VALENCIAN BAROQUE MASTERWORK BOASTS GREATEST FRESCO ART IN SPAIN


The Parish Church of San Nicolás de Bari and San Pedro Mártir in Valencia is home to one of the greatest wonders of fresco painting that Spain has to offer.  This historical parish church is located in the city center and because of an extensive restoration in 2016, this church of worship has now become a tourist and cultural showcase that is being hailed as "The Sistine Chapel of Valencia".

This accolade is not completely logical because San Nicolás is a church with a single nave of six sections, twelve buttress side chapels (two of them are occupied by lateral entrance doors) and a glorious polygonal presbytery facing east. The Sistine Chapel, on the other hand is only a single "chapel" in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope (Vatican City).

In any case, one statement holds truth in the fact that San Nicolás is indeed one of the best examples of the coexistence of 15th century Valenician Gothic architecture revamped into a 17th century spectacular Valencian Baroque masterpiece.




* Report by Arts Historian and Educator , Karla Darocas, Hons. B.A. (SpainLifestyle.com)
* Copyright Karla Darocas 2018* (no part of this text or photos may be replicated)

Like most churches in Spain, the San Nicolás building is sitting on ancient Roman foundations and the first stone was laid by King James I, who donated the place to the Dominicans who accompanied him. The construction of the parish started around 1242 and is included in the first twelve Christian parishes of the city of Valencia after the restoration of the Diocese in 1238.


The Dominicans dedicated the new Parish to Saint Nicholas, patron saint of the Order, as its founder. The miracles of Saint Nicholas are legendary and many but his secret habit of gift-giving gave rise to the model of Santa Claus, which is a whole other story.

Later, an altar was dedicated to San Pedro, who becomes the co-founder, however the church remains popularly known as San Nicolás.

In the middle of the Valenican Golden Age (1419 and 1455), San Nicolás becomes famous when the parish rector Alfonso de Borja, (who becomes Pope Calixto III) canonizes San Vicente Ferrer on June 29, 1455. This gives the church a boost of notoriety and it is fully transformed into a Gothic building with glorious Valenican ribbed vaults in the central nave.


However today, the only visual Gothic architecture that is still preserved from this era is the main portal, which sports a magnificent ogee arch with flared archivolts resting on thin columns free of decoration. Above it rests a Gothic rosette window made around 1455 in the image and likeness of the Star of David. Under the peak of the ogee arch is a strange relief sculpture that looks like a dish but actually represents a miracle performed by San Nicolás, who famously saves some teenage children from an evil baker who has been turning human flesh into meat pies.

The Golden age of Valencia moved towards decline by the end of the 1400's and from 1519-1522 there is a civil war between the nobles and the emboldened guilds, which severely cripples the economy . The Spanish Crown had to take over the situation and create a viceroy to supress the conflict and establish a permanent Royal hand in the city.

However, it was also the age of Renaissance and Valencia was one of the first cities in Spain to catch the trend due to its close ties with Italy via the Borgia. The viceroy court surrounded itself with new ideas and humanism flourished. Valencia was at the cutting edge of the printing press as the ultimate vehicle of modernisation, which entered Spain through Valencia.

But unlike republican, liberal and enlightened Italian Renaissance, Valencia fell into the fervor of the Catholic Church's campaign of Counter-Reformation against the Protestant movement.

This pumped up passion lead to the a great  animosity towards the Moors who were still residing in Valencia. This hostility, plus the recurrent attacks on the coasts by Berber pirates, led to the "Final Solution" expulsion of the Moors from the Spanish Monarchy ordered by King Felipe III and was carried out in the Kingdom of Valencia on September 22, 1609. This event dealt a fatal blow to the city, since much of the agriculture and the local economy was resting on the shoulders of the Moorish population.

This dark period was followed by the plague or Black Death in 1647, which lead the city to religious hysteria and the pompous Baroque Counter-Reformation style.


Between 1690 and 1693 the Valencian Gothic interior of Saint Nicholas is covered with Baroque decoration by architect Juan Bautista Pérez Castiel who covers the vaults, pillars and walls with sgraffito , stucco and reliefs.

Between 1697 and 1700, maestro Antonio Palomino, chamber painter of King Carlos II, was invited to Valenica to execute the fresco painting and together with his Valencian disciple Dionís Vidal they design the complex iconography that is skillfully adapted to the architectural space based on the miracles and lives of San Nicolás de Bari and San Pedro Mártir, plus allegories of the Virtues.


Both painters are portrayed in the gable wall, just to the right of the large rose window.

In the High Altar is composed of two sections flanked by Solomonic columns. An inferior one that contains sculptures of the two Parish saints. The upper part shows a painting of the Virgin and Child, a work by the Valencia master Jacinto de Espinosa. Above the alter in the sky vault is a fresco that represents the Glory of San Nicolás and San Pedro Mártir.

lateral chapels * upper fresco of St. Nicholas reviving three children
who had been butchered in an inn to be cooked.
The church is surrounded by chapels. The Chapel of San Dionisio is of course an altarpiece in the image of San Dionisio, however on the altar is the most beautiful tempera on panel icon of the Virgin of Perpetual Help.

Other chapels include the Chapel of San José,  Chapel of San Rafael Arcángel, Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Chapel of San Antonio de Padua, Baptismal Chapel, Chapel of San Vicente Ferrer, Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Chapel of San Judas Tadeo, Chapel of Blessed Gaspar Bono and the Chapel of the Crucifixion.

While all of these interior lateral chapels are full of fabulous visual art and sculptures, it is the exterior chapel, the Chapel of Communion that is delicate and pretty. Restored in 2013 back to its 1760's glory, which was practically in ruins, it is a rectangular nave with two sections separated by a toral arch.

Each section is covered with dome on pendentives (a triangular segment of a spherical surface to support a dome) and its interior is covered with rococo decoration in plaster. Gold leaf covers the walls, the pilasters and the cornices. On the pendentives of the entrance dome are the four cardinal virtues while the pendentives of the dome closest to the High Altar are the four evangelists.

Note the ceramic 18th c shield on the arch that separates the sections. It belongs to the patron of the chapel, a nobel family man named Melchor Valenciano, who had his house not very far from the Church.

The High Altar presides over an image of Our Lady of the Desamparados (Homeless) located in a baroque altarpiece.


During the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, San Nicolás suffered a lot of serious damage. Many of the chapels were destroyed and the temple itself was looted and eventually converted into a warehouse.

Finally, in 1981 San Nicolás was declared a National Historic Artistic Monument and shortly after began the architectural and pictorial restoration under the patronage of the Hortensia Herrero Foundation whose magnificent results allow us to marvel at San Nicolás in all its splendor.

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