1168 - 1211

A Master by the Name of Mateo

The Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Between 1168 and 1211, Master Mateo worked on a project that was fundamental to the history of Santiago Cathedral.

Master Mateo
Originally valued for his sculptural work, Master Mateo soon came to be seen in his dual role of architect and sculptor. Given the magnitude of the cathedral works, and the fact that there was clearly a workshop with several expert hands and a certain personality of its own, he has been considered more of a "project manager" in recent decades. He combined the abilities of managing, programming, directing, and executing works that included, over a period of approximately 50 years, completion of the cathedral and its iconographic program.

The earliest documentary evidence that exists about Master Mateo is the document signed and stamped by King Ferdinand II of León on February 23, 1168. In it, he was granted a significant lifetime pension in exchange for taking over the management of the works on Santiago Cathedral.

Master Mateo's work on the cathedral included completion of the naves and the execution of his own project, which began with the Portico of Glory and its exterior facade, and concluded with the cathedral's consecration in 1211.

Mateo's facade, which was organized over 3 streets and 4 registers, was probably made between 1188 and 1211. It featured a large rose window that occupied the top of the central section.

These two pieces would have been part of the exterior facade of the Portico of Glory, specifically on the south side.

Both present visibly crude depictions portraying the punishment of lust.

This piece depicts a female figure whose breasts are being bitten by snakes, while other animals attack her face and legs.

This set is also from the missing facade by Mateo, and was part of an eave that ran along the edge of the first section of the central part.

It comprises 5 elements made up of rounded arches sheltering busts of angels with outstretched wings, carrying books and phylacteries (boxes containing scriptural passages).

The Facade of the Portico of Glory
This collection of pieces perfectly demonstrates the essence of Master Mateo and the exceptional nature of his project, which also included the facade of the western section. In order to complete it, Mateo ran an important workshop in which various influences and sensibilities converged.

This sculpture of David would have been situated in the central part of the primitive facade, as a precursor of the Savior. This would justify its position in the same place in the same pillar as Saint John the Baptist, in the narthex of the Portico of Glory.

Solomon would have been in the front pillar, in an identical position to the sculpture of his father, David, in relation to the Queen of Sheba. However, there would have been another figure between them both in the door jamb.

The prophets were also portrayed in the Portico of Glory. In this case, there is a depiction of Isaac, who holds a card with an inscription that is no longer legible.

The work to the cathedral facade between 1519 and 1521 involved its 3 doors, and it was necessary to take down the column statues and reliefs added by Master Mateo and his team in order to finish the decoration and iconography on the portico.

On October 5, 2016, a fortuitous discovery was made in one of the recesses in the Santiago Cathedral bell tower: a column statue that undoubtedly comes from Mateo's lost portico.

It features a male figure with its head removed—a common occurrence that meant the character lost its sanctity, becoming no more than stone. Its halo, however, remains.

These two sculptures depicting the elderly characters Elijah and Enoch belonged to the primitive facade. Wearing halos, they are barefoot with their left legs bent. They are dressed in tunics and cloaks which, although powerful in effect, are not enough to conceal the rounded shapes of the bodies beneath them.

It is important to note this head alongside the column statues, as it provides some valuable information about how the Portico figures were carved in Master Mateo's workshop. The head was sculpted independently from the statue on which it sat, which has since been lost.

The Crypt of the Portico of Glory
Progress on the construction of the naves was hindered by the unevenness of the land. It necessary to build a new crypt, with a hugely complex structure and an undeniable Burgundian influence. It is likely that Mateo was involved with the works on the cathedral and the operations of the Santiago Church. This most probably gave him the opportunity to interact with artists of different origins, and to travel and experience Burgundian, Parisian, and Italian art, not forgetting that of the Iberian Peninsula.

The crypt symbolizes the earthly realm that exists before Glory, which is represented on the floor above. Unlike the latter, it relies on celestial bodies to illuminate it.

Mateo's Choir
Mateo's design for the cathedral also included the construction of a granite choir to occupy the first sections of the central nave. His iconographic program continued the Portico of Glory's "message of apocalypse and salvation."

By the time the cathedral was consecrated in 1211, Mateo's choir had been completed. It remained standing until 1604, when it was torn down to make way for new wooden stalls. These were built to a design requested by Archbishop Juan de Sanclemente to suit the latest liturgical customs of the period.

The high choir stalls consisted of a stone pew with alternating blind arches and corbels, which supported columns marking out seats separated by braces. They also held panels with cresting featuring complex iconography, which was decipherable by those who were suitably educated.

The facade of the retrochoir (space behind the high altar) made by Master Mateo, in the fourth section of the nave, was presided over by a tympanum dedicated to the Epiphany (now lost). To the left was a relief featuring horses from the entourage of the Magi or Three Kings.

Fundación Catedral de Santiago
Credits: Story

An exhibition created by Fundación Catedral de Santiago
Photography: ©Museo Catedral de Santiago
Texts: Marina Pérez Toro

Credits: All media
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