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Spanish Gothic - Examples

( Originally Published 1921 )


Santiago da Compostela Cathedral (A.D. 1078) is one of the most remarkable Mediaeval buildings in Spain and owes its size and character to having been a great pilgrimage centre. The plan resembles S. Sernin, Toulouse, but with three instead of five aisles, and with similar transepts and chevet due to French Gothic influence. The nave has a barrel vault and the aisles cross-vaults. The Portico de la Gloria (A.D. 1188) extends across the whole width of the church and is undoubtedly " one of the greatest glories of Christian art," with its range of statues of the apostles and major prophets, its semicircular arch with statues of the twenty-four elders, and tympanum with sculptured representation of the Last Judgment.

Avila Cathedral (A.D. 1091), with its chevet built astride the city walls, is one of the most interesting in the Peninsula. The principal doorway (p. 529 A) dates from the eleventh century, but most of the work is of later date. The chevet has double aisles and semicircular chapels in the thickness of the walls, whose slit windows indicate that it was part of the city fortifications. The " coro " or choir west of the transepts, the fine cloisters, the widely spaced nave bays, twin western towers, and unique hammered-iron pulpit (p. 538 A) are features of this church.

Salamanca Old Cathedral (A.D. 112078) forms, with the New Cathedral (A.D. 1509), a fine group above the River Tormes. The Romanesque building, which seems to have been influenced by the churches of Aquitaine and Anjou, is specially famous for its dome, which is treated internally (p. 537 D) with great originality. It has plain pendentives, supporting a high drum pierced with two storeys of windows and crowned with a stone ribbed cupola. The exterior (p. 537 F) is effective, with high drum, semi-circular windows, angle turrets, and octagonal spire with an unusual entasis.

S. Isodoro, Leon (A.D. 1149), is a cruciform church and bears some resemblance to Santiago da Compostela Cathedral, with a barrel-vaulted nave and apsidal chapels (p. 537 C) on the eastern side of the transepts and usual Romanesque details.

Burgos Cathedral (A.D. 1230) (pp. 523, 524 A) is irregular in plan and one of the most poetic of all Spanish cathedrals. The two western towers, with open-work spires (p. 523 E), recall Cologne, and a richly treated central lantern or " cimborio " is a marked feature of the exterior (p. 523 c). The interior has elaborate triforium tracery, massive piers rebuilt to support the high " cimborio " when it was completed in A.D. 1567, and fine transeptal circular windows (p. 523 B). The " coro " is in the usual Spanish position west of the crossing, which reduces the nave to a vestibule (p. 523 D). Among the side chapels, which are of extraordinary size, the octagonal Capilla del Condestable (A.D. 1487), over 50 ft. in diameter, is specially remarkable for the beauty and magnificence of its late Gothic detail (p. 523 A), and the Chapel of S. Anna has an altar-piece which is a miracle of richness (p. 538 B).

Toledo Cathedral (A.D. 12271493) (p. 536 D), divided into five aisles and a range of side chapels, resembles Bourges Cathedral in general plan. It is about the same length, but nearly 50 ft. wider, with the choir enclosure, as usual in Spain, west of the crossing (p. 529 B). A singularly shallow sanctuary with immense wooden -" retablo " (reredos) rising to the roof and flanked by tiers of arcaded statuary, is terminated by a chevet of double aisles and chapels. The exterior shows the low roof, usual in most Spanish churches. The Chapel of Santiago (A.D. 1435) (p. 530 B), in the chevet, was erected by Count de Luna as a mortuary chapel. Door-ways with elaborate screenwork, panelled wall surfaces, and great arches, with frilled soffits, supporting the octagonal vault, all contribute their wealth of detail to this grandiose composition, while on some of the Gothic tombs are effigies in full armour of members of the Luna family. There are fine stained-glass windows and beautiful carved choir stalls.

The College of S. Gregorio, Valladolid (A.D. 1488) (p. 524 B), now the town hall, has a sculptured facade embellished with statues, heraldic devices, and a genealogical tree of Ferdinand and Isabella, all framed round with canopied niches and pinnacles, which show the influence of Moorish art in church ornament. The court (p. 537 H) has arcades in the exuberant style of the later period, with three-centred arches, twisted columns, and intricate Moorish-like carving (p. 537 G).

S. Pablo, Valladolid (A.D. 1276I163), has a facade (p. 529 c) and internal doorways which, in intricacy of detail, also show Moorish influence.

Barcelona Cathedral (A.D. 1298) (p. 536 B) is remarkably fine, with nave vaulted in square and aisles in oblong bays, in the Italian method. There is a fine western lantern on pendentives, slightly projecting transepts surmounted by towers, as at Exeter (p. 343), and chevet of nine chapels. The thrust of the vault is counteracted by the deep internal buttresses which enclose chapels along the aisles, as at Albi in France (p. 453). The vault, as is usual in Spain, is exposed externally and roofed by tiles. The fine cloisters were completed about A.D. 1450.

Gerona Cathedral (A.D. 10151458) (p. 536 c) is another instance where buttresses have internal chapels between them. There are no aisles, and the nave (A.D. 1458) (73 ft. wide), in four compartments, has the widest Gothic vault in Europe, and this, together with the length of 275 ft., produces a fine effect with the enclosed choir and chevet (A.D. 10151346) at the sanctuary end. The central hall of the Royal Courts of Justice, London, although only 48 ft. in width, will give an idea of this interior.

S. Maria del Mar, Barcelona (A.D. 132883) (p. 536 A), is a splendid town church, characterised both internally and externally by severe simplicity, and the front to the street is flanked by two octagonal pinnacles. The roof vaulting rests upon widely spaced octagonal granite piers. The nave and aisles are of great height ; there is no triforium and only small clear-story windows in the vault spandrels.

S. Justy Pastor, Barcelona (A.D. 1345), has an aisleless nave 45 ft. wide, with chapels between internal buttresses. The altar stands in an unusual position in front of stalls ranged round the apse.

S. Maria del Pino, Barcelona (A.D. 1543), similar in plan, has a fine heptagonal apse and western circular window.

Seville Cathedral (A.D. 14011520) (pp. 524 C, 839) is the largest Mediaeval cathedral in Europe, and indeed the largest church in the world, with the exception of S. Peter, Rome. It owes its plan and size, with nave, double aisles and side chapels, to its erection on the site of a mosque. This also controlled its rectangular outline, about 400 ft. by 250 ft., and its square east end, unusual in Continental churches, to which is added a small apse. The Cathedral is indeed enormous, as may be realised by comparison with Westminster Abbey. The nave, about 45 ft. wide in the clear, is nearly half as wide again as Westminster nave ; each of the four aisles is approximately equal in width to the Abbey nave, and in addition there are surrounding chapels as wide as the aisles, so that with the chapels, Seville Cathedral is about eight times the width of Westminster nave. It has a total area, including the patio, of about 22,000 square yds. as against Milan Cathedral with 13,984 square yds., and S. Paul's, London, with 9,336 square yds. The interior is impressive, owing to its great size and height, although the nave vault (130 ft. high) has ribs which are somewhat confused in design and overloaded with bosses. The thirty-two immense clustered piers and numerous stained-glass windows produce an imposing effect, in spite of the absence of a triforium. The richness of the interior is enhanced by the sculptured stalls of the " coro " enclosed in two bays of the nave, the fine " reja" or grille, the " retablo," choir stalls, and archbishop's throne. The exterior, owing to many additions, has a certain shapelessness and absence of skyline, but bears a general resemblance to Milan Cathedral, although of a simpler Gothic type and less fanciful in detail. The slender " Giralda," originally the minaret of the mosque, gives this massive group a curiously Oriental aspect (p. 843).

S. Juan de los Reyes, Toledo (A.D. 1476) (pp. 524 D, 530 c), is a royal sepulchral chapel erected by Ferdinand and Isabella for a purpose similar to that of Henry the Seventh's Chapel, Westminster. This late Gothic building, with traces of the incoming Renaissance, has a sculptured facade and " cimborio" with lofty pinnacles. The interior (p. 524 D) is chiefly notable for the raised galleries for the use of kings and nobles, surmounted by the characteristic octagonal " cimborio " with its beautiful squinch arches. The two-storeyed cloisters (p. 530 c), with their traceried windows and canopied statues, are held to be the most beautiful Gothic creations in Spain.

Valencia Cathedral (A.D. 1262) and Leon Cathedral (A.D. 1260) show French influence.

Lerida Cathedral (A.D. 12o378) (p. 536 E), now much mutilated and used as barracks, is an impressive early building with octagonal " cimborio," three eastern apses, and adjacent cloisters, and the roofing slabs rest directly on the stone vaults.

The Monastery, Belem (A.D. 1499), is a fine ecclesiastical monument in Portugal, the western part of the Iberian peninsula. The cloisters have a two-storeyed arcade covered with delicate sculpture, and the church is a richly ornamented late Gothic structure.

The Monastery, Batalha, has a unique fourteenth-century church with an octagonal tomb chapel, and forming a fine architectural group.

The Cistercian Church, Alcobaca, is severe and simple in style, and in its interior resembles a German " hall " church.


The finest secular architecture is found in Catalonia, as seen in the much altered Palacio de la Audiencia, Barcelona, with its remarkable court containing a picturesque external stairway (p. 535 B) ; the Casa Ayuntamiento, Barcelona ; the Alcazar, Segovia (A.D. 1352) ; the Castilla del a Mota, Medina (A.D. 1440) ; the Torre del Clavero, Salamanca (A.D. 1480) ; the Gateway of S. Maria, Burgos, and the remarkable Puente de Alcantara, Toledo (A.D. 1258), which spans the Tagus and is protected by a defensive tower (p. 186).

The Ducal Palace, Guadalajara (A.D. 1461) (p. 535 A), has a picturesque court, surrounded by two storeys of ornately sculptured arcades, with twisted columns and multifoil arches.

La Lonja de la Seda, Valencia (A.D. 1482) (p. 535 D), used as a silk exchange, has an unbalanced facade of nearly 20o ft., with central tower, an east wing with large gateway and two pointed windows, and a west wing with two rows of square-headed Gothic windows surmounted by open galleries.

The Castle, Medina del Campo (A.D. 1440) (p. 535 E), is stern in aspect, with circular towers, battlemented parapets, and windowless curtain walls, and a high tower commands the surrounding country.

The Puerta del Sol, Toledo (A.D. 1200) (p. 535 H), forms part of the town walls of the ancient city, and with its horseshoe arches, intersecting arcades, and Moorish battlements indicates that the Mediaeval Spaniard, with craftsman like skill, applied the art of the time to all secular buildings.

The Puerta de Serranos, Valencia (A.D. 1349) (p. 535 F), with its Mediaeval fortifications, has two polygonal towers flanking the gateway, above which is traceried wall panelling and a gallery on enormous corbels.

These and many more similar buildings are eloquent of the power and position of the Catholic Church and of the Spanish grandee, while the well-preserved town walls of such old-world cities as Avila and Leon indicate the unsettled conditions of those times.

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