Not many years ago, the facade of the Cathedral of Oviedo was dark, superficially charred by the effects of time and dirt. That black mask with which he concealed his identity came to be seen as part of his physiognomy, like a great birthmark.
Now, with the beginning of the new millennium and the complete cleanliness of the cathedral surface, its rejuvenated appearance shows more clearly its magnificence, and the plural architectural footprints of a building that was beginning to be built at the beginning of the 14th century on the ruins of pre-Romanesque and Romanesque basilicas. Thanks to the preserved relics, the cathedral of Oviedo received pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages and became an obligatory stop before continuing on its way to Santiago.
Construction of the Cathedral of Oviedo
The cathedral took a whopping three centuries to build, and it did so under the premises of a florid or flamboyant Gothic, dominant at that time. But the canons of that time do not seem to have obsessed the architects, who with problems not expected in the construction pulled down the middle path. That's why we see only one tower, and not two as in the rest of the European Gothic. There are almost 80 meters of tower that also had to get up with economic shortages, a lot of technical problems and seismic movements included. But whatever it is, there it is majestic and freshly washed, showing us a pointed treasure with a thousand and one sculptural edges, whose finishing dates back to the year 1587, being considered as the last of the Gothic architectural works. The tower seen almost from any point of Oviedo, exerts a dominant position in the citizen's perspective, despite a considerable allusion to the same figure on the first page of the memorable novel La Regenta: "The view was not fatigued contemplating hours and hours that stone index pointing to the sky; it was not one of those towers whose needle cracks subtly, skinnier than slender, mannered like corny ladies who tighten the corset too much; it was massive without losing any of its spiritual grandeur, and even its second corridors, elegant balustrade, rose like a strong castle, throwing itself from there in a pyramid of graceful angle, inimitable in its measures and proportions ».
Let `s go inside. The interior of the Cathedral of El Salvador , because that is his name, runs through the nooks and crannies of a Latin cross plan with three naves with chapels between sharp-bridged and a polygonal head behind which hide seven spaces for the worship of several apostles. These last rooms contain memorable baroque altarpieces of Italian influence. The main altarpiece it is the most remarkable, because next to that of Toledo and Seville it embodies the most valuable triad of the Spanish cathedral heads, with a very broad iconography and a high theological density of the message.
In the interior of the temple we continue to see one of the most meritorious aspects of the Cathedral of Oviedo for the history of Spanish Gothic: the fact that in it we find architectural elements representative of all phases of Gothic architecture, from the classicism of the end of the Century XIII until the late Spanish-Flemish stage of the sixteenth century, passing through the mid-fourteenth century (Mannerist) or the XV (Flamígera).
The Holy Chamber
The cathedral is neat in corners, like the Chapel of the Chaste King of the sixteenth century, on the left wing of the transept, or other rooms made in the purist Gothic style of the late thirteenth century, as is the case with the Chapter Hall and some of the galleries of the cloister. But it is necessary to mention already the existence of a corner that stands out above the rest: the Holy Chamber, an architectural remnant of the original construction that was on the site, which is at the same time treasure of the Romanesque sculpture and the sacred relics of the Asturian kingdom. The Cathedral of El Salvador rises then on the same site of an old pre-Romanesque cathedral of the ninth century (in the time of ALfonso II) that in a certain way conditioned the structure of the Gothic work. So in the Holy Chamber is the first or last redoubt of the temple, depending on how you look at it.
The Holy Chamber is a space of two floors. The lower one is the original pre-Romanesque, while the upper one is Romanesque, from the 12th century. It is a vaulted space in which the twelve Apostles were carved, paired two by two, in the columns that support the arches. This same upper floor keeps The Cathedral Treasure, fruit of successive donations of relics and sumptuary pieces that the Asturian monarchs began to yield already in the ninth century. In this unique treasure, and hallmark of the Principality, the Cross of the Angels, the Cross of the Victory (present in the autonomic flag) and the Arqueta de las Ágatas, of Mozarabic style, stand out. Nowadays, bars and alarms protect this unparalleled treasure after 1977 a robbery in bad faith, never better said, shocked the Asturian people. The pieces were recovered, although some, after the pillage, suffered considerable damage and had to be rebuilt
Annex to the Holy Chamber is located The Cloister, example more notorious if it fits of the step of the time and the architectural criteria that happened in the cathedral. His iconography covers profane and religious themes. It also includes Asturian motifs such as Favila's fight with the bear.
And from the Cloister we already went outside, crossing the door of the Alms, to the Corrada del Obispo, in the historic center, which is well worth a visit and you can start right now.Text: © Ramón Molleda for desdeasturias.com