viernes, 11 de noviembre de 2016

The restoration of Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá of Lobatera Parish Church: Cultural Heritage of Táchira and Romanesque Revival Architecture

Written by Samir A. Sánchez (2016)
Photographs by Darío Hurtado, Jhonn Benítez Colmenares, Vilma Zambrano, Samir A. Sánchez, Kevin Vásquez, Sonia Becerra van der Linden and Hubert van der Linden (2016)

To the Memory of My Beloved, the Great-aunt and Schoolmistress, Delfina Sandoval Zambrano (Lobatera, December 24, 1901 – San Cristóbal, January 21, 1992).

“A church [is] the only thing worthy of representing the soul of a people, for religion is the most elevated reality in man." Antonio Gaudí, 1852-1926.

“Le patrimoine est un miroir qui nous renvoie l'image d'un passé d'autant plus captivant qu'il est assurément mort.” Pierre Nora (1931), French cultural historian, Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire, 1989

Complete text is presented in English, in print, under the headline ‘History and Art of a Romanesque Revival Architecture in Latin America: Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá’s Parish Church Building (Lobatera, Táchira State, Venezuela),’ in Paramillo Review 4 (2018), pp. 173-206, issue.

From the architectural point of view, the church of Lobatera can truthfully be described as particularly successful. The embodiment of the Romanesque revival mastery and classical architecture of the church and the main facade of Pbr. Pedro María Morales and local master builder Jesús Uzcátegui's masterpiece: The Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá of Lobatera’s Parish Church, has finally emerged from under scaffolding following months of an in-depth restoration work. Next year the facade celebrates its 109th anniversary all the former church save the facade with its twin towers and the new church building its 50th anniversary.


A view Lobatera Parish Church and its shimmering facade with scaffolding. Includes Il campanile or the Bell tower (left) and the Clock tower (right). Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2016.

Late Roman or Early Byzantine landscape, Divine inspiration in the early 20th-century... Roman Catholic Church dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá (‘Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Chiquinquirá’, Spanish name) in Lobatera (Táchira State - Venezuela). Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2018

This Parish Church dominates the town of Lobatera. The town sits at the juncture of valleys amid Andes mountains in the historic region of Lobatera in northern Táchira State, Diocese of San Cristóbal (Dioecesis Sancti Christophori in Venetiola, erected by the Apostolic Constitution Ad munus, 1922), in Venezuela-South America.

It is a Roman Catholic Church (Cultural Heritage of the Church), dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá (‘Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Chiquinquirá’, Spanish name). Finished and re-dedicated in 1967, it is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of severity and dignity, or the Roman ideals of severitas and dignitas, in the Tachiran ecclesiastical architecture (and is among the largest and most well-known church buildings in Romanesque revival style in Táchira State and a Venezuela Heritage Site). This interpretation implies that Lobatera religious building conveys monumental grandeur, combined with simplicity of decoration—in a statement: ΄simplicity in construction, severity in the whole, nobility without arrogance, majesty without ostentation (Philip II of Spain about El Escorial Royal Palace, Madrid, letter-instruction to the building designer Juan de Herrera, AD 1567)

The historic centre of Lobatera combines art and history…. The town of Lobatera is based on the original Spanish town of 'Villa de Lobatera', founded in AD 1593. The town's boundaries have remained almost constant since the 16th-century and it is often called ‘The Old Colonial Town’. An aerial view of town and church, Historic Centre of Lobatera. (Photograph by Yusmila Girón's Facebook, 2016)

Monumental... on a small scale: The Church in Statistics

Similar in plan to those of the Middle Age -and similar to the building enterprise at Chartres (13th-century, France)- the church building and its architectural lines would not seem out of place if set down among the great Romanesque churches and cathedrals of Europe, in the 11th and 12th centuries. Its beauty and purity of design equal the best of the ancient world.

The large-scale building occupies an important and awe-inspiring viewpoint high above east side of the town square, the Bolívar Square (Old Plaza Mayor or Main Square) in the Historic Quarter of Lobatera. Through its great size or impact indelibly modify the townscape, a Christian masterpiece preserved at the heart of a Tachiran town.

In structure, the church is precisely aligned with the direction in which the sun rises (east) and the sun sets (west), above a terrace or raised bank of ground covering an area of 1,116 sq m (12,011.36 sq ft).

Retaining wall: Height, 1.70 m (5.57 ft) to 3.23 m (10.59 ft) ft; length, 62 m (203.41 ft), north and south sides; width 18 m (59.05 ft), east and west sides.

Foundations of Building: 3.5 m (11.48 ft) to 6 m (19.68 ft) to bedrock below original grade.

Height of Building: 30 m (98.42 ft) above top of foundations; 33 m (108.26 ft) above grade at foot of retaining wall.

Roman Doric colonnade: Number of columns, 40 plus 4 in entrance (outer); 4 great pillars (below dome) and 12 lowest pillars in the aisles and chapels.

Windows: 10 paired windows capped by round arches and decorated with moulding, and 20 coloured stained glasses.

Bays: 32 units, square or rectangular spaces enclosed by groin vaults (nave and side aisles), and barrel vaults (chapels).

Form: Church of pilgrimage with nave and side aisles, and rectangular apse.

Height of Towers: 25 m (82 ft) above terrace of retaining wall; foundations 3.5 m (11.48 ft) to 6 m (19.68 ft) to bedrock below original grade at foot of retaining wall.

Height of polygonal Dome: 30 m (98.42 ft) from the floor of the High altar to the dome highest part.

In the misty distance... a bit of History

Since 1593, four successive churches have stood on this site -to date-. Three earthquakes (1610, 1849 and 1875) led to the destruction of those old churches and building of this church by 20th-century. This geologically turbulent Tachiran Andean region has always lived with risk.

The religious building, as we see it, spanned -its construction- two long stages or phases: 1906-1914, facade, twin towers and old building; 1949-1967, new building and Romanesque revival polygonal dome. In this last phase, two generations of masons and craftsmen -from villages of Lobatera Municipality- who worked on it over a period of almost 18 years, took turns one time per week. The project then came to a halt in 1958 and it was taken up again four years later.

Inseparable from the church, inside, it is preserved an ancient oil paint.  A painting of the Virgin Mary known as 'Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Chiquinquirá de Lobatera' (Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá, of Lobatera), dating from 1621. 

A Spanish Colonial Art Masterpiece born from the Spanish mysticism of early 17th century that guided the reader or observer toward a spiritual union with God through contemplation of Christ, God made man, from the meditation of His mysteries and from their shining forth in the Virgin Mary and in the saints Andrew the Apostle and Anthony of Padua. Oil on canvas artwork of Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá of Lobatera, dates from the AD 1621. Anonymous, 41.73 x 41.73 in (1.06 x 1.06 cm). This painting is celebrated for its academic art, gorgeous beauty, precise drawing, naturalness and radiance, with brush-marks radiating across the canvas in lavish density. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2012. The painting as it looks without glass)

The point of all these stylistic building is the fact they happened at all, with such intensity. Here was a culture deeply interested in the spectacular beauty, art and architecture were one.

The initial neoclassical facade and Spanish Colonial building design was provided by Pbr. Pedro María Morales (1875-1925) and Jesús Uzcáteguia Parish priest and Master builder respectively, and was dedicated by Mgr. Antonio Ramón Silva, Bishop of Mérida, on February 26, 1908. Uzcátegui based its facade on a building shown in a Spanish translation of an ancient Roman book on architecture by Vitruvius (70-25 BC, Roman architect and engineer). True, a thesaurus of the art of classical Roman architecture.  

The present-day Romanesque revival building was rebuilt by Mgr. Manuel García Guerrero, Parish priest; Fr. Leonardo González C.Ss.R., Architect and Mr. Ricardo Ruiz, Master builder, for Lobatera Parish Second Centennial 1767-1967, and was consecrated by Mgr. Alejandro Fernández Feo, Bishop of San Cristóbal, on November 18, 1967. The Romanesque revival High altar or Mensa Domini (altar of Antique Roman sunny-yellow marble) is directly under the centre of the dome and it was consecrated with saint martyrs Theophanous, Perpetua, Gaudius and Heliodorus of Pamphylia sacred remains (inserted in the altar stone -lipsanotheca or reliquary-). In like manner, the altar stone surface is marked with five Greek crosses, remembering the unction or anointing of the High altar.  

Conservation Architect Sonia Becerra van der Linden supervises the works. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2016)

Facade and embellishment

Placing religious building in an art historical context, the facade -at the beginning of the 20th century- was embellished by ‘alarife’ (Master builder) Jesús Uzcátegui (born in Ejido, Mérida State, c. 1878), with symmetrical Roman and Greek classical features and verticality of composition; central door, lateral doors with aedicule framing motifs, columns, pedestals and stylobates with moulded and lobated frames fill the spaces in between, and take the shape of a Roman triumphal arch.

It has three arched half-round doors or portals and Roman Doric, fluted shaft, paired, twinned and attached columns of majestic verticality, and Tuscan rusticated shaft and attached pilasters that correspond to the three side aisles and nave of the church. The metopes external decoration which alludes to symbols of Christ, is available from the main facade and each door has a name: ‘Puerta del Corazón de Jesús’ (Sacred Heart) on the north door (left); ‘Puerta de Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Chiquinquirá’ (Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá) on the central door or main doorway to the church, and ‘Puerta de la Eucaristía’ (The Eucharistic Chalice and Host) on south door (right). At the same time -in certain sense- these gates served as the triumphal gate (Porta Triumphalis), a special symbolic function by invoking the meaning of passage from a present-day town (civitas terrena) to the City of God (civitas sancta), accessing to the Church as the triumphal territory (territorium triumphalis). 

The first early Renaissance artist who used a Doric frieze with triglyph (three vertical grooves) and metopes with religious sculptural decoration was Donato Bramante with the Tempietto, in the cloister of San Pietro in Montorio. This building was a commission of the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand of Aragón and Isabella of Castile, in Rome, AD 1502. This building is a true masterpiece of Renaissance classical architecture and its Christian reinvention.

In that architectural context, the sculptural reliefs of the Eucharist (on the right door lintel) and the Sacred Heart (on the left door lintel) were copied from an old Roman missal and breviary cover (published in the 1880s), illustrated by German Frater Max Schmalzl C. Ss. R. (Falkenstein 1850 - Gars am Inn 1930). [Stahlstich A. Pickel sculps. Nº 308 Sumptibus Fr. Pustet Ratisbonae: Thypography Pontificii Déposé; Christus mit dem ungläubigen Thomas, Fr. Max Schmalzl C. Ss. R. inventur. (The Doubting Thomas, Jn 20:19-29. Steel engraving Image: Jesus appears and invites Thomas to touch his wounds. Fr. Max Schmalzl C. Ss. R. inv.)]

The Lobatera Parish Church occupies an important and awe-inspiring viewpoint high above east side of the Bolívar Square (The Old Plaza Mayor or Main Square) in the Historic Quarter of Lobatera. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2016)

The addition of an extra story (of 1967) to the traditional central nave elevation of the interior was an exceptionally important event, these magnificent vaults increased the building height. So then, the main facade encloses a true Roman arch of triumpharchitecturally, this arch resembled the Arch of Constantine, Rome, circa AD 315 and the Arc de Berà, Tarragona, Spain, circa 10 BCframed by a pairs of Roman twin towers and displays a great variety of openings and complex arrangement of entablatures, balustrades, finials (on aedicule frame lateral doors) and diversified classic arches including a majestic openwork rose window or Catherine window (mounted in a circular pattern of radiating and interlocking lines or radial rotated tracery -window have no glass but only fretwork moulding from the stucco decoration-) under a round or curved cornice, and within of tympanum, surrounded by a glory, appears a quaint ornamental figure: The All-seeing Eye of Divine Providence. The round cornice was inspired by the classical facade of Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais Church, Paris-France (17th-century).


Notable for its elegant proportions, the imafronte or upper part of Lobatera Parish Church facade has a round or curved cornice, paired Roman Doric fluted columns with hypotrachelium ornaments; frieze with alternating triglyphs and metopes with discs of overlapping coin-like forms or the aegis (a shield of goatskin), an Athena's symbol, the Goddess of Wisdom in Greek mythology and art, and original openwork rosette window or Catherine window subdivided by complex tracery constructed using a technique called radial rotated tracery. This upper part is a section inspired by the architectural and classical facade of Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais Church, Paris-France, dating from 17th-century. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2016)

The facade also contains epigraphic inscriptions between lengthened frontage window frames with crossette -lateral extension of the architrave mouldings-, and round cornice at the top of windows: north tower, ‘Levantada por disposición del Pbro. Pedro María Morales’ (Edificated by Pbr. Pedro María Morales); south tower, ‘Lobatera, 29 de mayo de 1914’ (Lobatera May 29th, 1914) and, on the main door or portal, ‘Dedicado a N. S. del R. de Chiquinquirá Año /1908’ (Dedicated to O[ur] L[ady] of [the] R[osary] of Chiquinquirá, AD 1908).

Workmen in the process of carrying on repairs to the Lobatera Parish Church (facade) to restore it to their original forms. A view of a Neo-Baroque balustrade (of 1967) with baluster-shafts, finial (cauldron goblet of 1908) at the top of a pediment with raking cornice. The view here is of the lateral door (north). Overlooking the pediment, horizontal cornice with frieze and alternating triglyphs and metopes with discs of overlapping coin-like forms, discs of overlapping coin-like forms or the aegis (a shield of goatskin), an Athena's symbol, the Goddess of Wisdom in Greek mythology and art, and Roman Doric capitals. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2016)

The Art of Sketching... Some sketches or drawings for the Lobatera Paris Church polychrome facade restoration work, with the more important details and the minor details. (Photographs by Arch. Sonia Becerra van der Linden and Arch. Hubert van der Linden, 2016)

Towers... stone and clay mix, and its transformation into art

The Lobatera Parish Church towers, distinguished by two Roman twin towers [25 m (82 ft) high, the height is four times the base width], evokes the mausoleum of the Julii Family (40-30 BC) in St. Remy-de-Provence, France. However, the real source of inspiration for Uzcátegui was the Mérida Metropolitan Cathedral bell tower (built in 1868, Mérida State).

The proportions of the Lobatera towers reveal the elementary arithmetic relationship of the parts which contribute to its harmonious composition, and its traditional local-style church building foundations [solid foundations of load-bearing stones, with approximate 3.5 m (11.48 ft) below the surface] were constructed with stone masonry and the pouring of the clay mix

The surface of internal tower walls exposed a construction massive, with rubble-work, quoins and stone dressing, a Roman masonry called also 'opus incertum' in four stages, and an old winch lifted materials to the masons and bricklayers.
The Bell tower was completed in 1908 and the Clock tower construction fell four years behind schedule and the tower was finally completed in 1914.

This rustic nobility... the surface of internal tower walls exposed a construction massive, with rubble-work, quoins and stone dressing, a Roman masonry called also 'opus incertum' in four stages. The smaller rocks and smaller stones stabilize the walls. (Clock Tower. Photograph by Samir A. Sánchez, 2013)

Like the turn-of-the-fifteenth-century Italian architect Leon Battista Alberti, Master builder laid out in the Lobatera Church’s towers beauty and property. Alberti once wrote, But whoever would erect a Tower best fitted for resisting the injuries of Age, and at the same time extremely delightful to behold, let him upon a square basis, raise a round superstructure... making the Work less and less by degrees, according to the proportions observed columns.’ (Leon Battista Alberti, The Architecture of Leon Battista Alberti in Ten Books, Printed by Edward Owen, London, 1755, p. 569)

An 1894 McShane bell… ‘La Chiquinquirá’ (Great Chiquinquirá) is the Big Bell of Lobatera Parish Church. It was cast by the Baltimore, MD bell-founding firm of McShane Bell Foundry (Established in 1856) and it arrived in Lobatera in November 1894 (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2015)

So, each church tower was designed in geometric layers beginning with a rectangle on the bottom, followed by two cubes (with bevelled edges) with Tuscan rusticated shaft attached and Roman Doric plain shaft engaged columns, carefully finished, and placed at the angles. The last stage is an octagon with small Doric engaged angular attached columns, covered by a round onion-dome (influenced by the Central and Eastern European architecture, e.g. the Bell Tower of Oristano's Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy, 14th-century) and spire is topped with a large grille-work and forged iron Latin cross [1.76 m (5.77 ft) high].

Grillework -and forged- iron Latin cross over onion-dome. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2016)

At the same time, these towers not only are a landmark in Lobatera but also house a peal of four bells and an old clock. The Clock tower (south) has a bell and mechanical clock powered by pendulum/weights that descend 4.5 m (16 ft). It is the oldest public clock in the Táchira State, since 1913 and it has into the clock chamber a machine elaborated by E. Howard & Co. Boston, Massachusetts USA. The bell was strike on the hour, half an hour, and quarters or quarter-hour.  

Il campanile or the Bell tower (north), or belfry, has a centenarian carillon-quadrillion, four old bell bronze used in the Roman Catholic tradition, installed in 1860, 1872 (two) and 1894.


Clock Tower on the southern end of Lobatera Parish Church stands among scaffoldings.(Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2016)

The Great Dome... spirituality in brick and concrete

In the background, an octagonal and golden ribbed dome over the High altar and behind the chancel arch is supported by four compound piers (rectangular pillars unfluted with fluted shafts columns attached), half-round arches and pendants, to translate a square bay into a suitable octagonal base or drum with two story: tall groups of windows capped by half-round arches and surmounted by an oculus, and four-lobed shapes, oeil-de-boeuf or eye-shaped, that flood the interior with light; a hemispherical cupola decorated with pale yellow ceramic tiles (up-and-over panels spanning between the ribs) and entablature. All is held in place by standard brick walls and eight external/internal large ribsand lantern with an imposing Latin cross with trefoil terminations. 

Moreover, to effect of loads, octagon-shape is the best or most favourable building because its elements of structure are to resist axial loading by gravity and to resist transverse loading by lateral wind or earthquake. 

Workmen repairs the steep Dome. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2016)

Moreover, inspired by Martyria architecture (Latin singular noun, martyrium and Greek martyrion) and the Byzantine architecture–synthesizing eastern and western early Christian traditionsis flanked by two pastophoria (παστοφόρια, lateral or subsidiary chapels) wings and the sacristy building with three rooms, the first room (central) called Priests' sacristy; the second room (right) Servers' sacristy and the third room (left), Work sacristy.

Constructed of cast iron and reinforced concrete, the polygonal dome of Lobatera Parish Church rises to a total height of 30 m (98.5 ft high) from the floor of the High altar to the top of the external cross and shapes the environment within which Lobateran people, mostly non-expert in matter architectural, conduct their everyday live

This old-fashioned design is perceived by authors like Hoffmann as “a cosmological reference”, the cube and the sphere. The cube symbolizes the order of the universe and the sphere symbolizes its physical form. (Hoffmann,V., Der Geometrische Entwurf der Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Peter Lang, Berlin,Germany, 2005) 

Hail, chime on, chime on... The Lobatera Church Clock Dials (since 1913). Each dial contains separate pieces of pot opal glass, a type of glass with an opaque finish. The hour figure of four o'clock is shown by the Roman numeral IV, rather than IIII, as is more very often used on clock dials. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2013).

Eight independent supporting arches -heavy ribs- and masonry webbing mould its exterior shape and this echoes the interior eight-sided vault. The vaulted ceilings of Lobatera Church were done without wood-frame or iron-frame, allowing to observe directly these artistic ceilings from the outside. 

A whole structural and aesthetic design provides continuous supportability: arches and pendentives support the weight and thrust of the ribbed dome and transfer the load to piers and foundations. In this respect, it is said that Anthemius of Tralles (c. 474 - c. 534) Byzantine mathematician and architect, metaphorically wrote, ΄The arch never ever sleeps΄ because the arch permanently shoves against its vertical and structural supports, and this is one of the lynchpins of the architecture and structural design. 

An insights into the functional structure and examined the inter-relationships between ecclesiastical architecture, liturgical design and old ceremonies in Lobatera Parish Church, we encounter that the dome –built between 1949 and 1952- was designed to admit an eastern light shaft on the High altar, through one of the East facing drum windows, on a significant time of ancient Roman Catholic liturgical days (solemnities, feasts, and memorials) in the Latin and Eastern Rite (before the Second Vatican Council changes, 1962-1965).

Over and above the iconic shape… The perceived greatness of Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá de Lobatera’s Church dome–from the inside–is a product of the perfect harmony of austere forms and geometry. (Photograph by Samir Sánchez, 2013)

Looking up at the great dome -and Lady Chapel- of Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá of Lobatera's Church. The arches that support this dome are angled over four compound piers, taking the thrust of the high-rise masonry along their length. The arches and pendentives support the weight of the ribbed dome and transfer the load to piers and foundations. In this respect, it is said that Anthemius of Tralles Byzantine architect, metaphorically wrote, ΄The arch never ever sleeps΄ because the arch permanently shoves against its vertical and structural supports. This is one of the lynchpins of architecture and structural design. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2016)

According to the earliest form of the celebration of the Mass -in its solemn form (High Mass)-, a significant time was the third hour of day, Missam de Tertia or Tertia Hora (Canonical hours), during which the Holy Ghost, e.g., present-day Epiclesis of sanctification: 'we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dew-fall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ' descended to sanctify the offerings –the Offertory- presented to the Lord, the Almighty by the priest in front of the High altar, in missa (in Mass). This central liturgical rite necessitated the incidence of a light shaft -in bright, orange to yellow- on the offerings resembling the descent of the Holy Spirit.

In order for this to occur, the dome orientation (windows) was determined by the old liturgical timekeeping method. The third hour corresponded always to the middle of the morning (9:00 am). Thus, the morning sunlight or radiant beam light falling towards the High altar in the manner outlined above and the smoke of burning incense, were combined to create a spiritual and sacred effect of a continuous shines brightly as a symbol of the prayer of the faithful rising to God.

The Great Dome of Lobatera Parish Church stands lonely among buildings and landscapes. A famous image that became a Lobateran symbol. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2016)

Serene on the inside...

Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá’s Parish Church is one of the earliest examples of Tachiran Romanesque revival architecture and an excellent example of the basilica form with rectangular apse, and similar structure to Romanesque Roman Catholic Cathedral of Šibenik City ('Katedrala sv. Jakova', Cathedral of St. James), south-western Croatia, begun early 15th-century.

The geometry of the main floor plan is shaped like a Latin cross, with a long and high nave. The basic design or diagram of Lobatera Parish Church stars with a rectangle and one circle such as the Church of Panagia Chalkeon, Thessaloniki; an 11th-century Byzantine church in the northern Greek with a cross-in-square or crossed-dome plan, and the Romanesque Basilica-Abbey of Saint-Sernin (Toulouse, France), ca. AD 1080.

Dominating the skyline of Lobatera, the facade of the Parish Church was artistically illuminated... a success response that addresses the impact of this architectural heritage over town. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2016)

Monumental, witty even, the outside is fine for architectural studies. It looks like a hierarchically additive ordering of volumes expressive of the interior spatial order, displaying the modular additive composition of Romanesque volumetric arris or groin vault modules or bays. 

The interior is divided in three long spaces: nave and aisles, and eight chapels all right-angled. There exists an early Tachiran example (in religious large structures) of the use of mathematical precision: all chapels –formed by barrelled or tunnel, and square groined vault- are unvarying, uniforms; all chapels have bilateral symmetry, and they are proportionally integrated (according to their size) and related with the nave and aisles. In a certain sense, these chapels are probably a didactic work of art about the revival of classical forms of an architecture and design based on proportion, perspective and mathematics into conformity with the old style of 15th-century Italian architect Filippo Brunelleschi.  

The nave consists of a long series of square bays or segments, and the lower vaults of the aisles are doubled up, two to each nave bay, to conform to these volumes. This long central part –of seven modules- and lower side aisles (with lunettes and quarter-round barrel vaults or kind buttress of solid structure as continuous support system for nave) were covered with groin vaults supported on transverse arches, arcades with half-round arches and Roman Doric fluted columns and noble pilasters with heavy grooves. All groin vaults have sculptured oak leaves rosette keystones. In mediaeval construction time, the oak leaves were associated with strength and endurance.

The behavior of candles light in the interior of the magnificent structure of the Lobatera Church and its Romanesque revival architecture. The lighting of the paschal candle is a traditional Easter observance in the Lobatera Parish Church, since 1593. The paschal candle is lighted from flint on the night of Holy Saturday and all other candles in the church are lit by fire from this candle. In the Roman Catholic religiousness, the paschal candle represents Christ’s person and its flame symbolizes his resurrection as 'the light of the world' [Ego sum lux mundi, qui sequitur me, non ambulat in tenebris, sed habebit lumen vitae. Joannes 8:12]. The passing of the light to the congregation symbolizes Christ’s giving of his life to his faithful believers. Most solemn Easter service of the Lobatera Vigil 2017 is depicted and it was observed on the night of Holy Saturday with the blessing of the new fire. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2017)

The Church restored facade and the Holy Week in Lobatera. Accompanied by marching bands, Lobateran Roman Catholic brotherhoods and penitents carry a statue of Jesus carrying the cross (Spanish baroque sculpture from AD 1799), during a Great Week procession, Holy Wednesday 2017. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2017)

Patronal Festival celebrating the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá, Lobatera, November 18, 2017. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2017)

A sectional axonometric shows three stages of the central nave from a granite floor: arcade, windows illuminating triphorium (with miniature arcade) and clerestorey windows. They admit natural light for the creation of an atmosphere supportive of the Divine Office and the celebration of the Eucharist.

The system of ritual lighting -orientation towards east and west- involved the nave, aisles, chapels and dome design, as well as the proportions of the church interior in respect to the way its various spaces ought to be viewed. So, on entering the church there is a controlled tropical light with contrast between light and shade, particularly between the nave, side aisles and chapels. 

Like other basilicas of the Christianity, the centrepiece of the church is the High altar and Lady Chapel... Lobatera Parish Church interior, Romanesque revival High altar (directly under the centre of the dome, saint martyrs Theophanous, Perpetua, Gaudius and Heliodorus of Pamphylia relics are inserted in the altar stone or 'Mensa Domini'), bema and Lady Chapel with Aedicule divided in pediment, tympanum, ornate frieze with tablet-flowers, Roman Doric capital and pedestal. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, Saint Lucia or Saint Lucy's Day, 13 December 2014)

This appears to be due in part to the opacity of coloured stained glass [not many, but enough. Made in 1967, in Cali, Casa Velasco Vitrales, since 1948] of aisle windows, in contrast with rosette or Catherine window of the front facade, and half-pointed arched windows of triphorium and clerestorey (such as Roman thermal windows) defined by semi-circular opening with internal semicircular rose windows.

Heavenly illumination or the spiritual and mysterious quality of light… The Lobatera Parish Church windows with stained glass (Photograph by Engr. Kevin Vásquez, 2016).

In this context, part of the remarkable and exemplary Romanesque revival style stained glass in Táchira State, can be seen as its medieval creators intended the light transmitted through translucent glasses, in Lobatera Parish Church. Spreading vivid colours and wonderful characterization over a delicate and vulnerable glass, mounted in a metal framework, the 20 aisles windows show the use of the biblical and mystical symbolism and the Early Christian Art symbols.

Sunshine in white, yellow and blue... the restored Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá's Church, Lobatera. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2017)

The windows were treated as complementary pairs and the stained glasses are integrated with the architecture. They depict the still waters (Psalm 23); lilies of the valley (Song of Solomon); dove (Mark 1:10); a whirlwind and tongues of fire (Acts 2); bread and wine (Luke 22:17-20) of Eucharistic doctrine; grapevines and sheaves (Exodus 39:24); censers and cruets (Exodus 30:7-10); fishes; crosses and lambs, and the combined Greek letters chi and rho (Χ and Ρ, the first two letters of the Greek spelling of Christ, as a monogram). All these shapes were made with a highly sense of composition and colour. 

For that matter, a St. John of Damascus's remark explains: 'The image is a memorial, just what words are to a listening ear. What a book is to literate, than an image is to the illiterate. The image speaks to the sight as words to ear; it brings us understanding.' (M.H. Allies, St. John Damascene on Holy Images, London and Philadelphia, 1898, p. 19, Migne, PG, XCIV, col. 1248)

Therefore, ritual space, image and divinity were explained -equally- in a treatise by Procopius of Caesarea (500–565), De Aedificiis (On the Buildings, Book I, 61). He describes this architecture and this liturgical design as:

And whenever anyone enters this church to pray, he understands at once that it is not by any human power or skill, but by the influence of God, that this work has been so finely turned. And so his mind is lifted up toward God and exalted, feeling that He cannot be far away, but must especially love to dwell in this place which He has chosen.  

Soaring height and unity of style... The Lobatera Parish Church building's interior exhibits a severe purity of line. It is divided -from axial 'altar de la Virgen de Chiquinquirá' (Lady Chapel)- in three long spaces with nave arcades, groin vaults and transverse arches; aisles with quarter-round barrel vaults and transverse arches, and eight chapels with barrel vaults, all right-angled. There is a controlled light with contrast between light and shade, particularly between the nave, side aisles and chapels -and surmount the stringcourses- through the clerestorey windows, windows illuminating triphorium (with miniature arcade) and aisle windows. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2016)

Restoration... shows a town waking up to the History

Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá’s Parish Church has spent the past 4 months (August-November 2016) in scaffolding for refurbishment purposes, and now is fully visible again to keep it standing for the next several hundred years. So then the painstaking job of restoration of Lobatera Church -one of the most famous facades in the Táchira State and iconic legend of old Tachiran ecclesiastical architecture- is finally over. This building has re-entered the Tachiran culture now.

Repair of an ornamental and mixtilinear moulding (facade lobed frame) badly damaged. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2016)

A project of further refurbishment and maintenance began in 2012 by Parish Priest Oscar Fuenmayor and it received strong feedback from the national, regional and local Governments in 2016. The Conservation Architect Sonia Becerra van der Linden directed and inspected the restoration work. The works were preceded by a comprehensive condition survey and conservation report that restored many architectural details to their original splendor

The design solution included the complete re-roofing of the facade and the replacement of inappropriate polychromy and cement external render with lime render, i.e.the work needed reflects the age of the facade: an old religious fabric early 20th-century.   


Triglyphs and metopes with pelta (a small crescent-shaped Thracian shield, Ancient Greece). The Lobatera Parochial Church pelta (from Latin, nominative plural peltae. In Greek mythology, small shield carried by Amazons, a race of warlike women. They were trained as archers for war) has a Renaissance desing, resembling a wide shield (with fleur-de-lis), with sides swooping up and returning eagles, or ram-heads, and covered by it two arms: mediaeval sword and halberd or helmbart. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2016)

Restoration work included transforming the blackened and damaged main front or facade (its exterior was cleansed of decades of dirt, humidity, dust, grime and pollution) of the church, decoration running along the wall and twin towers with new paint and classical moulding, to allow the patina of the building's history to remain inside, and the grillework crosses over the Roman towers were gilded.

Sketches or drawings for the Lobatera Paris Church towers polychrome restoration work, with the more important details and the minor details. (Photographs by Arch. Sonia Becerra van der Linden and Arch. Hubert van der Linden, 2016)

Other work included cleaning and repair of the exterior walls, ceilings and dome. The exterior had been transformed by state-of-the-art conservation techniques; it was reconstructed from its parts, painted and brought to life newly by light 'flooding' the building.


'I am who I am...' Cornice dentil band and relief known as the All-seeing eye of Divine Providence, is depicted on the tympanum. All-seeing eye is a Renaissance ornament originated in Solomon's Prayer of Dedication: ‘Ut sint oculi tui aperti super domum hanc nocte et die super domum de qua dixisti erit nomem meum ibi - That your eyes may be open toward this house night and day, even toward the place of which you have said, My Name shall be there: that you may hearken unto the prayer which your servant shall make toward this place.’ (1 Kings 8:29. Biblia Sacra juxta Vulgatam Clementinam). Also, Paul wrote: ‘Et non est ulla creatura invisibilis in conspectu eius  omnia  autem  nuda  et  aperta  sunt  oculis  eius  ad  quem  nobis  sermo - Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4:13. Biblia Sacra juxta Vulgatam Clementinam). Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2016.

Epilogue: Sight lines of an artistic and architectural lesson

Preserving the knowledge of this masterpiece of the Cultural Heritage of the Church -and Táchira State-, was always the foremost objective of the Experience-Art Project. This is an artistic and architectural lesson we have to continuously teach ourselves and part of our culture preserved, as bequest, for generations to come.

In sum, Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá's Parish Church was itself built as act of faith -religious, architectural, engineering-; is at once a prayer and our collective life enshrined in stone and brick; it is one of the greatest oeuvres in Tachiran art. Indeed, it epitomizes a symbiosis -holy- of medieval art and classical design; an example of geometrical construction; sophisticated understanding of light behavior; and spiritual and cosmological knowledge combined to create a magnificent structure of the Romanesque revival or inspired building by Romanesque architecture. 

Research of historical accumulation of the remains of successive ancient coats of paint (samples were taken for polychrome stratigraphic from different places) taken off from the original polychrome, applied to surface on outside of the Lobatera Parish Church facade from 1908 to 2004, in this manner the original polychromy was established. (Photograph by Arch. Sonia Becerra van der Linden and Arch. Hubert van der Linden, 2016)

In this way, the last restoration procedure has revealed its impressive beauty. Paraphrasing Laurence B. Anderson (Architecture [Building], 2009), this church still survives not only as beautiful object, but as document of the history of Tachiran culture, achievements in architecture that testify to the nature of the society that produced them.

The restoration team

Mr. Héctor Alfonso Rojas Contreras, Conservator and Murals expert.
Héctor Aarón Rojas Jr., Assistant Conservator.
Mr. Ramiro Quintana Cárdenas, Crafts worker builder and specialist bricklayer.
Mr. Euro Durán, Plastic artist.
Arch. Sonia Becerra van der Linden, Professional architectural preservationist.
Arch. Huber van der Linden, Professional architectural preservationist and draughtsman.
Prof. Samir A. Sánchez, Art Historian.

Standing proud... Lobatera Parish Church following the last stage of restoration.(Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2016)

Under traditional Spanish colonial-style eaves... Dominating the southern setting with a massive and volumetric body, the Lobatera Parish Church -and its sacristy- is formed by a heavy and angular nave surmounted by an imposing dome, stretching the full width to give the impression of Romanesque revival monumentality. (Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2016)

΄For Love is of the valley, come thou down...΄ (Alfred Tennyson, 1809-1892) This original photography captures the brilliant lights of a Tachiran sunrise and the Romanesque forms of the Lobatera Parochial Church architecture—Church and old town rise from the little valley (foreground, centre). In the background, the western mounts and Andean bleak deserts of Laguna del Buitrón, Los Corrales, La Cuja and Cabeza de Vaca climbs up the steep-side Valley of Lobatera. (Photograph by Jhonn Benítez Colmenares, Lobatera, 2017)


A Window to the Past...

The light -row material of photography- to be caught in this centenarian image, like an instant stolen from the time; impression created by a combination of light, Spanish colonial architecture and solitude... Earliest known photograph of Lobatera and its Parish Church, taken 1900. It looked following the construction of 1875. (Photograph by Francisco Cárdenas B., 1900. Owner of oldest photograph Carlos Alviárez Sarmiento, 2003)


Oldest Lobatera knew photograph -from 1900- was restored by Darío Hurtado, 2011.

Lobatera Church Past to Present... Inside old church AD 1925. The multiple crosses, as sepulchral memorial monument inside Lobatera old church, reminded nine days later, the ‘Sucre’ Steamship Disaster, one of the worst disasters in Lobatera history. The ‘Sucre’ Steamship on its voyage from Encontrados fluvial port to Maracaibo City capsize and sank in Aguas Muertas inlet (a narrow opening in Lake Maracaibo south-west coastline) -just after 9:00 pm on March 12, 1925- when ‘a wall of strong wind and stormy water’ hit the steamship as survivors termed. Of the more than 25 persons aboard (including crew members), about 14 died, all from Lobatera. Each cross has their name with initialism e.g. R.V.P for Mr. Ramón Vivas Pérez or A.C.S. for Mrs. Agustina Colmenares de Sánchez (distant relative of whom it wrote). Photograph owner Carlos Alviárez Sarmiento, 2018.

Old facade and image of Lobatera bullfight. Amateurs enter bullring. Annual fair since AD 1774. (Lobatera Fair 1938, photograph by Vilma Zambrano, 2017)

Old outdoor sculptures of Our Lady of the Rosary, St. Andrew the Apostle and St. Anthony of Padua, made of stone and clay by Jesús Uzcátegui in 1913. These sculptures were destroyed during the remodelling of Lobatera's church in the early 1960s. Old image from 1958. (Photo enlarge by Darío Hurtado, 2017)


The Main Facade of Lobatera Parish Church former building in 1947. The reconstruction works of 1967 preserved major parts of the outer features of the original facade of 1908. (Photograph by Archivo General del Estado/The Táchira State Archives, 1947)

Elevated view of the Lobatera Parish Church building as dome under construction, 1950. (Photograph by Carlos Alviárez Sarmiento/Darío Hurtado, 2018)

2017... The foreground contains the twin towers and ribbed dome of Lobatera Parish Church and the skyline is ‘El Picacho’ (The Peak), Tachiran Andean Mountain with 2,782.7 m (9,129.59 ft). Photograph by Darío Hurtado, 2017.


Some sights not seen in nearly 50 years...
Recognisable Lobatera sights from a bird’-eye with views over the Parish Church buildingtop of the groin intersecting vaulted ceiling over the nave and quarter-round barrel vault aisles—, Clergy House and old Churchyard used as graveyards or burial places from 1767 until 1805 (Selection screengrabs from video: Alcaldía del Municipio Lobatera-The Major of Lobatera/DronesTáchira/Darío Hurtado, 2016).


The Lobatera Parish Church in the Fine Art

'Sighting the Valley of Lobatera', oil on canvas 20.07 x 24.01 in (51 x 61 cm). Manuel Cabré (1962). Private Collection

'Lobatera at nightfall', acrylic on canvas 25.19 x 33.07 in (64 x 84 cm). Gerson Trejo (1993). Collection Samir A. Sánchez.

'Church of Lobatera ', pastel painting on cardboard, 17.71 x 27.55 in (45 x 70 cm). Francisco Rivero Mendoza (1996). Collection Francisco Rivero Mendoza


Venezuela Heritage of Cultural Interest

The Lobatera Parish Church is a Monument of national value and historical landmark (Venezuela Heritage of Cultural Interest, National Heritage Catalogue 2004-2010/TA 17-18/p. 10. Official Gazette 38,234. Caracas, February 20, 2005).


Alberti, Leon Battista, The Architecture of Leon Battista Alberti in Ten Books, Printed by Edward Owen, London, 1755; Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, Biblia Sacra juxta Vulgatam Clementinam, CBCEW (2006). James Stevens Curl, Susan Wilson. The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture, Oxford, Oxford University Press (2015). Samir Sánchez, Muros de piedra y fe, San Cristóbal, Universidad Católica del Táchira, N° 11 (2000); William R. Ware, The American Vignola: A Guide to the Making of Classical Architecture, 1906. University of Michigan, Digitizing sponsor Google Book (2009); 
Philip II and the Escorial: technology and the representation of architecture: an exhibition by the Department of Art, Brown University, January 27 through March 4, 1990, David Winton Bell Gallery, List Art Center Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.

© Proyecto Experiencia Arte | Experience Art Project 2012-2016. Some rights reserved. Copyright of texts, graphic works and photos belong to each researcher, photographer/office mentioned.