Above: A putto cradles a skull in the Chapel of Santa Ana in the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Burgos.
Growing up Catholic in the United States seems to bear little resemblance to the experience in Europe. Even the basic images in a place like Star of the Sea in Virginia Beach are more than an ocean apart from what surrounds church-goers in an ancient church of Europe – for example, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Burgos, where these photographs were taken.
Above: Santiago, Saint James, stands guard under the eight-pointed star of the Spanish Renaissance lantern dome, cimborrio, of the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Burgos.
It seems more like the work of angels than of men.”
King Philip II of Spain (1527-1598)
King Philip II’s glowing description of the gleaming white dome that crowns the intersection of the horizontal arms of a cross with the main nave in the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Burgos seems appropriate. Designed by Juan de Vallejo and Francisco de Colonia, the octagonal dome was completed in 1568 to replace an earlier lantern, less than 50 years old, that collapsed rather spectacularly in 1539. The Latin inscription above Santiago at the base of the dome translates to: “In the midst of your temple I will praise you and give glory to your name because you do wonders.”
As the exterior of the Cathedral makes obvious, the interior’s tall golden altarpieces, soaring domes, choir, chapels and cloisters are overwhelming in scale.
Above: La Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar is on the left while La Seo de Zaragoza anchors the far end of the plaza.
Although conquered by The Battler, Alfonso I (1073-1134), the Moorish rulers of Zaragoza left rich architectural contributions in their wake. The main mosque was an impressive one, so The Battler opted for adaptive reuse, making alterations for Christian purposes and consecrating the new church in the name of San Salvador in 1121.
The Battler’s predilection for war unfortunately extended to his life with his wife, with no heirs produced from the contentious marriage. Leapfrogging over the resulting confusion following Alfonso I’s death, Ramon Berenguer (1114-1162), the Count of Barcelona, was betrothed to one-year-old Petronilla of Aragon (1136-1173) in 1137. The toddler’s father, known as Ramiro II (1086-1157), transferred the rule of the kingdom of Aragon to his new son-in-law so he could retire to a normally peaceful monastic life. As this post is not really about Ramiro the Monk, we will not dwell on his priestly qualifications that include the legend of his beheading of a dozen nobles who opposed him and using the head of their leader as the clapper for the bell of Huesca.
Demonstrating his dedication to the marriage-acquired territory of Aragon, Ramon had much of Zaragoza’s mosque/Catholic church razed to begin construction of a Romanesque replacement in 1140. This church became the home for coronations of Aragonese kings, and, with the papal appointment of an archbishop of Zaragoza in 1318, a cathedral.