Discover a story of popular devotion that goes beyond the conventional
Five hundred years of history contemplate us from above
On March 21, 1520, two statues representing Virgin Mary and Saint Sebastian, patron of coinmakers, were placed in the niches that the Segovia aqueduct has in its most prominent area.
Their choice was not accidental. Antonio de la Jardina, the metal assayer of the Royal Segovia Mint, established by Spanish king Enrique the 4th in 1455, was the one who carried out, at his expense, that project out of his devotion to the Mother of God and his patron saint.
The niches in which both images were placed, more than twenty meters high, long ago had served to host Roman statues, which perhaps represented the emperor or the local magistrates who paid for the construction of that civil work for the benefit of the roman municipality of Segovia.
At the beginning of the 16th century, nothing of them remained, although the memory that they existed long ago was still preserved. The erudites of that time thought that they could have represente Hercules himself, who, according to popular tradition, had founded the city in ancient times.
We cannot know exactly how the statues were hoisted, since the mention we have of that event is meager, but it was possibly done thanks to a scaffolding and crane system. We have now recreated that, together with the Azoguejo square area as it would have looked like around 1520, based on the historical, iconographic and archaeological documentation available.
Now, 3D technology allows us to open this window to the past that will take us directly to that fundamental moment in the history of the city.
Explore a window to the past
Discover more about the history of the azoguejo
with interactive infographics.
Continue scrolling down to immerse yourself in the Segovia of 1520.
Search and click on the interactive portals to see more information.
1. The Azoguejo square
The Plaza del Azoguejo surely took this name because it was the “zoquejo”, souk or small market, of the city, as opposed to the large market, which was located in the Plaza de San Miguel (later named Plaza Mayor).
2. The church of Santa Columba
The Romanesque church of Santa Columba, one of the oldest in the city, was built on sandy ground and always had some stability problems. Most of its parishioners were merchants who could afford giving significant donations to the church.
In 1818 the Mudejar tower collapsed and shortly afterwards a large part of the church did too. After several failed reconstruction attempts, it ended up being a carriage yard and its remains were demolished in 1931.
3. The market
The Azoguejo market, as we know from the municipal ordinances of the time, in the 16th century had various stalls, among which were five for meat, one for candles and another for baked bread.
4. Temporary structures
There is no documentation on the way in which the statues were placed, especially the stone Virgin, which measures 1.86 meters (6-foot 1 inches) and weighs about 800 kilos (1763 pounds). However, we have imagined a crane system with a wheel moved by human power supported by the aqueduct itself, based on the techniques used at that time.
5. The cornice of the aqueduct
To accurately recreate the state of the aqueduct in the 16th century we have digitally removed all the cornice that was installed in the restoration of the seventies with stones carved in the style of the originals.
In Roman times the entire structure had a continuous cornice but by 1520 it had surely disappeared. Many of these stones had been reused years ago to restore the aqueduct.
6. Which Virgin does it represent?
Although there have been various speculations over the centuries, it is impossible for us to assure the invocation of the Virgin of the Aqueduct as it does not have clear elements that identify it. Even so, it is possible that she could be the Virgin of la Cabeza, as she is the Virgin who was venerated in the Church of San Sebastián along with the patron of the moneyers (Saint Sebastian himself)
7. The appointed days
Despite the fact that Diego de Colmenares published in 1637 that the statue of Saint Sebastian was placed on March 21, 1520 together with the Virgin and that it was paid for by Antonio de la Jardina, the reality is somewhat different.
In the original manuscript of his work, preserved in the Segovia Cathedral Archive, it can be read that Saint Sebastian was raised a few days later: on Friday, March 30 and at the expense of the City.
In this recreation we wanted to join these two scenes in a diachronic way to show both events of popular devotion in the same space and time.
8. Litterae aureae
The holes you see in the stones of the aqueduct’s attic above the inferior arches correspond to the fixations of the gilt bronze letters that formed the original Roman dedicatory inscription. Sources seem to indicate that at the beginning of the 16th century, some of them still remained in place, but were removed at the same time that the Virgin rose.
9. The channel cover
As stated in the ordinances, the queen Isabel la Católica ordered in 1483 to completely restore the aqueduct so that the water would flow again to the city and her daughter Juana in 1505 made sure that the water channel was covered with slabs to keep the water clean from impurities.
10. Statues in the niches
Surely up to the Middle Ages remains of the original Roman statues were preserved in the niches of the aqueduct. They could represent the emperor or the magistrates who paid for the construction, but it is impossible for us to know for sure, since nothing of them has been preserved.
11. The fountain of the Azoguejo
Do you see this little fountain? It supplied water to the residents of the neighborhood and to the Azoguejo market. In 1605 it was sold to the San Francisco convent and replaced by the one that is still preserved today on the terrace of Santa Columba, designed by the architect Pedro de Brizuela.
12. On the other side of the walls
Crossing this gate of the medieval walls, the Postigo del Consuelo, and leaving behind the homonymous hermitage, was the church of San Sebastián (a little above this view). In
the 16th century it had noble parishioners and workers from the Royal Mint, which was located in front of it, as Saint Sebastian was the patron saint of moneyers.
We have reasons to believe that the aqueduct’s wooden carving of Saint Sebastian was the one that presided over the altar of the church and that at that time it was replaced by a new one, the oldest being relocated in the aqueduct.
13. Creating the plaza
In the 16th century, the Azoguejo square was still mentioned as a street due to its narrowness. So much so that in 1596, at the request of the parishioners of Santa Columba, three houses were demolished, which allowed the street to be widened to transform it into a square.
14. Attached to the pillars
The aqueduct had houses attached to it for many centuries. These leaned on its pillars and even dug their cellars under its foundations, putting the stability of the Roman structure at risk. All of these houses were demolished in 1806, freeing up the aqueduct, a decision we still enjoy today.
15. The Virgin’s canopy
The Virgin of the aqueduct had a protective canopy and a lantern that had to be lit every night. Although the structure of the canopy and the lantern itself changed over the years, the tradition of going up every night to light it, climbing the pillars of the structure, remained alive until 1802.
16. A project of veneration
With a solemn celebration and procession, the statues of the Virgin and Saint Sebastian were placed in the aqueduct on March 21 and 30, 1520. They have remained there ever since, showing the devotion of the city, to guard it and protect it.
That was the purpose of that devotional project that we continue to contemplate 500 years later.
Restore the statues
It is time now to focus on our two protagonists. Now not only are you going to see them closer and better than ever before, but you can also travel back in time to see what they looked like in the 16th century.
These hypothetical approximations are based on the high-detail 3D documentation of the statues and on a detailed study of old photographs, iconography and, of course, analysis of the preserved remains, among which the numerous remnants of polychromy that the Virgin statue has preserved.
Move the cursor over the dates and discover how the statues have changed over time.
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Drag the cursor over the statues to rotate them 360º
History always finds a way of drawing us back in to the story, placing us right at its heart. The concern for the conservation of our heritage is what leads us to this last chapter.
The relentless passage of the centuries, made a dent both in the Virgin and, especially, in San Sebastián. The latter suffered so much that, by the middle of the 19th century, he had lost both arms and his right leg. The carving, blackened even by some fire suffered by the impact of fireworks in times not so remote, earned the nickname of “The Devil”, fueled by the popular legend that relates this figure to the construction of the aqueduct.
During the restoration process of the aqueduct in 1972, the regrettable state of conservation in which the statue of San Sebastián in the east niche was found was found.
For this reason, it was dismantled, probably in September of that year and taken to the provincial museum, where it has been preserved ever since.
The Virgin gradually lost its polychromy, until it was preserved only in the back, more protected from the elements and in certain areas such as the crown, where the gold that covered it has remained largely, if we have in counts its fragility.
One of the angels carrying the cartouche at his feet is also lost. The detachment had to necessarily take place throughout the 20th century, as an image from 1910 shows the entire angel and in another from 1959 its head can still be seen.
It was in 2008 when it was proposed for the first time to lower the Virgin and replace it with a replica from a mold of the original piece. However, its high cost and its fragility put the project on hold.
After some new landslides occurred, in 2019 the project was finally carried out to safeguard the stone image. It had the patronage of the National Coinage and Stamp Factory – Royal Mint of Spain, emulating the one already made by Antonio de la Jardina five hundred years ago.
On this occasion, moreover, technology played a crucial role in the meticulous documentation of the image and the niche. A 3D high-detail virtual model was produced and also the 3D printed replica and its mould. The mould was later used to create the final piece that today we can see again in the niche of the Roman monument.
On March 20, 2019, the eve of the 499th anniversary of the placement of the statue, the Virgin descended to the ground again. After its documentation, it underwent an intense restoration process, the result of which can now be seen at the Aqueduct’s interpretation center in the Casa de la Moneda (Royal mint) of Segovia. The relationship of the Virgin with the minting of currency in Segovia has been, once again, sealed in time.