• 18 June, 2014
CHAPEL OF THE DONCEL

This chapel, dating to the 16th century, is the most splendid of all those in Sigüenza Cathedral. It occupies the southernmost end of the transept, and has a magnificent entrance dating to the early-16th century. This, the work of Francisco de Baeza, is of clearly Renaissance composition and decoration, with magnificent Plateresque elements. Francisco de Baeza was commissioned for this work by Bishop Fernando de Arce of the Canary Islands, the brother of the Doncel, who both honored his own and gave a magnificent example of his good taste, enriching the cathedral with works of the highest artistic value. The grille which encloses this chapel is by Juan Francés, and is one of his finest pieces, built between 1526 and 1532, featuring the heavy crowning pieces he later repeated in the Chapel of San Pedro Apóstol. Francisco de Baeza having worked on both of these chapels, the inspiration for these elements can be stated with certainty to be his, for neither of Juan Francés two earlier works has them, and the grill maker was known to follow exactly the instructions given him by the artists directing the work. The entrance is crowned by a finely-composed pediment featuring the Adoration of the Magi

The interior dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries. It contains the tombs of various members of the noble Vázquez de Arce family who, in exchange for this privilege, agreed with the Chapter to «adorn it, and furbish it, and prepare it for worship with the greatest decency».

The jambs of the coffered arch contain two large niches containing the funeral urns of Martín Vázquez de Sosa and Sancha Vázquez, the grandparents of the Doncel. The statue of the knight Don Martín depicts him dressed in a habit over el coat of mail and holding in his hands the long sword. That of his wife, Sancha Vázquez, lies recumbent, as if asleep. In the center of the pantheon is a superb mausoleum containing the ashes of Fernando de Arce and Catalina de Sosa, the mother and father of the Doncel, with recumbent statues.

In the wall, outstanding amongst all the other elements, is the famed Mausoleum of the Doncel. This 15th-century masterpiece has finely carved pilasters and arches, and features paintings representing the Passion of Christ, in a dry, expressive style, attributed to Antonio de Contreras. It is not possible to enter the cathedral without visiting this jewel of world sculpture, known throughout the world, the one single work which most attracts visitors to Sigüenza Cathedral. This, the most ostentatious tomb in the cathedral, has a marvelous statue of the illustrious young Commendatory D. Martín Vázquez de Arce, who met a glorious death during the War of Granada at the age of just 25. The statue in the Chapel of San Juan y Santa Catalina shows the Doncel reclining over the tomb. Over the warrior’s body is an epitaph engraved in Gothic letters. This funeral inscription reads as follows: Here lies Martín Vázquez de Arce, knight of the Order of Saint James, who was killed by the Moors, when coming to the aid of his illustrious lord, the Duke of El lnfantado, and certain people from Jaén, at La Acequia Gorda, on the plains of Granada. His father, Fernando de Arce, took his body and gave it burial in this chapel in 1486. The city of Loja and the towns of llora, Moclín and Montefrío were taken that year in sieges in which father and son took part.

Don Martín died in October 1486. Don Fernando de Arce was with his son at the last, and an anonymous chronicler narrates that the dying man, weeping at the certainty that he was at his last, remembering his mother’s wish, said to the knight, his father: “Ask my brother Don Fernando to take me as an example and try to please our mother by studying, which I did not. And because, taken far from my books, I found such a premature death, I should like to lie in effigy over my tomb, holding a book between my hands for eternity, to right the wrong I did to those whose taste and advice I ignored…»

Brother and father complied with this last wish, erecting this monument.

The elegant Flamboyant Gothic work we can appreciate in this tomb makes it an outstanding example amongst funeral monuments of its type. Nevertheless, its source of greatest beauty lines in the magnificent alabaster statue of the knight who, armed with sword and dagger, wearing his warrior’s mails and bearing on his chest the red cross of the Knights of Saint James, is portrayed semi-recumbent on his deathbed, in serious but serene posture and expression, lost in reading and meditation on some passage in the book of hours he holds open between his hands. This pose of immortal soldier who puts to one side his sword in order to achieve more eternal victories, is fascinating.

The white, polished alabaster contains bluish veins, giving the sensation that, once his reading is complete, the knight will leave his couch to continue the history of his heroic feats.

The statue is original due to its posture and its naturalism. «The arrangement of the knight’s figure, semi-reclining over the burial stone, and his legs crossed, his busts erect and the right arm supported by a bundle of laurel, is so original, so unique, as to be in it sufficiently interesting to the visitor. But, moreover, the sweet melancholy the statue emanates, the serenity of the subject’s face, the pallid light of the chapel and the absolute silence which reigns all around invite us to meditation and repose».

The Doncel in his tomb, more than a funeral monument appears to be an ode to arms and letters. Letters are symbolized by the book the Doncel is serenely reading, indolently reclining on his right side. Arms find their allegory in the fine mail coat he is wearing, in the steely armour which protects his legs and arms and in the sharp dagger which hangs from his belt. At his feet a lion cub symbolizes immortality. The author of this sculptural marvel is completely unknown. «It is impossible to affirm, writes Don Narciso Sentenach, whether it was carved by Spanish or Italian hand. If Spanish never was alabaster so finely worked by our people, but, whoever was the artist, greater inspiration would be impossible, and I do not believe this statue has its equal anywhere in the world. For me, this is such an outstanding work, so well installed in that chapel, which such appropriate light and such fine tonality, acquired over time, that the whole forms an artistic achievement of the highest order, as well worth the journey to see it as any other great work we may mention».

Unfortunately, and despite all the research and study made, the name of the sculptor who produced this magnificent figure is unknown. The Doncel is ¡not moribund, but is full of life. There is no fatigue in his appearance, but naturalness and peace. This is, without doubt, apart from the masterful sculptural techniques employed, the supreme achievement of the anonymous sculptor in this artistic jewel which alone makes the cathedral and Sigüenza so famed, known as it is as the «City of the Doncel». The Doncel seems to be alive, as if over him and within him winged the impalpable spirit of eternal Spain, paradigm and evocation of the national psyche.

The little pageboys carved on the front of the fam1ous tomb of the Doncel wear short tunics with two similar characteristics to the longer garments fashionable in Burgundy, the two which were conserved longest in time: the silhouette (somewhat loose over the torso, belt lower at the front and rear) and the series of regular folds at fore and rear.

In this same chapel, not far from the Doncel, sleeps his stony sleep his brother, bishop of the Canary Isles (1522), solemn in his richly-decorated official robes.

The adjoining sacristy contains the relieves of their doors.