Two works of medieval goldsmithing for St Michael Abbey

This project has consisted in the creation of pieces inspired by two of the works of goldsmithing The most outstanding medieval altarpiece in our country are the altarpiece of San Miguel de Aralar and the votive wreath from Recesvinto (National Archaeological Museum). They were made for the new Mostense Abbey built in Silverado (California, United States) by the Norbertine Fathers of Saint Michael's Abbey.

There are works of art that, partly because of their great antiquity, especially capture our imagination. When we contemplate their beauty, their difficulty and precision, we would like to go back to the workshop of the artist who created them in a distant century and observe his meticulous work. For this reason, we find very special the orders of our clients in which the work recreates or is inspired by some great work of the past. On this occasion, it has been our silversmiths, whose craft still has much to do with the techniques that could be found in a medieval workshop, who have tackled a project capable of taking us on this sort of journey through time.

The Abbey of Saint Michael, in neo-Romanesque style, was designed by the French architect Jean-Louis Pagès. The Norbertine fathers commissioned GRANDA the design and creation of the tabernacle and the lamp of the Blessed Sacrament, among other elements. The building, due to its characteristics, demanded the realization of two exceptional works, both for the large dimensions required by such a large space and for the coherence that they had to show with the style of the building.

This coherence of style represented an interesting challenge. It is given the circumstance that, in the period of history that we were trying to recreate, the High Middle Ages, the Eucharistic reservation was not preserved in such a prominent place in the temple as it is today. This means, consequently, that there were no large tabernacles such as those that in later centuries would be seen in temples, but rather small Eucharistic pyxes and chests. In other words, there were no specific historical models or precedents on which we could base the manufacture of a tabernacle of such an extraordinary size, so it was necessary to look for other sources of inspiration.

Thus, the tabernacle is a recreation of what is known as the Aralar altarpiece, an extraordinary example of Limoges enamel art. It was made around the 12th century A.D. and was a gift from the King of England, Richard the Lionheart, as a present for his nuptial engagement to Berengaria of Navarre, which never took place. Originally it was not an altarpiece, but an altar frontal, which was later transformed and acquired its present appearance. Since its donation by the English monarch, it has been kept in the sanctuary of San Miguel in Excelsis, in the Aralar mountain range in Navarra.

The design has been personalized according to the indications of the Norbertine fathers, following a rich iconographic program. The central motif is developed on the door, with the Virgin in a mandorla surrounded by angels, represented as Theotokos or Kiriotissa, as the throne of Christ Child seated on her lap. The representation of this subject on the door of the tabernacle alludes to the condition of the Virgin Mary as the first tabernacle that contained the body of Christ.

It is flanked by characters from the Old and New Testament, prefigurations of Christ as Priest, Sacrificial Victim and King. They are sheltered by twelve semicircular arches representing the gates of the Heavenly Jerusalem, as described in the Apocalypse. In the lower body are represented Abel, Abraham and Isaac, Moses, Levi and Melchizedek. In the lower one, King David, the prophets Zechariah and Malachi, St. John the Baptist and his father Zechariah, and the elder Simeon.

In the upper body, we find four female figures from the Old Testament, prefigurations of the Blessed Virgin: Eve, Sarah and Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, and Miriam. The tabernacle is surmounted by a cruciform orb, representing Christ's sovereignty over Creation. The interior of the tabernacle is also decorated with two enameled icons.

The lamp of the Blessed Sacrament is inspired by the votive crowns that once hung above the altar. In particular, it is based on that of the Visigothic king Recesvinto, from the 7th century. The custom of placing votive lamps on the altar, started by the emperors of Rome and Byzantium, probably reached Visigothic Spain when St. Gregory the Great gave one to Recaredo on the occasion of his conversion from Arianism.

The lamp created for the Abbey consists of an enormous ring forty centimeters high, with chiseled decoration, ornamented with cabochons and from which hang twelve pinjantes. The sapphires shown in the original work were replaced by artificial stones and pearls. Under the crown, suspended, is the lamp itself, which is a large vitreous container for liquid wax. The stones, mounted in the air, allow the light of the flame to pass through, as do the openwork motifs, which together with their location in front of the windows of the apse allows for an interesting play of light.

The abbey is still under development and is expected to be completed later this year. More information can be found in a series of videos explaining the art and architecture of the abbey by Father Justin Ramos, O. Praem, entitled Uniting Heaven and Earth.

Details of medieval goldsmithing for St Michael Abbey


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C/ Galileo Galilei, 19.
28806, Alcalá de Henares,
Madrid. Spain
(+34) 91 802 36 55

Serving the Church with sacred art since 1891

Serving the Church with sacred art since 1891

C/ Galileo Galilei, 19.
28806, Alcalá de Henares,
Madrid. Spain
(+34) 91 802 36 55

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