The 13th-century church of San Saturnino (or San Cernin), the patron saint of Pamplona
, was not just the religious heart of the borough of the same name. Its two high towers, which are an essential and emblematic part of the skyline of the city, and its powerful, thick walls reveal its historical function: a defensive fortress
in the frequent skirmishes and battles between the three medieval boroughs of the city. Located in the Old Quarter between the City Hall
and the Museum of Navarre
, the church is easily recognisable thanks to its wide and arched entrance atrium
. Inside, in the beautiful and spacious single nave church, do not miss the Baroque Chapel of the Virgen del Camino, Lady and Queen of the city. When you leave, look down on the floor and you will see the "pocico"
(literally, "little well") in which San Saturnino baptised the first Christians in Pamplona, among them San Fermín
, the city's first bishop. Once outside, look upwards to the south tower: it is crowned by the popular "gallico" (literally, "little cockerel") and contains the clock whose bell signals the start of the Bull Run every morning during the fiestas of San Fermín
The church of San Cernin or San Saturnino, a pilgrims' hostel on the Way to Santiago until a few years ago, was possibly built on the remains of a Roman temple in the old rúa de las Bolserías, a key route in the 12th-15th centuries. Its main front is in calle San Saturnino, just a few metres from the City Hall, the outstanding feature being the wide atrium of pointed arches and tiercerons. On each side of the arched entrance to the church there are two sculptures of Santiago (St. James) the Pilgrim and San Saturnino. The capitals on the facade, a fine example of 13th-century Gothic XIII, depict scenes of the childhood and Passion of Christ.
The interior of the church, unusual for a Gothic building in Navarre, consists of a very wide single nave with a dome divided into six sections, a polygon-shaped header, chapels between buttresses and a raised choir. The design of the header is particularly striking. It has a large entrance arch, long windows and the main and side chapels are at different levels.
It is highly curious and unusual because, right in the space previously occupied by the cloister, a chapel dedicated to the Virgen del Camino was erected in 1758. It is an interesting example of Baroque architecture, with its Greek cross layout within a square, the use of domes in the corners and the supremacy of the crossing. Its ornamentation is also striking, and its reaches its climax in the altarpiece of the vestry.
This polychrome Romanesque carving lined with silver came from Alfaro (La Rioja), but one morning in 1487 it appeared on a wooden beam above the main altar of San Saturnino. The riojanos accused the pamploneses of stealing it. The carving was returned but the miracle occurred again and the people of Alfaro ended up giving it to the church. The large Baroque altarpiece that occupies the entire apse of the chapel contains images of the Virgin Mary and Santa Teresa and was brought from Naples in 1772.
This building also has history in its exterior, however. At the crossroads of Jarauta, Mayor and San Saturnino streets there is a plaque that commemorates the "pocico" (small well) in which Bishop Saturnino baptised the first Christians of the city. Then walk down towards the Cuesta de Santo Domingo to see the profile of the two high towers of the church from there. They have a military appearance, being square and of equal height. The south clock tower is crowned with a wind vane in the form of a cockerel -the "gallico" of San Cernin-, one of the most popular emblems of the city. Below this symbol is the clock that announces the exact moment to fire the rocket that starts the Bull Run every morning in the fiestas of San Fermín.
In November religious concerts are held to commemorate San Saturnino (29th) and Santa Cecilia (22nd).