Zahara de la Sierra – Santa María de la Mesa Parish Church
Santa María de la Mesa Parish Church
Santa María de la Mesa Parish Church
The Santa María de la Mesa Parish Church is located in C/ El Fuerte (street), near the Castle and in front of the town Hall, in Zahara de la Sierra.
The construction of the new Zahara church began in 1742. The work was completed in 1779 under the direction of architect Antonio de Figueroa who made the tower, the covers and the portal.
The church is an example of the Andalusian style of religious architecture in the second half of the 18th century, coinciding with the highly decorated and heavily ornamented style of the height of the Baroque period and with the early beginnings of the Neoclasical style. The church´s construction began in 1742 and was first opened for worship in 1779.
The exterior of the church demonstrates and architectural structure laido ut in the form of a Latin cross, with a central nave that is broader and higher than its lateral naves, very much in the style of the basílicas of ancient times but with a crossing or transept. Above the transept is a striking dome, looking like half an orange, covered in tiles separated from each other by lines of glazed ceramic edging, which come together at the highest central point above the keystone of the dome. The unadorned side walls of the church contrast with the façade around the main entrance door, which has rich ornamentation and dynamic lines. The bell tower, which stands at the foot of the right hand nave, is in two parts, the tower and the belfry, echoing a style that is found extensively throughout the archbishopric of Seville in the 18th century.
The Interior of the Church
The Latin cross design is contained within the rectangular shape of the outer walls. From the base of the cross at ground level, the parallel naves of the church stretch ahead of the observer, until one reaches the centre of the church at the transept, the arm that gives the shape of the cross.
Looking up, one can see that the roof at the centre of the transept is in the shape of a hemisphere, divided into eight segments by a series of lines that converge in a centrepiece in the shape of a rose. Standing under the dome, and looking directly ahead, one is facing the focal point of the church, composed of the main chapel and two side chapels. In the central chape lis the great altar of the church.
The Great Altar
The altarpiece is beautifully carved in Wood. It is full of ornamentation and glittering gilding, which magnetically attracts the observer´s eye and draws it in towards the wealth of ornamentation. This display, in the thinking of the Baroque period, sought to attract the faithfull towards God by overwhelming all the senses. The observer is made to see the message of salvation through the abundant imagery displayed all over the altarpiece.
This important piece can be dated to the last third of the 18th century, and may be part of the artistic output of Cayetano de Acosta. Documentary sourcesstate that its pruchase, gilding and installation above the great altar was carried out between 1779 and 1781. Pedro de Cuenca was instrumental in its purchase from the Dominican fathers of Cádiz. The gilding was financed with the 500 ducats left in his will by D. Juan Pineda Tardío, the former parish priest of Zahara de la Sierra. This work was carried out by Master gilder Anselmo de Fuentes.
There is an exceptional 18th century sculpture of Saint María de la Mesa, the Saint to whom the church is dedicated. The virgin is standing, carrying the Child on her left arm, while in her right hand she holds a fruit or a flower. In stylistic terms, the sculpture is an interesting example of the transitional period between the Gothic and early Reanissance. In the side naves are images of St Simon and St Judas Tadeo, patrón saints of the town because both saints´days fell on the same date (28th October, 1483) that the fortress and the town of Zahara were captured from the Muslims.
Choir, Organ and Pulpit
Turning from the crossing to face the opposite end of the church one can admire the choir, the place reserved for the clergy to chant prayers and celebrate divine offices.
The church´s main door is obscured from the viewer by the choir with its simple neoclassical seating, made up of fifteen seats separated by pillars set in a semicircle. In the centre of the semicircle is a round lectern where the books containing the chants of the liturgy were placed. It was made of Flandes pines and beech by Master craftsmen Francisco del Valle and Juan J de Salamanca between 1779 and 1780.
Above the choir, in a gallery near the roof, is the organ, within a simple neoclasical casing that contains the organ pipes.
Finally, against one of the pillars of the transept is the pulpit, a piece made in the 18th century in a vivid design, its outer sides decorated in Chinese style; it is crowned by a canopy on which stands an angel with a trumpet. It was built between 1780 and 1782 by Master woodcarver Juan Sánchez de Castañeda.
Virgen de Comares Altarpiece
San José Altarpiece (1790-1800)
Ntro. Padre Jesús Nazareno
Stmo. Cristo de la Sangre
San Cristobal de Joseph Huelva 1782
Inmaculada Concepción (Talla devocional siglo XX)
Ntra. Sra. de Fátima