Santiago de Compostela Cathedral Museum

A tour of the cathedral's most emblematic pieces, showcasing more than 1,000 years of history.

By The Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Fundación Catedral de Santiago

xxxxxxxOriginal Source: Private collection

Founded in 1928, the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral Museum manages, preserves, studies, exhibits, and disseminates the varied art collections of Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, which include elements from archeology, sculpture, painting, metalwork, tapestry, textiles, and decorative arts. The pieces take us on a complete journey through the history, art, and characters of the phenomenon of pilgrimage along the Way of St James ("Camino de Santiago"), from its beginnings to the present day.

Piece of window (X century)The Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The Origins of the Cathedral and City of Santiago (9th–10th Centuries)

When the king of Asturias, Alfonso II, heard about the discovery of the remains of Saint James the Great ("Santiago" in Spanish), he ordered the construction of a single-nave church next to an old Roman mausoleum. Alfonso III's basilica was later built in the same location as its predecessor.

Replica of the Cross from Alfonso III (h. 874) by Original: Royal Workshop of OviedoThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The Apostle's tomb soon became very important to the monarchy, as is clear from the huge number of privileges and donations that it would go on to receive throughout history.

The so-called Santiago Cross was given as an offering by Alfonso III "The Great" in the year 827. It is a "crux quadrata" or Greek Cross, which was very typical of the period.

The cross was stolen from the Chapel of the Relics in 1906 and, unfortunately, has never been recovered. However, a large number of references, engravings, phototypes, and photoengravings have been preserved, enabling reproductions to be made. A copy made by the silversmith Ricardo Martínez occupies its original position on the new altarpiece of the Chapel of the Relics, which was made by Maximino Magariños after the fire of 1921 that destroyed Bernardo Cabrera's Mannerist altarpiece.

Ordoño's rood (h. 1060-1063) by Rhenish workshop active in the Leonese courtThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

According to medieval chronicles, the treasures of Santiago Cathedral came to include 300 gold and silver crosses, almost all of which have now been lost. The Cross of Ordoño , however, is one of the few remaining.

Founding capitals: Diego Peláez and Alfonso VI Founding capitals: Diego Peláez and Alfonso VI (1075) by Master Bernardo and his workshopThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The Romanesque Cathedral

Pilgrimages to Santiago boomed in the 11th century with significant support from the Church and monarchy. This meant a new basilica was required, and construction began in 1075.

Codex Calixtinus Codex Calixtinus (1150-1200) by Scriptorium compostelanoThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The Codex Calixtinus is a document conceived at the time of Archbishop Diego Gelmirez, and is fundamental to our knowledge of the cathedral during the Romanesque period.

It comprises 5 books, each supplemented by documents and additions. It includes sermons, hymns, reports of miracles, accounts of the transferral of the Apostle's body, liturgical texts, and musical pieces related to Saint James. The fourth book describes Charlemagne's discovery of the tomb. The fifth is a type of guide for pilgrims following the Way of Saint James ("Camino de Santiago") on their journey to Santiago de Compostela. It contains advice and descriptions of the route, the works of art that can be seen along it, and the local customs of the people who lived along the Way.

Adam and Eve counterclaim (First quarter of the twelfth century) by "Maestro de la Traición" (Master of Betrayal)The Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The construction of the Romanesque cathedral was initially managed by Bernard the Elder, with the western facade being completed by Master Mateo (1168–1211).

During the first stage, reliefs were designed for the now lost Door of Paradise, including the "Reprimand of Adam and Eve," which would form part of the northern facade.

Many of the pieces that were part of the disappeared façade were reused. However, this piece fell into private hands and was discovered in 1900 in a house in the Pitelos area of Santiago.

Month of February (h. 1103 - 1110) by "Maestro de Platerías" (Silversmith Master)The Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Progress on the new Romanesque cathedral led to the destruction of Alfonso III's primitive basilica in 1112. This piece came from the side entrance of the Francígena Facade (which is mentioned in Book V of the Codex Calixtinus), along with other figures representing the months of the year and many other allegories.

This relief from the northern facade has been associated with the month of February, validating the quote from the Codex Calixtinus that refers to reliefs representing the work undertaken in each month of the year.

The heavily eroded fragment of the relief shows a male figure in profile, dressed in a long tunic and hood. He sits on a simple stool warming his hands and legs by the fire, represented by gentle ripples in the relief.

Stony choir reconstruction Stony choir reconstruction (1168-1211) by Master MateoThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Master Mateo

Master Mateo was the man responsible for completing the western side of the Cathedral, as well as the choir and the crypt.

Stony choir reconstructionThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

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.

Keystones from Portico of the Glory's Crypt Keystones from Portico of the Glory's Crypt (1168-1211) by Master MateoThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Master Mateo designed a crypt at the western end to overcome the challenge of uneven terrain. It was integrated with the iconographic program of the Portico of Glory and symbolized the earthly realm before Glory which, unlike the latter, relies on celestial bodies to illuminate it.

Voussoirs with the punishment of lust (h. 1188) by Master MateoThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Among the items made by Master Mateo are 2 voussoir stones decorated in relief. These would have been part of the cathedral's primitive western facade and probably located in the southern arch, based on the themes depicted.

Mateo's facade was modified between 1519 and 1521 in order to install doors to close up the basilica.

Rose window (h. 1200) by Master MateoThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

This facade had a large rose window, which was already in poor condition by 1520.Several fragments were recovered, enabling a hypothetical reconstruction to be produced.

The piece has complex inner tracery with a central circular core featuring a star shape. Around the core are circular elements, each containing a star and linked by interlaced ribbons in relief.

Consecration crosses Consecration crosses (1211)The Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The Cathedral at the End of the Middle Ages

On April 21, 1211, the Romanesque work that had started in 1075 was completed, and a ceremony was held to consecrate Santiago Cathedral. The ceremony followed the Roman Ordo liturgy first established in the 11th century, which included the "chrismation" of the interior walls. This involved using holy oil to anoint 12 crosses painted or engraved in other places of worship, incensing them, and lighting candles before them.

Reliquary bust of Santiago Alfeo (1332) by Attributed to Rodrigo EánsThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Other relics arrived at the cathedral, including the "Caput Argenteum" or "Reliquary Bust of Saint James the Less," which was greatly revered and the most famous relic of all the cathedral's treasures.

The current reliquary was made in the first third of the 14th century and has been attributed to the workshop of Santiago local Rodrigo Eáns, who was the cathedral silversmith at the time. It was enhanced over the centuries with various donated jewels and precious stones.

Altarpiece with Apostle Saint James' life scenes (h. 1456) by Nottingham workshopThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Pilgrims arrived from far and wide, bringing new pieces with them, as in the case of this altarpiece depicting scenes from the life of the Apostle Saint James, made in a workshop in Nottingham.

The altarpiece has 5 alabaster panels that depict episodes in the life of Saint James the Great: his vocation, mission, preaching, martyrdom, and the transferral of his body. This can be seen from the Latin inscribed in gothic characters at the bottom of the wooden structure housing the panels.

This type of devotional piece was relatively common at the time, and their production was centered on Nottingham between 1340 and 1540. The city's craft workshops functioned as something of a production line, churning out models, narrative resources, iconographic motifs, etc.

Doña Leonor Spandrel (Second quarter of the 14th century)The Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The historical background of the cathedral includes various kings, historical figures, saints, pilgrims, archbishops, and Church dignitaries who, each in their own way, have left evidence of their devotion and connection to the Sepulcher of Santiago.

Such is the case of the Tympanum of the Adoration of the Magi. It is also known as Doña Leonor's Tympanum, in reference to the donor who financed the construction of a chapel in the vicinity of the western facade of the Cathedral, in around 1323.

Annunciation Annunciation (h. 1325) by Mestre Pero, Coimbra workshopThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Many monarchs made pilgrimages to the cathedral throughout the 14th century, including Queen Isabella of Portugal. She made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in 1325, and this is one of theories as to how this piece might have arrived at the cathedral.

This particular kind of iconography became very popular in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. It depicts the Annunciation by the Archangel Saint Gabriel and Mary's Immaculate Conception, showing her towards the end of her pregnancy.

Saint James' Preaching in Hispania (1594-1596) by Gregorio EspañolThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The Cathedral in the Modern Age

From the 16th century onward, the cathedral underwent a series of changes. These were the result of new liturgical demands from the Council of Trent and, above all, the arrival of a new archbishop, Juan de Sanclemente, in Santiago.

Cape (1704) by Juan de FigueroaThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

In 1694 a project was launched to decorate the cathedral's high altar with lavish baroque silverware, led by Archbishop Monroy. As a result, a short cloak "in silver, with jewels and other adornments" was commissioned in 1704 to dress the image of St James, seated in the alcove, as a pilgrim.

The cape was removed in the 2004 Holy Year due to the wear and tear it was showing after 3 centuries of being embraced by local believers and pilgrims. It went into the Cathedral Museum collection and was replaced with a replica.

Aquiles discovered among Licomedes' daughters (h. 1648) by Jan RäesThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Numerous tapestries, donated by Pedro Acuña y Malvar and made by renowned designers, arrived at the cathedral from the 19th century.

Between 1630 and 1635, Peter Paul Rubens produced a series dedicated to the "Life of Achilles," comprising a total of 8 pieces, to which a further 2 would later be added.The person who commissioned the work, and the original location of the first tapestries, are unknown.

Canopy from the bedroom of Carlos III (h. 1764) by Royal Tapestry FactoryThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The cathedral's collections also contain canopies from the bedroom of Charles III of Spain. These were produced in the Royal Tapestry Factory based on cartoons by Guillermo de Anglois and, later, by José del Castillo.

All the pieces of tapestry that were made for the monarch had a moralizing, mythological focus, exploring themes such as "Virtues" and "Elements." However, they particularly stand out for their decorative animal, bird, flower, and acanthus motifs on a blue background.

Kermés (Village feast) (h. 1730) by Royal Tapestry FactoryThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The largest set of pieces in the cathedral's collection, in the Tapestry Museum, are from the Royal Factory of Santa Bárbara, and were woven during its first years of operation.

Among the tapestries in the Cathedral Museum is one showing a "kermesse"—a 17th-century Dutch term used to refer to any kind of public festival. The original painting that inspired it is now kept at the Prado Museum in Madrid.

Majo with a Guitar (1780) by Royal Tapestry Factory, from a Goya cartoonThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

Many of these tapestries incorporate "costumbrista" themes exploring local customs and "majo" traditions, as in the case of those based on Francisco de Goya's cartoons.

"Majo with a Guitar" depicts a Madrid dandy playing and singing what is possibly a melancholy love song.The protagonist's loneliness is amplified here by the absence of any other characters.

As is usual in these pieces, and due to the technique of the tapestry itself, the colors have become more vivid over time, while the shifts and play between light and shadow on the canvas have been lost.

Pennant of the captain Nao in the Battle of Lepanto (h. 1571)The Catedral de Santiago Foundation

At the end of the 16th century, war insignias, pennants, banners, and other items from the Battle of Lepanto were sent as a sign of gratitude for the assistance of Saint James, the Patron Saint of Spain. The "Gallardete de la Nao Capitana" pennant from the Battle of Lepanto is the only one of these that still exists today.

It is made from 17 meters of linen fabric decorated in tempera with colorful scenes and coats of arms. Beginning at the top of the pennant, on a background of 3 stripes—red, gold, and blue—there are depictions of a Calvary; a Throne of Grace; the Lion of Saint Mark (Venice); the imperial coat of arms of the House of Austria; the Gryphon (Genoa); the images of Saint John the Evangelist, Saint James (dressed as a pilgrim), and Saint John the Baptist; and the shields of Castile and the House of Savoy.

Botafumeiro (1851) by José LosadaThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The Cathedral in the Contemporary Era

One of the most well-known pieces in the cathedral's collections is the "Botafumeiro" (or "censer" for burning incense). It was created with a ceremonial purpose, to waft incense over the relic of Saint James during certain formalities.

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral: The "Botafumeiro"The Catedral de Santiago Foundation

With a shape similar to that of hand-held incense burners, what sets the Botafumeiro apart is its size and how it is operated, suspended by a rope from a pulley mechanism at the top of the dome.

Hammer of the Holy Door (2010) by Fernando MayerThe Catedral de Santiago Foundation

The collection also includes the "Hammer of the Holy Door" from the year 2010, which is one of the few preserved at the cathedral.

The origins of the ceremony in which the cathedral's Holy Door is opened are unclear. It was probably inspired by the event held at the Holy Door in Rome since the 16th century, in which the Jubilee year would begin with the door being opened, and end with its closure. The ceremony involving a hammer, which symbolizes the effort that the faithful must make to pass through the gates of Heaven, probably began around the same time.

The absence of references to these ceremonial hammers in Santiago is striking. They were seen as unimportant until relatively recently, perhaps until the remains of Saint James were rediscovered and there was a surge in pilgrimages to the city. It is likely that the tradition of ordering a different hammer for each Holy Year, and for it to be kept by the Master of Ceremonies after the ceremony, began at the same time.

Credits: Story

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

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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