sarcophagus of doña sancha
Convent of Santa Cruz de la Sera (Huesca), first quarter of 12th century
25⅝ x 81⅛ x 34¼ in. (65 x 206 x 87cm)
Benedictine Monastery of Santa Cruz, Jaca
This stone sarcophagus, now in the Benedictine convent in Jaca, was carried there from Santa Cruz de la Serós in 1622, when it was decided to move the convent to the larger city from its more remote situation.1 One of the long sides of the sarcophagus is divided into three sections. In the center two angels support a nude figure enclosed within a mandorla. At the right are three women, with the one in the center, who holds a book and sits in an X-shaped chair, somewhat larger than the two figures who flank her. At the left three tonsured clerics are engaged in a liturgical rite. This tripartite division is echoed on the other long side of the sarcophagus, where each of the three arches is occupied by a figure. Within the center and left sections mounted and armed horsemen face each other; the figure on the right-a man whose hands are placed within the open jaws of a lion that he is riding or straddling-has variously been identified as the long-haired Samson or the youthful David. Carved on one end of the sarcophagus are addorsed griffins within a decorated roundel, and represented on the other end is a jeweled chrismon with the Agnus Dei at its center.
The sarcophagus was carved by two sculptors or workshops, as evidenced by the two distinct styles apparent on its two long sides. Even so, the ateliers would seem to have been contemporaneous, since the sarcophagus is related to a number of works in Aragon that display the same two styles. These are found at Jaca Cathedral, at the church of San Pedro el Viejo in Huesca, and, not surprisingly, at the monastery church of Santa María at Santa Cruz de la Serós. On the basis of stylistic comparisons with works at these other sites-particularly Jaca Cathedral, from late in its building campaign-the sarcophagus can be dated to about the second decade of the twelfth century.2 Attempts to trace the origins for at least one of the styles of the sarcophagus to workshops active in northern Italy in the late eleventh and early twelfth century remain unproven, if suggestive.3
The sarcophagus has been associated with Sancha (ca. 1045-1097), daughter of Ramiro I of Aragon and sister of his heir, Sancho V Ramírez, since its first known reference in an early seventeenth-century literary account. However, the evidence for identifying the sarcophagus with her remains circumstantial,4 although not without merit. Given the dating suggested above-that is, almost a generation after Sancha's death-it is conceivable that the sarcophagus was, in fact, commissioned sometime after she died. As such, it would not only have served to house her remains, but it would have been a memorial monument to a figure who was a forceful presence in royal and political circles and, in the eleventh century, the most important patron of the monastery in which the sarcophagus was found.5
An accurate interpretation of the scenes on the sarcophagus has been difficult, in part because some representations appear to be very specific and others very generalized. Many scholars have identified the seated figure as Sancha herself, framed by her two real-life sisters, who resided with her in the convent of Santa Cruz.6 The scene in the left section on this same side has been identified by action and attribute as a bishop celebrating the Mass for the Dead. These two scenes, together with the depiction of the translation of the soul into heaven that they flank, seem to refer to the function of the sarcophagus. Attempts to link the figures on the other long side with known warriors, that is, Christian and Moor, or Roland and Farragut,7 have not found acceptance in the literature.8 Rather, these figures have more recently been acknowledged, in a much more general sense, to be symbolic either of the combat between good and evil9 or of images of social violence.10
David L. Simon, Ellerton M. Jetté Professor1. An inscription of 1622 on a plaque, today placed above the sarcophagus, explains that the bones of Sancha and her two sisters, Urraca and Teresa, were transferred from the Convent of Santa Cruz in that year
of Art, Colby College, Waterville, Maine
2. Simon 1979a, pp. 112-23.
3. Porter 1924., p. 165; Beenken 1925, pp. 108-11; Frankovich 1940, pp. 225-47; Salvini 1956, pp. 58, 106-7.
4. Simon 1979a, p. 110.
5. González Miranda 1956, pp. 185-202; Durán Gudiol 1962.
6. Carderera 1855-64, vol. 1, no. 4; Arco 1919, pp. 158-61.
7. Lejeune and Stiennon 1971, vol. 1, pp. 26-27.
8. Simon 1975, pp. 110-11; Besson 1987, p. 117.
9. Ruíz 1978, pp. 75-81.
10. Besson 1987, pp. 113-26. Besson does not take into account the specific context in which these scenes are represented, that is, on a sarcophagus, nor does he consider how the warrior scenes might relate to the other scenes which decorate the sarcophagus.
Source: pp.229-232 The Art of Medieval Spain AD 500-1200, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Referenced as figure 514 in The military technology of classical Islam by D Nicolle
514. Relief from Santa Cruz de los Seros, Tomb of Doña Sancha, 1095 AD, Spanish, in situ, Benedictine Convent, Jaca (Kin).
Referenced on p.127, Arms and Armour of the Crusading Era, 1050-1350, Western Europe and the Crusader States by David Nicolle
316A-B Tomb of Dona Sancha from the Convent of Santa Cruz de la Séros, Aragón, mid 12th century
(Benedictine Convent, Jaca, Spain)
Originally thought to date from the late 11th century, this carved sarcophagus is now considered mid-12th century. It portrays two horsemen in combat, both identically equipped although one (A) may represent a moustached 'Moor'. The other figure (B) holds his lance tightly couched beneath his arm and also has a straight, tapering sword. The lack of armour on both figures is noteworthy.