"Sancti Spiritus" University

Sancti Spiritus Unibertsitatea

Monuments can sometimes only be understood in terms of their builders or patrons or the personalities of their artists. This is the case with the University of Sancti Spiritus, conceived and financed by the bishop from Oñati Rodrigo Mercado de Zuazola. A humanist with an extensive education and a close friend of Cisneros, in addition to studying the texts typically read by men of law and religion, he also read treatises on astrology and mythology, as well as the works of the most prominent classical authors, such as Plato, Aristotle, Erasmus, Ovid, Cicero, Plutarch and Horace, among others.

Being convinced of the 'local people's natural inclination' for the arts, Zuazola decided to found a university to educate people from both Oñati and the entire Basque region.

Under the patronage of Emperor Charles I, he dedicated all his wealth and efforts to the building of this university, which remained open from 1542 to 1901, offering degrees in Theology, Canons, Law and (sporadically) Medicine. The building had a central courtyard, a ground floor with a chapel, classrooms, kitchen and refectory, and a first floor with bedrooms and the main lecture hall. The main façade deserves our special attention. First to be built was the entranceway, which is very similar to a design by Gil de Hontaron that adorns the Convent of las Dueñas in Salamanca; however, since the result was considered too simple, four large pilasters were added and then decorated by Pierres Picart, who was inspired by the School of Santa Cruz in Valladolid.

Unibertsitate klaustros

The images on the façade showed students the need to practice the values and virtues resulting from the merging of both pagan and Christian cultures; and so, while Hercules can be seen on the lower level carrying out his tasks, on the upper levels we can find a range of martyrs, virtues and saints, some of whom are related to studious activities. Anyone entering the building must pass between Saint Augustine and Saint Jerome, paradigms of neo-platonic philosophy and theological erudition, and under the image of Zuazola himself, the founder of the University, and the imperial coat of arms, which seems to lend its protection to the whole complex.

The carvings of warriors give the building a more slender appearance, and also represent the desire to spread knowledge to the whole world. Several beautiful gothic gargoyles drain the water from the roof.


One of the most important features of the interior of the building is the magnificent cloister with its double series of arches, whose haunches contain 32 stones carved to represent pairs of figures from both history and mythology: Charles I and Isabel of Portugal, Philip and Maria of Portugal, Ulysses and Penelope and Lucretia and Conlatinus, among others.


Also of note are the coffered ceilings, especially the masterly piece above the staircase to the first floor, carved by Gibaja, a sculptor from Avila, and, finally, the plateresque altarpiece in the chapel, carved by Pierres Picart, a fine example of classical decoration based on scallop shells and grotesques, based around the Assumption of the Virgin and the patron saints of the university and the town: the Holy Spirit and a somewhat child-like Saint Michael, killing a demon with his lance.