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Architectural history of the Cathedral of Santa María in Seville

The history of the Cathedral of Santa María in Seville covers more than six centuries, from the start of the Almohad factory in 1172. The temple would become, thanks to successive additions, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Of the magnificent Almohad mosque, inaugurated in 1182, the Giralda, the Patio de los Naranjos and the Puerta del Perdón, which gave access to the site, are preserved.

Fernando III of Castile conquered the city the 23 of November of 1248 and thus began a new chapter in the history of the temple. The largest mosque became the city’s cathedral and the king ordered the addition of a Royal Chapel, where Alfonso X, Beatriz de Suabia and King Fernando himself were buried.

In the late fourteenth century, the dilapidated state of the mosque served as a pretext to tear it down and build a Gothic- shaped temple instead. The 8 of July of 1401 the Cathedral Chapter ordered the construction of a new church, as the earthquake in 1356 had considerably damaged the structure of the temple. The rebuilding works lasted until 1506. The Gothic cathedral of Seville was the most sumptuous in Spain and one of the best known in Europe. French-inspired, its first architect may have been the French Carles Galtés de Ruan. Its seven ships impress, its great height and its almost one hundred windows. It is a construction of staggered naves, externally supported by a multitude of flying buttresses and buttresses crowned by pinnacles.

However, just two decades after the construction of the Gothic temple was completed, it was decided to add a series of dependencies in the Renaissance style. The Sacristy of the Chalices and the Chapels of the Alabasters were built. The Giralda, whose works were completed in 1593, was also renovated.

From the 17th century onwards, the need to renovate the cathedral in accordance with prevailing artistic styles was raised. Between 1618 and 1663 the Iglesia del Sagrario was built in the Baroque style. Already in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the works on the cathedral were aimed at restoring and completing the works. The first restoration work, between 1762 and 1797, was directed by Fernando de Rosales. In 1825 a process began, which did not end until 1928, dedicated to repairing all the damage that time had caused in the cathedral of Seville. The works were started by Rosales and continued by Javier de Luque and Demetrio de los Ríos.

The Gothic Cathedral

Main altarpiece
resides the presbytery of the Main Chapel which is located in the central nave occupying the most solemn section of the enclosure where the crossing of the main naves of the Cathedral occurs.

It is considered the largest in Christendom and one of the most spectacular polychrome wooden structures of its time. It is a work carried out in successive phases over almost a century, beginning with traces of the Flemish sculptor Pieter Dancart, who in 1482 obtained an altarpiece almost 30 meters high by almost 20 wide, with four bodies in height plus a bench, horizontally and seven streets.

In 1497 another teacher appears at the forefront of the work, also of Flemish origin, which took care of it until 1505. From this moment, the intervention of the sculptor Pedro Millán is recorded, who in turn, was replaced by Jorge Fernández Alemán, who his brother Alejo helps, both taking care of the work until 1529, the year in which it can be pointed out that the first construction phase of the altarpiece ends. A second phase began in 1550, when deciding in Cabildo to add two lateral streets forming a right angle with the main front. Roque Balduque, Juan Bautista Vázquez and Pedro de Heredia intervened in these works, completing the entire complex in 1564.

The altarpiece has a set of forty-four reliefs and more than two hundred figures of saints that are arranged on the pilasters that articulate the altarpiece. Above the wide and flown canopy, made up of octagonal canes, a beam is arranged in the center of which is a piety flanked by an apostolate, the work of Jorge Fernández; The whole complex is crowned by a monumental Gothic Calvary from the 14th century, preserved from before and which it was decided to finish off the entire altarpiece.

The crucifix that presides over Calvary traditionally receives the name of Christ of the Million, for the million graces granted to the people of Seville in times of epidemics. The reliefs on the altarpiece bench are the old ones of the altarpiece and represent three scenes of martyrdoms of saints; There are also views of Seville and the Cathedral. In its center, there is a magnificent Gothic sculpture of the Virgin of the See.

In the first body of the altarpiece appears from right to left, the embrace of Saint Joaquin and Saint Anne, the birth of the Virgin, the Annunciation, the birth of Christ, the slaughter of the innocent, the Circumcision and the adoration of the Kings. The second body includes the presentation of the Child in the Temple, the Baptism of Christ, the Resurrection of Lazarus, the Assumption of the Virgin, the entry of Christ into Jerusalem, the Holy Supper and the Prayer in the Garden. In the third body, the seizure of Christ, the flogging, the coronation of thorns, the Resurrection, Ecce Homo, on the way to Calvary and the Expolio. In the fourth body,the burial of Christ, the Marys in the tomb, the Magdalene at the feet of the Risen Christ, the Ascension, Christ’s descent into Limbo, the supper of Emmaus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. On the sides of the altarpiece and from bottom to top are representations of the creation of Eve, the flight to Egypt, Christ among the Doctors, the Transfiguration and Magdalene anointing Christ’s feet. On the right are the Original Sin, the Last Judgment, the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes, the expulsion of the Merchants from the Temple and the conversion of Saint Paul. Eight reliefs representing the Kings of Israel and Judah appear on the pillars that frame the entire set of the altarpiece. With all this information we finish the review of the great cathedral altarpiece of Seville.

It occupies a section of the central nave of the temple, just in front of the Main Chapel in the Cruise area. It is decorated with stonework walls, except on its front, where it is decorated with an exceptional Renaissance grille, the work of Fray Francisco de Salamanca, made between 1518 and 1523; It is topped with a crest whose central motif represents the Getsé tree.

Inside the choir there is a stalls made up of two bodies, in which 117 carved wooden seats are arranged; They are made in Mudejar Gothic style and represent sculptures of saints and reliefs with scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Of great interest is the decorative ensemble located in the mercies where a vast allegorical repertoire of vices appears, personified in monstrous figures.

On the chair for the King, decorated with the shields of Castilla y León, the signature of the sculptor Nufro Sánchez and the date of 1478 appear, thus documenting the carving work. However, from 1479, the sculptor Pyeter Dancart continued working on the decorative process of the ashlar, which was not definitively completed until the 16th century. The great facistol in the center of the choir is a Renaissance work and is made of wood and bronze. Several sculptors participated in its execution, who carried it out between 1562 and 1565; the bronze reliefs were cast by Bartolomé Morel.

We will conclude this comment not without first pointing out the mastery and harmony with which the wonderful double-bodied pipe organ is coupled to the formal structure of the choir stalls.


Assumption Gate
It is located in the center of the “west” or main façade, with a greater proportion and solemnity than the adjoining façades that flank it.

It is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin, a theme of the eardrum and from which its name derives. It remained unfinished for centuries until in 1827 Cardinal Cienfuegos y Jovellanos decided to end it.

The works were directed by the architect Fernando Rosales, who maintained the Gothic style in the configuration of the constructive elements, culminating his work in 1833.

The sculptural decoration was made years later, entrusting itself to Ricardo Bellver, who made the images of saints that decorate it in artificial stone, also placing the relief of the Assumption of the Virgin on the tympanum of the door as we have already mentioned.

Door of Forgiveness
It is one of the basic elements of the mosque and through which the interior of the Almohad compound was accessed at that time and from where its central nave and the mihrab were lined up.

Its entrance arch still preserves its original appearance with a pointed horseshoe arch; the decoration of plateresque plasterwork that covers it, was made in 1522 by Bartolomé López.

The front of this door was renovated in 1520, decorating itself with a sculptural ensemble made of fired clay by the sculptor Miguel Florentín who made the images of Saint Peter and Saint Paul that appear on the sides, the Virgin and the Archangel Saint Gabriel that are found on the previous ones and the great relief of the Expulsion of the Merchants that is just above the arch of the door.

Currently corresponds to the departure of the cultural and artistic visit of the temple.

Conception Gate
Cover located on the north front of the transept and opens to the patio de los naranjos. It is a work that was unfinished in the initial process of construction of the temple, remaining so until 1887, the year in which it was completed with a design by the architect Adolfo Fernández Casanova.

In it, the author adjusted to the Gothic style of the rest of the building, so that, despite its late date, it harmonizes perfectly with what was built in previous centuries. The facade of the door is crowned with the image of Jesus as priest, accompanied by his apostles. The large lateral apilastrados are from the early sixteenth century.

Popularly it was called red because of the polychromy that covered it inside as a pictorial decoration.

Door of the Bluebells
Located at the head of the Cathedral on the left side of the projection of the Royal Chapel, it is a Gothic style doorway adorned with Renaissance sculptures.

It is dedicated, according to the decoration of its tympanum, to the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem, corresponding to a sculptural group made of fired clay carved around 1520 by Master Miguel, who also made the sculptures of prophets that appear on the jambs.

This cover is popularly called the door of the bells, because during the construction of the Cathedral the bells that called the workers at the time of starting work were located there.

San Miguel gate
The cover on the right of the main façade is dedicated to the Birth of Christ and is also the work of Lorenzo Mercadante from Brittany. In the jambs, and also executed in clay fired by the same artist, the four Evangelists appear plus San Laureano and San Hermenegildo. The small sculptures located in the archivolts are the work of Pedro Millán.

Prince’s Gate
Cover located in the south arm of the transept, where the cultural and artistic visit of the temple is currently accessed individually. Its construction is relatively recent, although, in its realization, the architect Fernández Casanova stuck to the Gothic style of the rest of the building. Two large apilastrados from the 16th century flank this cover.

The Patio de los Naranjos

The old patio or Sahn of the mosque has been renovated by its successive restorations, but can be seen even the original structure configured with pillars supporting pointed horseshoe arches.

At its center is a modern fountain that takes the place of the ancient sabil. However, the upper cup is Visigothic and is the same one that had the original Almohad fountain, which is why the ablutions of Sevillian Muslims were performed before entering the mosque. Of the three galleries that the courtyard originally had, only two are preserved since the one that appeared on the west side has disappeared because it had been demolished to build the Sagrario church.

These galleries or warehouses have lost their original roofs and what remains after reforms and modifications are preserved today. The discovered sector of the courtyard today has a rigid arrangement of orange trees, whose tree pits are connected by means of a network of channels that draw geometric figures and are still used for the flow of water. The patio has two doors that open to the outside and two others that give access to the adjacent enclosure of the cathedral.

Columbian Library
In 1552, the library of Don Hernando Colón began to increase the funds of the library of the ecclesiastical council of Seville by testamentary provision of the great Spanish bibliophile and humanist. Although the number of chapter volumes was greater, the name of columbine has prevailed in history and is as it is currently known, encompassing the two libraries gathered.

The Capitular and Columbian Library is postulated as the most important in the city of Seville; Two types of funds can be distinguished: the capitular, made up of more than 100,000 volumes gathered over the centuries by the Hispano Church, and the Columbian one, which derives from the large legacy of the Admiral’s son.

The stocks of this last fund are about 6,000 copies, among which are 940 incunabula and a thousand manuscripts. It is located in a part of the Nave of the Lizard of the Cathedral, in the cathedral dependencies that are installed on the top floor of the two naves that make up the northeast corner of the Patio de los Naranjos, with recently renovated accesses.

In its beginnings, since the legacy of Alfonso X “el sabio” in 1284, the chapter content has been stored in various rooms of the building. In 1543 they moved to the sacristy of the chapel of San Clemente or Sagrario of the old temple from where, due to the works carried out in the Royal chapel, they moved to one of the upper galleries of the Patio, a place where after the incorporation of the Colombian volumes and the works of adaptation of the enclosure arranged around 1562, have been up to the present.

The Giralda
Ithas the classic structure of Almohad minarets that will continue to be used for centuries in most Mudejar bell towers.

It is made up of a central prism with a square base, surrounded by the four external walls. Between both structures are the ramps, which in the case of this tower and due to its large size, even allowed access by horse.

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The exterior decoration is based on various biphores or mullioned windows, either with semicircular or polylobed horseshoe arches, surrounded by alfiz and supported by another large pointed lobed arch (timid). In the side streets there are wall arches that, seen from afar, look like a network of diamonds. The high height of this minaret makes it stand out from all the others, influencing its decoration in vertical stripes that give it a special airiness.

In the body of bells, we can appreciate the magnificent works of its large windows, where the arches and capitals of Caliphal descent stand out. The last body of the Almohad tower was replaced by the deterioration suffered in the 16th century by Hernán Ruiz through a Renaissance auction on which a bronze female statue of about four meters high that represents “the victorious faith” called the Giraldillo that gives its name to the tower.

Renaissance additives

Royal chapel
The space Real Chapel occupies the head of the temple replaces the old gothic apse was demolished to build the new enclosure. It forms a wide square enclosure closed by a semicircular apse and covered by a solemn dome.

Two small chapels with their corresponding sacristies open on its sides; on these chapels are located tribunes outside. Two stained glass windows made by Vicente Menardo in 1574, which have undergone numerous subsequent restorations, contribute to the lighting of the enclosure. The work of this chapel was designed and directed by the architect Martín de Gainza from 1551.

In 1556, on the death of this architect, the work was complete except for the dome, which was to be completed by 1568 by the architect Hernán Ruiz II; the exterior of this cupola is compartmentalized with casetones in which the heads of kings were included.

The dome lantern sank in 1754, being rebuilt by Sebastian van der Borch. Outside the apse of the chapel, the sculptural decoration is in Plateresque style and was made by artists to whom the figures of kings who appear in the arch of the entrance to the chapel, the angels that adorn the veneer of the apse and the frieze surrounding the chapel. On the sides are niches that house sculptures made between 1571 and 1574.

The tombs located in the open niches in the side walls keep the remains of Alfonso X the wise and his mother Beatriz de Suavia. The frames of these tombs are also in Plateresque style and were made around 1570, the sculptures of the monarchs being more modern works.

The chapel is presided over by an altarpiece made around 1646 by Luis Ortiz de Vargas, where, in the main niche and under a silver canopy, the image of the Virgin of the Kings is worshiped, this being a 13th century Gothic figure of origin French.

On both sides of this altar there are stairs that communicate with the crypt, which acts as the Royal Pantheon and where the remains of different members of the Spanish royal family, such as those of Pedro I of Castilla and his wife, María de Padilla. In the left interior of the chapel there is a small altarpiece from where you can access the hall together, where there are several showcases that keep valuable objects related to San Fernando, including his wife, including pieces of precious metalwork that complete this treasure.

Various pictorial works from the late 17th century hang on the walls. In the tribune that appears on this chapel is a neoclassical organ made by Antonio Otin Calvete in 1807. To the right is an enclosure that houses a choral stalls and a facistol, works from the 18th century and were donated by Carlos IV; There is also an altarpiece to San Antonio from 1638 and a good set of paintings that, after the modernization works for the new access to the chapel, appear in the sacristy of the chapel dating from the end of the 17th century and the first quarter of the century XVIII.

Inside, the entrance to the chapel is closed with a magnificent grille designed by Sebastián van der Borh that was paid for by King Carlos III, being placed in 1771. At the top of the grille, there is a sculpture of San Fernando receiving horses on horseback. keys to Seville, the work of Jerónimo Roldán.

Chapter room
From the antechamber, one of the most admirable precincts of Spanish Renaissance architecture is accessed through a curved corridor, the Chapter House of the Cathedral, whose construction lasted from the mid-16th century until its completion with the intervention of the architect Hernán Ruiz II and ending it Asensio de Maeda.

The space of this enclosure was conceived in an elliptical plan, which offers perfect visibility of all the members in the meetings of the cathedral chapter, in which the problems of spiritual and material government of the temple were expressed and discussed. Also the oval arrangement and its unitary vaulting facilitate the perfect expansion of the voice, its acoustics being exceptional.

At the same time that the needs of seeing and hearing, raised by the large gathering of ecclesiastics, are resolved, this Chapter Hall alludes, through the decoration of its walls, to a complex iconographic program destined to exalt the virtues that they had to hold those who gathered there, so that their exchanges of ideas and opinions could be done in harmony and harmony; In this way, a moral code is developed on the walls that the canons should follow in their chapter meetings.

This program was drawn up by Canon Francisco Pacheco and in it, a repertoire of sculptures and paintings is inserted, accompanied by Latin inscriptions that allude to the content of the images. All this decoration appears in the second body of the room, first of all noticing among the pedestals of the columns pictorial representations of the Virtues that are captured through female figures, some of which also represent Santas and perfectly visible from any angle From the living room. These paintings were made by Pablo de Céspedes in 1592. The large vertical reliefs that appear between the columns were made by Juan Bautista Vázquez el viejo and Diego de Velasco around 1582.

The reliefs of rectangular format were made around 1590 by Marcos Cabrera. In the vault there is a magnificent series of works by Murillo commissioned by the Cabildo to the painter in 1667. Painted on canvases in a circular format appears a set of eight perfectly identifiable Sevillian saints and in a magnificent carved figure frame, presiding over the entire set from the most high, the Immaculate, a work that can be considered among the most beautiful that the artist made with this theme.

A splendid mahogany chair carved in 1592 by the sculptor Diego de Velasco presides over the entire room at its base and is preceded by the secretary’s seat, the work of the same artist and also made with excellent design.

Greater Sacristy
The interior of the Sacristía Mayor is a solemn space conceived on the central floor that forms a Greek cross with very small arms. Its space is covered with a dome that rests on pendentives.

The elevation is made with pillars to which are attached half columns and pilasters with their richly carved profile with plateresque carving; on the capitals there is a fine decoration with grotesques and garlands. The arms of the cross are covered with fanned vaults that rest on chamfers decorated with scallops.

The dome is adorned with reliefs arranged in three rings, representing the Last Judgment and a staging of the Celestial Court; in the lower ring, the Damned. Representations of apostles and bishops appear in the vaults. On the wall of the head of the Sacristy, the foundations of the three altars that were in each of the chapels are preserved, dismantled in the nineteenth century. In these foundations there are small sculptural pieces and some reliquaries.

In front of the central chapel is the great painting of Pedro de Campaña, the descent of Christ. On the walls of the enclosure there is a wide pictorial collection of which we highlight San Isidoro and San Leandro de Murillo made in 1655, highlighting the solemnity of the saints who appear respectively represented in attitudes in which they stood out. It should be noted that many other pictorial works of excellent quality are hung on these walls, some specifically mentioned in the paintings section of this website.

We continue to point out the variety of sculptures that are exposed in this Sacristy, the most important being the San Fernando that appears next to one of the pillars of the head and that was commissioned by the Cabildo on the occasion of the canonization of this King. On the opposite pillar is the Immaculate.

The silverwork ensemble on display in the venue is of great importance, highlighting the Custodia grande de Arfe, a wonderful piece representative of Seville’s Plateresque. We will conclude that this space, along with many others from a similar construction period, historically contributed to the progressive transformation of the cathedral building into a set of exhibition spaces, since it has been dedicated to this function for almost two hundred years.

Baroque additives

At the beginning of the 17th century, the old tabernacle, located between the Puerta del Perdón and the well-known lizard nave, was considered insufficient for liturgical needs and a decent pore to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in it.

It was Mateo Vázquez de Leca, Hispano and Archdeacon Canon of Carmona, who defended the initiative to build a new temple of greater presence and size. By capitular agreement, Bishop Pedro de Castro y Quiñones laid the first stone of this temple dedicated to San Clemente.

It has a high-rise interior in which the classical orders are present combined with an exuberant baroque ornamentation. It has a drawer plan with a section of interior buttresses, including chapels that open on both sides.

On its façade, the main portal opens, lintelled and flanked by double fluted columns of Tuscan order on pedestals. It is topped by a triangular pediment that contains a cartouche with the cathedral symbol and two allegorical figures can be seen lying on it. This is the main access that is generally used, although this church also has two other doors, one at the foot and the other that communicates with the Perdón door, both drawn up by Pedro Sánchez Falconete.

Inside, the temple guards a true heritage treasure. Among this treasure we can highlight the Child Jesus carved by Juan Martínez Montañés in 1606 and the Christ of the Crown, a Nazarene from the 16th century who processes days before Easter. But, there is a work that stands out and it is the main altarpiece, coming from the Vizcaínos chapel of the disappeared convent of San Francisco. Jewel of Sevillian art from the second half of the 17th century, its architectural structure is the work of Francisco Dionisio de Rivas, while the sculptures and reliefs are due to Pedro Roldán and are undoubtedly among the best of his exquisite collection.

The central scene responds to the evangelical passage of the Descent. As a finish, a sculpture of San Clemente made by Duque Cornejo. In short, the Church of the Tabernacle itself has enough values to consider it an important monumental complex within the huge block full of attractions of which it is part.

Neoclassical additives

Thehistory of the Office Pavilion dates back to the beginning of the 18th century, when there were a series of houses located in the southwest corner of the cathedral, corresponding to rental units, barns and other warehouses.

The precariousness of the structures made the Cabildo propose to build an annex building according to the category of the Gothic factory; the new work would be aligned with the existing one in that corner of the building.

It was around 1770 and as a consequence of the dilapidated state of that sector that the works began, shortly after being paralyzed due to lack of economic resources. In the 19th century and after Seville was designated as the venue for the Ibero-American exhibition, the final push was made, both ideologically and economically, to finish the work. New projects are presented, abandoning the idea of building a second floor as originally intended; the facade is reformed and its proportions are varied applying the idea of Francisco Javier Luque, concluding the works in 1928.

The cleaning of the elevation shows an interior enclosure arranged in a stacked space, configuring a series of rooms erecting brick walls. These pillars with deep foundations, are made with mortar and the enormous proportion they have, including the arches, suggests that the second floor was never carried out.

We will conclude by affirming that the construction of the Pavilion meant the implantation of a new organization of the sector, by demolishing the wall and the structures attached to it, not only to maintain the presence of the cathedral dependencies begun in the Gothic period, but because, and continuing today, Another great exhibition and organizational room was arranged for the cathedral space in question.

Seville Cathedral
The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See is located in Seville. It is Gothic in style. It is the largest cathedral in the world. The Unesco declared in 1987, with the Real Alcázar and the Archivo de Indias, Heritage and, on July 25, 2010, Good of outstanding universal value. According to tradition, the construction began in 1401, although there is no documentary evidence of the beginning of the works until 1433. The construction was carried out on the site that was left after the demolition of the old aljama mosque in Seville, whose minaret (La Giralda) and patio (patio de los Naranjos) are still preserved.

One of the first masters of works was Master Carlin (Charles Galter), from Normandy (France), who had previously worked in other great European Gothic cathedrals and arrived in Spain believed to be fleeing the Hundred Years War. On October 10, 1506, the last stone was placed in the highest part of the dome, with which symbolically the cathedral was completed, although in fact work continued uninterruptedly throughout the centuries, both for the interior decoration, such as to add new rooms or to consolidate and restore the damage caused by the passage of time, or extraordinary circumstances, among which it is worth noting the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 that produced only minor damage despite its intensity. The architects Diego de Riaño, Martín de Gainza and Asensio de Maeda intervened in these works. Also at this stageHernán Ruiz built the last body of the Giralda. The cathedral and its outbuildings were completed in 1593.

The Metropolitan Cabildo maintains the daily liturgy and the celebration of the Corpus, Immaculate and Virgin of the Kings festivities. This last day, August 15, is also the titular festival of the temple, Santa María de la Asunción or de la Sede, and is celebrated with a solemn third and pontifical procession.

The temple houses the mortal remains of Christopher Columbus and several kings of Castile: Pedro I el Cruel, Fernando III el Santo and his son, Alfonso X el Sabio.

One of the last important works carried out took place in 2008 and consisted of replacing 576 ashlars that made up one of the great pillars that support the temple, with new stone blocks of similar characteristics but with much greater resistance. This difficult work was possible thanks to the use of innovative technological systems that showed that the building suffered oscillations of 2 cm daily as a consequence of the expansion of its materials.