From the 16th century onwards, Zumarraga went through a change that was both urban, economic and social. Its inhabitants adapted to the new times, so it "modernised" itself, and it all became reflected on the current heritage of the locality.
The forest enters La Antigua
At the start of the 16th century, the appearance of Santa Maria changed considerably. A choir and a large wooden ceiling were built inside it. This major work reflected a craft tradition, but it is also a sample of the changes taking place in the Christian west.
The choir was built as a space for the priests
It was at this time that when churches were built some spaces were given over to the clergy and were separated from the rest of the congregation, such as the elevated choir.
It was from the choir that liturgical texts were read, it was the place for the choir singers, a perfect view could be obtained, and what was more, more space was created in the churches.
The elevated choir combined functionality with symbology. An image of the clergy was projected through it.
- "So that the priests should not dance, or sing dishonest things, or preach profane things or dress up or go to bullfights".
The conduct of the clergy was beginning to closely resemble that of the lay people. Religious life had become relaxed and ecclesiastical reform needed to be introduced.
- "The priests must not only keep away from evil, but from any suspicion of evil and should set a good example so that their parishioners can properly imitate and follow them".
King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain started the reform. A return to spiritual life was pursued and for this purpose the clergy needed to be kept separate from the people.
To maintain a distance between the lifestyles of each, the clergy were watched and dishonest behaviour was condemned.
But something more was done, they were also separated inside the churches. A symbolic image that would mark the difference between clergy and the laity was pursued.
Vaults covered the ceiling
- Santa Maria was covered with a large wooden roof. To do this a whole network of beams and panels was built.
- The oak trees in the forest provided the necessary raw material. These trees also guaranteed the quality of the timber.
- During the second half of the 16th century this huge timber frame was masked by a dome and two vaults, also of timber.
- The dome and vault were covered in plaster, which accounts for their white colour. The aim of this was to imitate stone structures.
- In the Basque Autonomous Community there are a total of 41 churches that still have wooden vaults. One of them is that of St. Martin of Tours, in neighbouring Urretxu.
- The building of timber roofs and vaults was in response to a strong carpentry tradition that had its greatest boom in the 16th century and gradually declined in the 17th.
- During this period the so-called dust covers were also built in wood. It was a structure that served to keep the dust off the chancel or presbytery. We have one example in Zumarraga in the chapel of San Cristóbal de Oraa.