We continue our trip to Vitoria to enjoy the latest gargoyles placed around the Cathedral of María Inmaculada.
Remember that the cathedral was built in the Neo-Gothic style (1907-1969) and is known as “Catedral Nueva” (New Cathedral) to distinguish it from the Gothic cathedral of Santa María (“Catedral Vieja” or Old Cathedral). The gargoyles on the north and south sides of the building were sculpted by Manuel and Aurelio Rivas between 1964 and 1965.
The Cathedral of María Inmaculada in Vitoria (Spain).
In this second part on the gargoyles on “Catedral Nueva” we continue to discover and enjoy some surprising and very imaginative gargoyles.
We start with gargoyles of human figures showing a man with a beard and a moustache sitting with bended knees, dressed in a lightweight shirt and holding chains in both hands, a possible reference to a slave, as we saw back in the first post. There’s a bald man, with African features, naked from the waist upwards ― with muscular arms and protruding ribs ―, with his right hand in his mouth and the left holding the garment that covers part of his body; he is sitting with one knee on the ground.
Man with chains.
Semi-naked man with his hand in his mouth.
In this post we continue to see men with utensils or objects in their hands, in the previous post we already saw some with work tools, perhaps a reference to people who worked on building the cathedral.
The first is a man with glasses, also with a beard and moustache, dressed in a wide-sleeved garment that covers his body; he is seated and is holding a reel of cable in his hands. Another dressed in a coat with a fur or fur-lined collar, hat and boots, is holding a pot in both hands.
The next is a bearded man with his right hand behind his ear and apparently clutching an unrecognisable object; in his left hand he holds a book. He is elegantly dressed in a suit and bow tie, beneath him is a big sack of coins. Another, bald and with a beard and moustache, is shown laughing and dressed in a suit and tie. He is seated with a camera in his hands, an image that reminds us of the photographer at Palencia Cathedral (Spain). There’s also a very strange man who is seated with his legs crossed and dressed in a buttoned-up jacket; he is talking on the phone.
Man with a reel of cable.
Man with a pot.
Man with book and sack of coins.
Man with a camera.
Man talking on the phone.
There are also figures that look as if they have come from wartime. A man in a greatcoat appears wearing a gas mask and holding the respirator tube with his right hand. Another with a goatee beard is wearing military-style clothing with baggy trousers and a turban, a belt with a buckle that has a crescent moon engraved on it, plus a scimitar ― a short, curved sabre originally from Turkey ― hanging from his waist. He is holding his hands slightly folded forwards.
The last human figure is a man with flaccid cheeks and ecclesiastical clothing (cassock).
Man with gas mask.
Man with turban.
Man with ecclesiastical clothing.
The gargoyles showing depictions of devils are amazing and very expressive. We start with a devil with a big chin and beard, enormous claws and a swollen belly with belly button; its rear part cannot be seen but it could consist of a large, coiled snake tail, and its muscular arms have plumage on them.
Another is a hybrid of various animal parts, including a eagle beak, sunken eyes, small wings, ears, flaps of skin on the neck, apparently plumage as well, although they could be scales, human legs and a swollen belly with belly button like the previous one; a very peculiar gargoyle. Let’s remember that wings, as a common feature of gargoyles, are an element linked to the devil ― although it can also be shown without them ― as they suggest the idea of fallen angel. From the 9th to the 13th century, the devil was portrayed with feathered wings like those of angels, but darker and shorter. And around the 14th century we start to see the devil with bat’s wings, as described by Dante in his Inferno.
A devil with long, backward-facing horns, claws and bat’s wings; and another with a bird’s body and beak, sheep’s horns and belly with belly button are the last in my compilation and my research on the gargoyles on the Cathedral of María Inmaculada in Vitoria.
Unusual, enigmatic, grotesque, expressive, with a fascinating iconography and admirable craftsmanship. A superb and extraordinary set of gargoyles that I was lucky enough to come across on my trip to Vitoria and that are part of the Basque Country’s priceless artistic heritage.
Winged devil with horns.
LINK, L., El Diablo. Una máscara sin rostro, Madrid, Editorial Síntesis, S. A., 2002.
Doctora en Historia del Arte. Investigadora especializada en el estudio de las gárgolas.