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Choir seats and altarpieces of San Martiño. Photo: Santiago Tourism

San Martiño Pinario choir seats and altarpieces

Choir seats and altarpieces are one of the most eye-catching and precious complements in religious temples. Both have a decorative function, but they also have a purpose of teaching and devotional.

In the church of the monastery of San Martiño Pinario, both the choir seating and the large collection of altarpieces stand out. The church dates from 1590, but the interior decoration is later. Over the years, the religious order contracted the services of several sculptors to finish decorating the church.

The choir seats

Benedictine life is a life of prayer that takes many forms and can be carried out in any space. However, the monastic office implies an encounter with the community. That is why monks need a space within the church that allows them to alternate antiphons and psalms hierarchically: the choir.

Choir of San Martiño Pinario. Photo: Santiago Tourism.

Choir of San Martiño Pinario. Photo: Santiago Tourism.

The choir of San Martiño Pinario is behind the altar, leaving the rest of the temple free for the passage of the faithful and pilgrims. It is one of the best examples in Galicia and occupies a prominent place in the community.

In 1639, the Benedictine monks contracted the Galician sculptor Mateo de Prado to make the choir seats for their church. They are made of walnut wood and have three different themes on the backrests. The lower choir seat contains 35 depictions of the life of the Virgin Mary. The passages depicted exhaust practically all references to her and invite us to interior prayer.

Reliefs on the choir seats: The Nativity of Mary and The Annunciation.

Reliefs on the choir seats: The Nativity of Mary and The Annunciation.

On the highchairs, 49 saints, the apostles and founders, bishops and Benedictine monks are depicted. These are the most prominent figures in the saints’ calendar and are presented as a small-scale image of heaven.

The third theme is found on the smock and depicts the life of Saint Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine order. For the monks, it is a kind of mirror in which they can look at themselves and follow in the footsteps of Saint Benedict.

Mateo de Prado’s work received some later additions. The sculptural programme was completed with a representation of the Immaculate Conception, some carvings of angels and musical scenes. In addition, the heavenly image of the choir is completed by the organs facing the choir stalls.

Choir organs. Photo: Santiago Tourism.

Choir organs. Photo: Santiago Tourism.

The altarpieces of the church

The altarpieces that San Martiño Pinario houses are a reference for the history of Galician art. All date from between the 18th and 19th centuries, and their function is reflected in the development of religious action.

The altarpieces sought to capture the attention of the faithful and to instil religious teachings through their carvings. In 1730, work began on the altarpiece of the high altar. That is a unique Baroque-style piece designed by Fernando Casas Novoa and created by Diego de Romay.

It is conceived as a two-fronted altarpiece that can be seen both from the nave of the church and from the choir. It contains numerous heraldic and angelic representations. The centre is flanked by the images of Saint James and Saint Millán de la Cogolla in the battle of Simancas. 

The shrine houses the images of Saint Martin on the obverse and Saint Joseph on the reverse. It is crowned with the figure of Saint Martin parting his cloak and sharing it with a poor man.

High Altarpiece of San Martiño Pinario. Photo: Santiago Tourism.

High Altarpiece of San Martiño Pinario. Photo: Santiago Tourism.

The church has several side chapels that communicate with each other, and some of them have their own altarpiece. Socorro chapel, San Escolástica and Cristo de la Paciencia have some altarpieces that stand out. The altarpiece of San Bieito and the altarpiece of the English Virgin close the transept gables.

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