The Church of San Agustín was planned with two main goals: purely aesthetic and doctrinal, as it teaches the way to the Salvation of the soul for those willing to learn. As Teodomiro Ramírez de Arellano wrote in “Paseos por Córdoba” (Walks around Córdoba), the Church of San Agustín and the iconographic programme Brother Pedro de Góngora designed for it are a wonderful work “not only in honour of the arts, but our Religion, as the refinement of so much gold, somehow soften by the warm light coming through its well located windows, captivates the soul and brings it closer to God, in that beautiful place where faith increases and hopes seem to be accomplished“.
There were many altars in this temple, some of them dedicated to some great devotional traditions, such as the Virgin of the Anguish, “Jesús Nazareno” (Nazarene Jesus), “San José“, “Santo Tomás“, “San Isidro” or “San Nicolás de Tolentino“, but only “Santo Tomás de Villanueva” is preserved, dated in the 17th century, located in the transept and of great artistic quality. Many side altarpieces disappeared during the French invasion in 1808, as well as the paintings on the ceiling of the right side nave. That was when they decided to make the altarpiece located in the presbytery, a painted plaster work painting imitating marble, where the 19th-century influence is clear.
Over the same storm door, we can see a woman sitting and holding a book with the pontifical tiara in one arm and a cartouche in the other one. On both sides there are angels holding a stick crowned by a papal cross and keys. This image is the personification of the Church: matron holding the Scriptures, base of the authority of the Supreme Pontiff. Also in this area there is the signature of Brother Pedro de Góngora.
Following the central nave, arranged in groups of four (two on each arch) and from right to left as we enter the church, representations of the “Virtudes Cristianas” (Christian Virtues) –the three theological ones plus the Truth- await the visitor with an iconographic variety which is a rich Baroque decoration.
Although the Main Altar was destroyed in 1936, it was remade in wood and plaster following its design. In one of the altarpieces on both sides of the tabernacle, there is an image of San Agustín which, due to the stylistic coincidence with some documented works, experts have attributed it to Juan de Mesa’s gouge. On the sides of the presbytery, there are polychrome statues of Popes “San Silverio” and “San Gelasio” accompanied by paintings of the Holy Knights, such as “Santiago el Mayor” (Saint James the Great).
Of all the pictorial elements in the Church of San Agustín, one of the most spectacular ones is undoubtedly the choir loft, fully dedicated to the “Immaculate Conception” in the central part. At the beginning of the choir loft, next to the door, there is an inscription in Latin: “The Holy Spirit will come over you“. Right on the opposite side, a verse from the Genesis is represented: “She will squash your head“. Both inscriptions try to highlight Mary’s conception through the Spirit’s intervention and the typical victory over sin. And over these two notes, the magnificent work by Cristóbal Vela is developed.
The beautiful Virgin, elevated over the Moon surrounded by cherubs, has a teenage face and her eyes are looking down in a humble look. At her feet, eight angels carry Marian symbols while, all around Her, in separate works, the attributes of the Immaculate are displayed in three groups: allegorical passages, located on both sides of the Virgin; Paintings of flowers, two on top and two under the Immaculate; and various flowers.
On the pillars of the central nave, paintings representing scenes from Jesus’s childhood are displayed. On the other hand, on the shorter sides of each pillar, there are up to twelve prophets represented with messianic messages.
A pictorial representation of the Creed goes along the ceiling of the central nave. In six pictures, painted with oil directly on plaster, the different verses of the creed are represented written on phylacteries held by angels. In each of the six paintings, there are two Apostles depicted in a simple way without any attributes.
On the semicircles formed by the lunettes on the wall, we can see pairs of saints, from different periods and origins, but all of them are martyrs. They could represent a “procession” honouring the Virgin, parallel to that of the prophets in the lower part.
On the ceilings of the side naves, there were originally paintings telling the “Milagros de San Agustín” (Miracles of San Agustín) (nave of the Gospel) and “San Nicolás de Tolentino” (nave of the Epistle), although some of them disappeared. On the side vaults, in the spaces left by the Gothic ribs, eight Augustinian saints are depicted.
The pendentives supporting the central vault include the Fathers of the Western Church. Inside the vault, the four Evangelists are represented, together with the emblems of San Agustín (mitre, temple and swollen heart). The centre is occupied by an angel and the whole vault is full of decorative motifs. Over the arches supporting the vault, we can see “Asunción de la Virgen” (Virgin’s Assumption) and the “Ascensión de Cristo” (Christ’s Ascension).
If you are wondering what to do in Córdoba, we recommend you visit the Fernandine Churches hiring one of our guided tours. We will explain there a special chapter dedicated to the Church of San Agustín. Choose to do high quality sightseeing with qualified staff. Do not hesitate, ArtenCórdoba is the best option.
Text: Jesús Pijuán
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