29 January 2020

Santos Juanes, two saints
in a church in the market
place in Valencia

The square exterior of the apse of Santos Juanes facing the Plaza del Mercado (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

In the heart of Valencia, Santos Juanes is a Roman Catholic church in the Mercat neighbourhood. The church is also known as the Real Parroquia de los Santos Juanes (the Royal Parish of the Saint Johns) or San Juan del Mercado (Saint John of the Market) because it is beside the city Central Market and faces the Llotja de la Seda or Silk Exchange.

The two Saint Johns named in the dedication are Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist.

A church was first built here on the site of a former mosque in 1240, two years after the conquest of Valencia by King James and his Christian armies. This follows a pattern found throughout the city, and the church is one of the so-called ‘foundational parishes’ in Valencia.

Inside the Church of the two Saints John, facing the east end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The first church was built in the Gothic style. However, it was damaged by fire later in the 14th century and was rebuilt.

Major fires in 1552, 1592 and 1603 led to further reconstruction, commissioned by the Archbishop and Viceroy Juan de Ribera. This church was rebuilt in an exuberant Baroque style and completed in the year 1700. Today, the church is an interesting blend of architectural styles, from a Gothic nave to Baroque sculptures.

The church stood in the Boatella neighbourhood, once a working class area outside the town walls, that housed some of the Morisco population, former Muslims and their descendants forced to convert to Christianity under threat of death after the open practice of Islam was outlawed.

Inside the Church of the two Saints John, facing the west end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The main façade of the church retains a walled-up oculus of a rose window from the older church. This is known locally as the blind eye of Saint John, because the rose window was never opened.

The square exterior of the apse, facing the Plaza del Mercado, has a central niche decorated with a stucco statuary group of the Virgin of the Rosary, attributed to Jacopo Bertesi. The Virgin Mary is holding the Christ Child, who holds the globe, all within a burst of rays, angels, and cherubs.

Other portals contain the symbols of Saint John the Baptist (the lamb) and Saint John the Evangelist (eagle). The centre is surmounted by a clock tower, and the roofline is dominated by statues of Saint John the Baptist, Saint John the Evangelist, Saint Francesco Borgia and Saint Luis Bertrán. This façade includes profuse complex iconography including the Lamb on top of the book with five seals, and image from the Book of Revelation.

The clock tower is flanked by the two Saint Johns and a weathervane placed on the upper part of the façade, known as the Pardal de Saint John or Sparrow Bird of Saint John. Legend says the bird watched over children who had been abandoned in the marketplace.

The restoration of the frescoes is sponsored by the Hortensia Herrero Foundation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Inside, the church interiors, including the frescoes, suffered arson damage in 1936, during the Spanish Civil War.

The church only has one nave covered by rib vaults, decorated with frescoes depicting the church triumphant by Antonio Palomino, who was King Charles’s court painter, and who also did work in Valencia's Cathedral.

The walls are lined with 12 larger-than-life statues representing the 12 tribes of Israel, also by Jacopo Bertesi.

Twelve larger-than-life statues by Jacopo Bertesi represent the 12 tribes of Israel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The frescoes in the smaller, secondary Capilla de la Comunión or Chapel of the Communion are José Vergara’s masterpiece.

The present restoration works, sponsored by the Hortensia Herrero Foundation, are aimed at recovering the splendour of an important architectural church in the centre of the city.

The main façade of the church has a walled-up oculus of a rose window known locally as the ‘blind eye of Saint John’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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