Master Mateo's stone choir

Get to know the magnificent medieval stone choir of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Fachada del ObradoiroThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Cathedral of Santiago

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is one of the most outstanding examples of Romanesque art in Spain. The work began in 1075 and ended in 1211, however, in order to become as it looks today, it has been the subject of multiple subsequent remodeling.

Stone choir of Master Mateo (1999) by Fundación Pedro Barrié de la MazaThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The stone choir

One of the most important elements of the medieval cathedral was its stone choir, work of Master Mateo. Its construction began around the year 1200 and, certainly, it would have been finished for the consecration of the cathedral in the year 1211.

Project of Master Mateo by Fundación Catedral de SantiagoThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Total project of Master Mateo

King Fernando II granted Maestro Mateo a lifetime pension so that he and his workshop could finish the works of the Romanesque cathedral.
Between 1168 and 1211, Mateo directed the construction of the Portico of Glory, the western facade of the cathedral and the stone choir.

Model choir stone (1996) by Fundación Pedro Barrié de la MazaThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

What is a choir?

The choir was a building inside the church, closed by three facades and opened in front of the main chapel. The entrance was reserved for the chapters of the cathedrals. Here, the 72 canons who made up the Compostela Chapter, sat to sing the divine office.

Cabildo and canons (1999) by Fundación Pedro Barrié de la MazaThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Cabildo and canons

The Cathedral Chapter is a group of clerics which has its own legal personality and whose task is to celebrate the most solemn liturgical functions of the cathedral. The ecclesiastics who are part of the Chapter are called canons.

Caterdal plant of SantiagoThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Location of the choir

It was located in the first three sections of the central nave, starting from the cruise towards the Western facade, and was completed in the fourth section with the retrochoir. From Mateo's work, most Hispanic choirs began to be placed like this.

Stony choir reconstructionThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Chair of the choir

Each canon had a place defined according to his dignity. Those of higher rank sat on the seats of the upper chair, while those of lower rank occupied a stony bench on the lower chair.

Detail of the high choir chair (Circa 1200) by Taller Maestro MateoThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

High chair

Each choir seat was covered with flowered ceilings and delimited by corbels, columns and bracelets. The decoration of the crestry alternated figures of young singers and images of the medieval bestiary enclosed within architectural representations.

Exterior facade stone choir (1999) by Reconstrucción de R. Otero Túñez y R. Yzquierdo PerrínThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Exterior facades

The facade consisted of half-point blind arcades supported by columns with carved and figured capitals. On the crestry, figures of biblical figures alternating with reliefs of polygonal towers appeared.

Tribune choir stone (1999) by Fundación Pedro Barrié de la MazaThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Gallery or "leedoiro"

At the head of the choir stands a platform for the reading of liturgical texts. Under it there was an enclosure used to arrange funerary chapels. The tribune had facades that followed the structure and iconography of the choir, this time, with exempt arches.

Retrochoir facade (1999) by Fundación Pedro Barrié de la MazaThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The retrochoir

The facade of the retrochoir closed it on its western side. It had three free columns and arches on each side of the door following the same crestry. Its tympanum, which is not preserved, represented the theme of the Epiphany and created a very continued model later in Galicia.

Stone choir iconographic programme (Circa 1200) by Taller Maestro MateoThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Iconographic programme

If the Portico of Glory represents the apocalyptic triumph and salvation of Man, the stone choir simulates the city of God. The facades are the fortress that protects the interior of the choir, the holy city of Jerusalem. The themes chosen for the reliefs followed this thread.

Obradoiro excavations (Circa 1200) by Taller Maestro MateoThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation


Archaeological excavations of the last century have shown that many pieces of the medieval choir were not lost, but reused as building and paving material in other areas of the cathedral, for example, on the staircase of the Obradoiro facade.

Holy gate (Durante los s. XVII-XVIII)The Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Holy Gate

More places where elements of the choir were relocated over time are the Holy Gate, where after the addition of the 17th century “os vintecatro” are shown, and the portada of Platerías, with six “young singers” located there since the end of the 19th century.

Fountain of San Pedro de Vilanova (1670)The Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The scattered choir

Also noteworthy is a fountain in the parish of San Pedro de Vilanova decorated with two figures of Master Mateo's choir and more examples that ended elsewhere. In addition, in 1950 the Spanish State began the acquisition of two other figures that are now preserved in the MAN.

Choir Stall Canopies (Ca.1200) by Maestro Mateo and his workshopThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation


In 1978, the largest number of pieces up to date appeared on the Obradoiro staircase. After its storage in the cathedral's liquor store, Professors Otero Túñez and Yzquierdo Perrín began the research process prior to its museumization.

Relief with Wise Men courtship's horses (h. 1200) by Master MateoThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

On January 16 of 1995, an agreement was signed between the Cabildo and the Barrié Foundation to regulate the reconstruction of the choir and ensure its safeguarding. Many of the pieces found had to undergo a process of reintegration and restoration beforehand.

Outcome reconstruction (1999) by Reconstruido por R. Otero Túñez y R. Yzquierdo PerrínThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Final result

Carved in Parga granite by Galician workshops and sculptors, the resulting reconstruction has been a success in terms of Galicia's artistic heritage, as it is fully reversible and allows, of course, the incorporation of future possible finds.

Credits: Story

An initiative of the Cathedral Foundation of Santiago
Address: Ramón Yzquierdo Peiró
Texts: Itzale Laka Solozabal and Laura Codesido Mella
Images: Foundation Cathedral of Santiago

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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