Magna Counter-Reformation architecture on the Jesuit church model
The temple, of enormous dimensions, represents a faithful exponent of Counter-Reformation spirituality. With a single nave flanked by side chapels that communicate with each other, its magna architecture is expressed in the great cupola that covers the space of the transept.
Although the church of the Gesú in Rome is the model for all the others, other more recent Spanish constructions has influenced the design.
In the deed of foundation of 1602, which specifies the measurements it should have and which correspond to the church built almost 30 metres long, the interest in building the church “in accordance with the one that the said Society has in the city of Palencia” is noted, although in 1605, it was ordered that the layout be taken from the church “that is being made in the College of Alcalá de la Compañía de Jesús, correcting the faults that are noted in it”.
Light for the Eucharist
As a Baroque church, -exponent of Counter-Reformation spirituality- the light is perfectly arranged in a gradual and theatrical way. It concentrates on the places where the Eucharist is exalted. The light is filtered throughout the central nave, leaving the side chapels in semi-darkness to keep all the luminous irradiation in the transept next to the high altar, whose cupola, through its eight windows, pours an abundant light stream over the place devoted to the consecration and veneration of the body of Christ.
The architect Monegro executes the sketch and the Jesuit master Pedro Sánchez executes the project.
The design -following the model of the Jesuit church of the Gesú in Rome and the Spanish churches of Palencia and Alcalá- is attributed to the master builder of the cathedral, Juan Bautista de Monegro. However, the Jesuit brother Pedro Sánchez, who had already demonstrated his ability and capacity, took charge of the construction, initiated in 1629, and who was then commissioned to direct the works in Toledo and the Imperial College in Madrid founded by the Empress Margarita, sister of Philip II. He probably proposed a new layout that involved the reform of the chancel and facade. The first stone was solemnly laid on 10 February 1629. The previous year, 200 rods of ashlars and blocks of stone -from the quarries of Ventas con Peña Aguilera- and more than one hundred thousand bricks had been ordered. Interestedly, the temple began to be built on the facade, in order to safeguard the worship in the original chapel above the house of San Ildefonsus, while the construction was in progress.
Francisco Bautista and the Baroque facade
When Pedro Sánchez died in 1633, he was replaced by another distinguished architect of the company, Brother Francisco Bautista, who had participated in the project for the Ochavo (octagonal part) or chapel of relics in Toledo cathedral. Bautista designed the baroque and daring facade. He transformed Monegro’s mannerist design into a more baroque and daring one. He additionally designed the decorative treatment of the interior with large plaster corbels and high cantilevered cornices, which invigorate the severe and restful conception of classical architecture.
Bartolomé Zumbigo and the Towers
In 1642 the work, which was progressing slowly, was interrupted for lack of resources.
In 1669, the Toledan architect Bartolomé Zumbigo took it up again by. Zumbigo erected the body of the nave and chapels to the height of the cornice, the second floor of the facade where he placed a large window that provides a cascade of light to the nave and the second floor of the towers that would be finished off with their bell towers along with the rest of the facade in 1701.
José Hernández Sierra and the domed transept
It was not until 1752 that work on the church was restarted again under the orders of José Hernández Sierra, -the cathedral’s quantity surveyor from Salamanca-, since until then, the efforts had been placed on the adjacent building destined for a professed house or Novitiate under the dedication of San Eugenio. It was then the turn of the covered transept with its false dome or dome with a wooden armature, over a circular drum covered with plaster on the inside and octagonal brick on the outside, covered with slate slabs from the Guadalupe mountain range. The wooden oriel windows lined with good look materials were the ingenious solution to the ostentatious Baroque domes in Spain, a country immersed in economic crisis and in bankruptcy. Sierra also designed the new sacristy based on the cathedral’s, that of the neighbouring monastery of San Pedro Martyr and that of the Hospital of San Juan Bautista. The work was finally completed in 1765, just two years before the expulsion of the Society of Jesus from Spain by order of Charles III.