The cathedral of Oviedo

The Romanesque to Baroque cathedral

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It was not so long ago, when the front of the cathedral of Oviedo showed a dark colour, relatively carbonized by the effect of time and dirt. This dark colour of the cathedral seemed to be part of its physionomy like a great birth mark.


Nowadays, with the begining of the new milenium and the recent cleaning of its walls the cathedral appears rejuvenated, showing clearly its magnifiency and architectural traces. The first work on the building began in the begining of the 14th century on top of the ruins of some preromanic and romanic basilicas. All over this period, the cathedral of Oviedo had received numerous pilmigrages and it had become one of the most important stops on the way to Santiago, thanks to well conserved relics.

The construction of the cathedral took three long centuries and was built in gothic style in that period. The cathedral has only one tower, due to the fact that, the architects had some unexpected problems during the construction. The rest of the European gothic cathedrals always show two towers instead of one. The 80 metre tall tower was built with less money than they had expected, and they underwent a lot of technical problems and seismic movements of the ground.

However, the cathedral continues showing its majesty and is a pointed treasure with more than one thousand sculptural edges, which having been finished by the year 1587, became the last gothic work. The tower can be seen from any point in the city, always showing a dominant position. It also became the most important symbol of the novel “La Regenta”.

In the interior of the cathedral of El Salvador because, that is its real name, one can find a ground floor with Christian latin shape, with naves where there are seven hiding places for the several apostles. There are also some baroque shapes of Italian influence. The head was built in the 17th century, and its renacentist altarpiece is one of the greatest in Spain and it also has an important theological message.

In the indoors of the temple, one can find architectural elements that span from gothicism to the clasicism of the end of the 13th century to the last stage of the hispano-flemish of the 14th and 15th centuries.

The cathedral is rich in beautiful corners like the Capilla del Rey Casto of the 17th century. One of the main left rooms is characterised by the gothic style of the end of the 13th century. This is also the case of La Sala Capitular, and some galleries of the cloister. On the other hand, it is impossible not to mention la Cámara Santa of a primitive construction that is the principal treasure of the romanic sculpture and one of the holy relics of the Astur reign. The cathedral of El Salvador was built over the ruins of an old preromanic cathedral of 9th century (Alfonso II reign) and it was the most important representation of the gothic structure so, la Cámara Santa is placed on the first or last stronghold of the temple depending on the view.

La Cámara Santa is a space with two floors. The bottom part is the genuine preromanic and the upper part is the romanic of the 12th century. It is an arched space where twelve apostles were sculpted, two by two, on the columns that stand the archs. This upper floor keeps el Tesoro Catedralicio, thanks to the relics donated by the asturian monarchs that were given in the 9th century.

This treasure is an identity of the Principado, pointing out la Cruz de los Ángeles, la Cruz de la Victoria (which appears as the central symbol of the asturian flag) and la Arqueta de las Ágatas, this last being of Mozarabic style. Nowadays, bars and alarms keep this treasure safe after one robbery in 1977. The different pieces were finally found, but some of them were seriously damaged and so, they had to be restored.

Joined to la Cámara Santa is the main Cloister, the most remarkable example of the passage of time and numerous architectural changes that were made in the cathedral. Its iconography shows profane religious themes. It also shows the beautiful asturian scene of the fight of Favila against the big bear.

From the Cloister we go to the outside, crossing la puerta de la Limosna to the Corrada del Obispo, in the historical city centre. It is very worthwhile to make a visit to the cathedral and this historical city, the only thing is just to choose a date.

Texto: © Ramón Molleda para desdeasturias.com