Postcard from Valladolid, Spain: Iglesias and a maligned queen

Above, Iglesia de San Pablo

Valladolid was flourishing in the 15th century when Isabella I, Queen of Castile, married King Ferdinand of Aragon in the city – an elopement with private ceremonies, as they were second cousins. With the city a favored spot for the Catholic royal family members to hold court, Pope Clement VIII elevated it to a bishopric, the center of an archdiocese.

Bolstered by this recognition, city fathers launched efforts to build a suitable cathedral, the largest in Europe. Architect Juan de Herrera (1530-1597) was commissioned for the design of Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion. Despite Herrera’s death, completion appeared possible with the official establishment of Valladolid as the capital of Spain by King Philip III (1578-1621) in 1601.

The rosy future dissipated as a royal advisor standing to personally benefit through his real estate holdings persuaded Philip of the need to move the capital back to Madrid in 1606. The cathedral budget was slashed – about 60 percent.

The scaled-down version, with a Churrigueresque addition to its façade, still is impressive, and the related museum enriches the experience of a visit. The gilded altar retablo, designed by Juan de Juni (1507-1577), originally was located in Iglesia Santa Maria de la Antigua.

Built in the mid-15th century, Iglesia de San Pablo predates the Cathedral. Its façade reflects varying periods of architecture as different rulers of the city were determined to leave their own stamp upon the church. The Mudejar ogee arch framing the door is surrounded by Gothic sculpture, topped by Spanish-Flemish sculptural details and finished out with a Plateresque layer of icing as the eye is directed upward.

Before mentioning a coronation held there, I’ll take a brief historical detour, as this blogger is known to do. One that is abbreviated and related by playing loosely with the facts.

As the third child of the powerful Queen Isabella I of Castille (1451-1504) and King Ferdinand I of Aragon (1452-1516), Juana (1479-1555) should have been headed to lead a charmed life. As prearranged by their parents for the political merger of ruling families, at 16 years of age she was married to 18-year-old Philip (1478-1506), ruler of Flanders.

Juana’s older siblings predeceased her, theoretically leaving her next in line when her mother Isabella died in 1504. Her father Ferdinand did not relish losing power over Castile, and the plot thickened. Her “loving” father connived (my amateur conclusion) to convince others that Juana was insane and unfit to rule.

Ferdinand had coins minted proclaiming he was King and his daughter Queen of Castile, Leon and Aragon. Among the ways Philip fought back was to mint his own with a competing claim of him as the male ruler of Castile, Leon and his territories in Flanders. (I’m not sure of the validity of this Wikipedia detail, but it’s a fun factoid. And, as it’s Fiesta season in San Antonio, kind of like King Antonio and Rey Feo.)

While this power struggle was more complicated than that, Philip and Juana were crowned to reign over Castile in ceremonies held in Iglesia de San Pablo in 1506. Ferdinand withdrew, recognizing Juana I and Felipe I as legitimate rulers.

Unfortunately for poor Juana, Ferdinand had laid the groundwork for declaring her insane, and her husband headed down the same path, despite the fact she already had given birth to five children for him with a sixth on the way. Felipe, though, succumbed to the typhoid fever epidemic plaguing the Kingdom of Castile. Or possibly his father-in-law poisoned him?

Juana tried desperately to assert control as the rightful Queen of Castile, but chaos ensued. King Ferdinand I returned to the “rescue” and soon had her secured out of the way in Torquemada.

Following Ferdinand’s death, Juana’s sons came to power and continued her imprisonment under the watchful supervision of a carefully chosen team of nuns. People came to refer to the Queen as Juana la Loca, and maybe long confinement did indeed drive her crazy. But the royal Habsburg lineage created by her pairing with Philip produced six children who all would wear crowns in Spain or other parts of Europe.

So much for this blogger’s slapdash serving of history hash. Back to the church with its lovely lacy rose window.

Nuestra Senora de las Angustias (below, top left) is ported during Holy Week processions through the streets by the Cofradia (brotherhood) who support the church bearing her name. This more than 400-year-old paso, or float, is credited to the artist Juan de Juni.

Cofradia Penetencial de la Santa Vera Cruz lays claim to being the first of Valladolid’s brotherhoods to participate in Holy Week, or Semana Santa, processions. The Virgen Dolorosa they carry aloft spends the rest of her year elevated at the center of the altar at the bottom left of this group. Her image is enlarged on the pulpit in the same photo.

Construction of Iglesia de San Benito el Real was begun in 1499 atop the ruins of the earlier Royal Alcazar. The Benedictines commissioned a rich collection of religious art, but most was confiscated by the government in 1835 and disseminated to other locations.

The oldest portions, including the Romanesque tower, of Santa Maria de la Antigua date from the 12th century. Flying buttresses were added in the 16th century to shore up centuries of modifications.

Contemporary bronze figures designed by Oscar Albarino Belinchon were added to the plaza by the church in 2020. To an American eye, the sculpture might have different connotations, but, to a Spaniard, the robed costume with its cone-shaped capirote symbolizes the religious devotion demonstrated by the Catholic cofradias.

The robes and masks are not meant to frighten but to conceal the identities of the penitents – signifying all the marchers are equal in the eyes of God. The brother is leaning down to have his torch or candle relit by one of the youths appointed to perform the function on route.

A post from the beginning of this 2022 trip caught the tail-end of Semana Santa in Zaragoza and provides a better look at cone-capped penitentes.

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