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Church of Saint Saturnin
Zalduondo has been since time immemorial on a crossroad that has made this town an inevitable crossing for pilgrims of the Camino de Santiago and for muleteers and merchants who moved around the area. Its proximity to the pass of San Adrián, the natural border between Álava and Guipúzcoa, located in the Aitzgorri mountains, turned it into the gateway to Álava. It is no wonder that there was a pilgrim hospital in the past, and also a powerful guild of hawkers that was in charge of examining the dimensions of the products in the prosperous markets of the surroundings. The wealth generated by this bustle of travellers attracted the great families of Álava, who settled in the area and built the palaces that we can now see throughout the town.
Church of Saint Saturnin
Located on a hill in the heart of Zalduondo, the parish church of Saint Saturnin awaits us. This French saint, deeply rooted in the roads to Santiago, tells us about the connection between Zalduondo and the Jacobean route.
The main altarpiece of the temple is dedicated to him. It is the indisputable highlight of the church, which was built during the 17th century. We can see the crossover of two different styles on this altarpiece: on one hand, the romanism of the sculptor Pedro de Ayala, and on the other, the classic taste of the frame.
The titular figure of the temple is in the middle of the altarpiece: Saint Saturnin dressed as a bishop. Next to him, some scenes tell us about his life, such as the baptism to the faithful, his imprisonment, the flagellation and finally his calvary, which consisted in tying him up a bull to descend a flight of steps at full speed. These scenes coexist with others of the life of Christ that are quite similar to the biography of Saint Saturnin, like the fall on the route to the calvary or the flagellation. But there are also scenes of the Virgin Mary, such as the Annunciation and the Visitation, and some other saints and apostles. The image of Saint James as a pilgrim stands out, due to its connection with the Jacobean roads.
Although the altarpiece is a later addition, the structure of the church announces that it was entirely built throughout the 16th century, right in the Alavese Renaissance. Nevertheless, we can still find some Late Gothic elements that were still relevant in that century. This is the case of the facade, partially destroyed due to the placing of an inner door that damaged part of the original door. Its upper part is hidden behind the barn, which was built just above the portico in the 18th century.
If we head to the sacristy, we will see a space that consists of two sections of vaults of intermediate ribs held by corbels decorated with angels’ heads. Today, it has been transformed into a small museum of the temple. We can find a choirbook among its most valuable pieces, and, specially, two wooden carvings of medieval chronology that were found buried under the church floor. One of them can be identified as Saint Marina, a Galician saint who was very popular on the roads to Santiago. She could have been the main image of a hermitage that disappeared during the 19th century. The vestments of the other figure reveal that he is a monk, although his identity is unknown. It could be a representation of Saint Saturnin of Tolosa, titular figure of the temple, or perhaps Saint Blaise, who was the advocation of another hermitage in town dedicated to this saint.
In the choir, we find one of the most beautiful examples of Renaissance sculpture in the Alavese Plains. On both sides, there is a relief of the Annunciation in Romanist style, sculpted under the influence of the models that came from Italy and, specially, of the exaggerated musculature and the expressive gestures of Michelangelo.
In the scene of Mary, we see the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove, also accompanied by the child carrying a cross, who is going to incarnate in her womb. The area below the choir only has a carved keystone in the whole set, where the Immaculate is seen surrounded by flames and crowned by stars, with the moon at her feet and with the Franciscan cord knotted around the scene.
Iglesia de San Saturnino de Tolosa de Zalduondo
De las fotografías actuales: © Alava Medieval / Erdi Aroko Araba
De las fotografías antiguas: Gerardo López de Guereñu, Archivo del Territorio Histórico de Álava.