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17 abril 2024

Imposing and spiritual: the heroic Church of Santiago el Mayor

There are few things in the world like the church of Santiago el Mayor that catch you from the moment you enter. It is one of the most attractive places in Zaragoza and has stoically withstood the passage of time and many adversities. The church of Santiago el Mayor is one of the most representative churches of European baroque art. Through its walls you can breathe hundreds of years of fascinating history that you will learn about and that will make you come back again to continue knowing Zaragoza.

The iconic church of Santiago el Mayor today is what was once a convent, that of San Ildefonzo, which formerly served as a convent for the Discalced Carmelites. At the time of the disentailment carried out by Mendizábal the convent was abandoned.

Its construction began in 1625 but it was from 1661 when the works were accelerated resulting in a temple of magnificent proportions. It has an immense front with two not very high towers flanking it. It can be seen from the outside the dome that characterizes it.
Its style is inspired in the Italian baroque and it was designed with a single nave highlighting in its interior the geometric figures and the stars. Baroque and Muslim details, typical of Mudejar art, coexist in this church in perfect harmony.

Its first phase of construction was paralyzed due to the poor quality of the same, being demolished to resume it 10 years later. During its time as a convent, the construction resisted the siege to which the city was subjected on two occasions.
It was a time when Zaragoza was decimated both in its population and in its buildings. Every convent and monastery still standing were used as forts, but some of them were destroyed.

When Zaragoza was liberated, the friars rented it and later, after the disentailment, it was used as a military hospital for the next 100 years. Around 1860 lightning completely destroyed the dome, starting a new reconstruction that ended in 1860.
In 1958 it ceased to function as a military hospital and in 1963 a large part of the old convent was demolished. The city was growing. Two years later the restoration of the dome was completed, adding glazed tiles.

Its treasures

The church of Santiago el Mayor preserves the tomb of Jerónimo Xavierre, cardinal of Zaragoza, today one of its great treasures. Carved during 1610, it was originally in the cloister of the old convent. On one side is still the arch in honor of San Ildefonso, perhaps the last one in Zaragoza.
The imposing dome is made of polychrome tiles and the ceiling was mostly made of plaster. The decoration with this material was done in two periods: around 1665 the vaults and domes were plastered following the Mudejar tradition.
Almost 30 years later the plasterwork was executed in the transept and the chancel following Baroque standards. The twin windows that allow the passage of light in a generous way stand out. For its part, the altarpiece exhibits a singular beauty.

A lost treasure of incalculable value was its library, which was estimated to house more than 20,000 volumes and manuscripts. It was razed during the sieges to which the city was subjected between 1808 and 1809.

The columbarium

There is a place in the church of Santiago el Mayor of great significance for those who want to give a special destination to the ashes of their loved ones. It is the columbarium, a sacred place where you can deposit them after cremating a loved one.
Many people, when cremating their relatives, are not sure what destination to give them. In that sense, in the columbarium there are the loculi, niches whose function is to deposit these ashes. A special area where a heartfelt prayer honors the memory of those who have passed away.
Since the 19th century the cemeteries were located very close to the parishes. The columbarium is a way to keep the deceased close to their community. There are loculi to hold from two to six people, and they can be reserved in life.
Just go to the church, find out the conditions and sign the contract. The reservation has a duration (renewable) of 30 years. The cost is deposited in an account in the name of the parish.

Worth visiting

Zaragoza is a small city, but very big in history and culture, and one of its main attractions are its churches. Its architecture exudes the best of the people who have made its place in the world possible. The main churches in Zaragoza that you should not fail to admire are:

  • San Pablo Apostle: With an impressive gothic organ and an amazing view from the tower.
  • Basilica of Santa Engracia: Its treasure is its crypt in which lie burials that exceed the century.
  • Santa Isabel and San Cayetano: It has a front of alabaster in baroque style of singular beauty.
  • San Miguel de los Navarros: It stands out for its imposing Mudejar tower and its beautiful chapel that houses the Holy Sacrament.
  • Santa María Magdalena: It stands out for its Mudejar style, undoubtedly fascinating.
  • San Antonio de Padua: It is considered Italian territory because there lie about 2,000 Italian soldiers who played a leading role in the Civil War.

The list is long and holds great stories.

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