the first of its kind constructed under these parameters in Spain), the Cathedral of Santa Maria and the Church of San Saturnino in Pamplona, the Church of Santo Sepulcro in Estella-Lizarra and the Church of Santa María in Viana. In terms of sculpture, the recumbent effigy of Sancho el Fuerte (Sancho the Strong) is the first example of funereal sculpture in Navarre.