The official motto of Cathedral of Burgos associates it with the beauty and purity of the Virgin who inspired its construction. The first Gothic temple of the Crown of Castile, it is the only cathedral in Spain declared a World Heritage Site without other annexed buildings. Its harmony of styles, symmetrical proportions, and accumulation of works of art give it an extraordinary beauty. Another unique fact is that it is the only temple that, in addition to being cathedral, is also a basilica.
To visit any great cathedral implies a historical, architectural and artistic journey that usually encompasses several centuries and a great amount of extraordinary works of art. The accumulation of so many works in a single place can lead to passing some by without paying due attention or taking time to read the information; so it is so important to prepare in advance your visit to a cathedral of this sort.
The preparation also includes searching for hours with fewer visitor traffic, entering with clothes appropriate for a religious temple and bringing binoculars with which to see the stained glass windows and details of vaults, facades, and towers. The cathedral in Burgos requires one or two hours for a detailed visit, and almost an hour more enjoying the great cloister and the cathedral museum. The visit to the rest of the city can take a day and a half more. Here you have some places where to eat and sleep.
In 1221 King Ferdinand III the Saint and Mauricio Bishop promoted its construction on the foundations of a Romanesque temple of the last third of the 11th century that had been demolished, and only taking advantage of few materials and sculptures. Some nearby houses were also demolished to make room for such an important construction, which was at the foot of the hillside of the city. The works were started by an anonymous master builder and from 1240 onwards by Master Henry —who would later work in the Cathedral of Leon —and followed the Franco Norman model of great cathedrals. Having very good financing and being near quarries, the work advanced very fast. A divine service was celebrated within 9 years after the beginning of construction, and the temple was consecrated only 39 years after, in 1260.
Major reforms were made during the following three centuries; but they did not detract from the initial harmony nor denature the Gothic style. The saga formed by the masters Juan, Simón and Francisco de Colonia would have a fundamental role in the construction of the temple, incorporating the gothic style of flamenco with some of the greatest architectural treasures of the cathedral. The towers were built by Juan de Colonia in the middle of the 15th century following the order of Bishop Alonso de Cartagena. The Capilla del Condestable was commissioned by Fernandez de Velasco to Simón de Colonia. In 1519, Diego de Siloé drew the Golden Ladder that was to save the unevenness of the Puerta de la Coronería. The dome was executed between 1539 and 1568 by Francisco de Colonia and Juan Vallejo, after the collapse of an earlier one. The statues that adorn it are made by John Picardo. The front doors of the main facade went through major reform in 1790.
Between 1808 and 1813, during the French occupation of Burgos, several objects were stolen from the Cathedral and other temples of the city by troops. In 1921 the remains of El Cid and of Doña Jimena were installed under a slab of the cross of the central nave, and which were transferred to Burgos from the monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña, and later partially stolen and taken to France.
The most impressive thing about the Gothic style is the succession of buttresses that sustains the height and contribute to the majesty of this temple. Another characteristic element is the octagonal dome which serves to bring light to the cross with its rich decoration. It brings together varieties of Gothic architectural style, which are integrated into the set with great harmony, despite lacking the variety in style of other cathedrals. The door and the naves are «pure Gothic». The needles of the towers, the dome and the chapel of the Condestable correspond with the flamboyant Gothic-Moorish influence.
On the main façade is the central body, which has been equipped to provide illumination to the interior with a splendid rose window and an elegant upper gallery of windows with effigies of eight Castilian Monarchs. Its façade is topped by the image of the Virgin Mary with the inscription Pulchra es et decora (“you are beautiful and pure”). The towers are 84 meters high —equivalent to the length from one end to another of the temple, which brings symmetry to the vision of the whole building— are finished off by octagonal needles and decorated according to the German Gothic model.
The rest of the facades can be seen after crossing the trail from the site of the temple (next to the slope of the hill towards the city). That slope hides an outside view cloister on its southern side. The Puerta del Sarmental, from 1235, is preceded by a staircase and corresponds with the southern arm of the transept. It is adorned in magnificent Gothic sculptures, which are pure Gothic with classical proportions. It is focused on the Christ in the position of Majesty: the master with the book of the wisdom in hand, surrounded by the four evangelists and their symbols. Below are the twelve apostles with the book of the Gospel in hand. The statues in the jambs —representing the prophets Aaron and Moses on the left and San Pedro and San Pablo on the right— were replaced in the seventeenth century. In the transept or intermediate support, there is a statue of a Bishop who is speculated to be Don Mauricio Mauricio (initiator of the Cathedral). Also note the archivolts representing Angels with candles and the elders of the Apocalypse.
Follow Fernán González street to the north door of the transept, or Puerta de la Coronería (finished in 1250) and later called Puerta de los Apóstoles, which is decorated with a representation of the last judgment. In the Centre of the tympanum is Christ seated as a majestic judge and showing his stripes as a sign of mercy. They flank the Virgin Mary and San Juan Evangelista in an attitude of prayer. It is surrounded by angels carrying the symbols of the passion. In the Strip below the Archangel San Miguel separates the blessed from the condemned; the former are brought to the blue house and the latter to torment. The Apostles in the arches attended and made the judgement of mankind with Christ, and worship angels and cherubs from the archivolts.
The door of the tanneries is a Gothic-plateresque facade made by Francisco de Colonia between 1516 and 1530. It emphasize in high relief the martyrdom of San Juan Bautista and San Juan Evangelista in the upper section. In the tympanum, flanked by images of San Pedro and San Pablo, the Bishop Don Juan Rodriguez of Fonseca is prostrate before the image of the Virgin, accompanied by angel musicians. The set is complemented by the shield of the mentioned Bishop patrons, the arches and main arch, which together with arrange the Apostles under canopies.
Its three naves, transept and ambulatory are surprising for their magnificence and granduer, as well as their rich decoration. The central nave rises on the side in robust and slender columns. Next to the entrance are articulated figures of the Flycatcher and its companion the Martinillo which form part of a clock and are a few characteristic elements of the temple. The Flycatcher is a doll made in the 16th century and is characterized by its grotesque appearance, opening and closing its mouth to give the chimes of the hours. The “Martinillo,” located on an enclosed balcony, gives the quarter and half hour chimes.
In the center of the transept, beneath the bright starry dome of Arabic influence and plateresque decoration, are two of the most popular historical attractions of the temple: the tombs of the celebrated medieval knight Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, el Cid Campeador, and his wife Jimena.
The main chapel is preceded by a marble staircase. Its walnut without polychrome altarpiece is the work of the brothers of Haya and of Juan de Anchieta. Numerous statues surround the image of Santa María la Mayor.
The choir side closes with railings and is equipped with stalls sculpted in the 16th century. Before the lectern crowned by the Virgin is a Gothic tomb of 1240 carved in walnut with a figure of the founder of the temple, the Bishop Don Mauritius, reclining. It is also embossed in copper.
The Capilla del Condestable is the principal attraction of the interior of the cathedral, a place of extraordinary beauty and harmony. It displays a style very similar to that of the plateresque Gothic style. It is located in the area of the apse, preceded by a grating of Cristóbal de Andino, and constitutes a small temple inside the great temple which is the Cathedral. It was built by Simon de Colonia between 1482 and 1494, and great artists Felipe de Vigarny and Diego de Siloé participated in its decoration. Extraordinary windows, balustrades and carved cresting bows decorate its walls. Large shields of those who financed it are shown in them: the Constable of Castile Don Pedro Fernández de Velasco and his spouse Mrs. Mencía de Mendoza. The grave, with recumbent figures sculpted in Carrara marble, stands in the Centre of the chapel under an eight-pointed star-shaped vault. The chapel also boasts several high quality altarpieces and paintings. Works of great value such as La Magdalena of the school of Leonardo Da Vinci are kept in the sacristy attached.
In the ambulatory are low-reliefs on the themes of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. The three central low-reliefs were made between 1497 and 1503 by sculptor Felipe de Vigarny. The Madrid artist Pedro Alonso de los Ríos made the two ends in Baroque style during the second half of the 17th century.
On the left arm of the transept is the famous Golden staircase designed in the so-called ‘imperial style’ by Diego de Siloé, and built between 1519 and 1522. It was a bridge to save the existing gap between the Coronería gate and the North nave of the transept. Diego de Siloé was inspired by the project of Bramante for the Cortile del Belvedere in Rome. The French metalworker Hilario made the banisters in embossed iron and gold that stand out as work detailed as medallions.
Between the chapels that open in the side naves and the ambulatory is the chapel of the blessed Christ of Burgos. The main altarpiece, of Neo-gothic style, is part of the image of Christ crucified, from the 14th century, wood, and fully articulated and covered with calfskin. Considered to be a miracle of sorts, for centuries it was venerated at the convent of San Agustín de Burgos until the confiscation, and the religious Augustinians extended its cult through Spain and Latin America.
The Capilla de la Presentación has a starry vault and contains an excellent alabaster sepulcher with the resting figure of its founder and a painting by Sebastiano del Piombo of the Virgin and Child at the altar. The Capilla de la Visitación, with the alabaster tomb of the prelate Don Alonso of Cartagena, was built between 1440 and 1442. The bed is attributed to John of Cologne, while the meticulous ornamentation of the flowery Gothic of his Episcopal vestments are attributed to Gil Of Siloam. The 1653 altarpiece includes paintings such as La Visitation, La Virgen con el Niño and Santa Ana with San Juan, which were inspired by Italian works.
The Capilla de Santa Tecla was added between 1731 and 1735. It is the result of the transformation of four small Gothic chapels and the Church of Santiago de la Fuente into a large nave. The center includes a large dome adorned with several polychrome plasterworks by Juan de Areche, whose passages of transition to the dome depict the evangelists.
The Capilla de Santa Ana, or the Conception, is presided over by an excellent greater altarpiece on the genealogy of Christ. From the right arm of the cruise, after crossing a very decorated door, one enters into the cloister. It was built in the 14th century and consists of two floors. The lower floor has one of its flanks on the outside, which has been turned into pedestrian crossing.
The gateway to the upper cloister is an important feature, which was sculpted in the 13th century. Some highlights are the scene of the baptism of Jesus Christ in the tympanum and the sculptures of both jambs: the Annunciation on the left and on the right the prophets Isaiah and David. As this door is closed for access to the upper cloister, one must go up to the sacristy entrance on the other side of the temple to climb to the upper cloister. These other stairs are the work of the Maestro Enrique, which covered the galleries with simple ogival vaults. There is extraordinary beauty in the decoration of the arches, capitals and archivolts, in addition to the sculptures, reliefs, and graves scattered throughout the space. In the Northwest corner of the Gallery is the St. Jerome chapel built in 1545 with a star-shaped vault, where one should pay attention to the magnificent Renaissance Tomb figure reclining, and the beautiful reliefs, as well as the Mannerist altarpiece. The lower cloister was used until the 19th century as a cemetery, and was refurbished and redecorated between 1899 and 1911 by the architect Vicente Lampérez. Today it houses an interpretation center of the construction of the building which gives an accurate idea of the complexity of such a great building.
The Cathedral Museum was installed in the chapels of San Juan and of Santiago and the Chapterhouse. Among the works in custody is the Cristo de la Columna de Diego, recuerdos de El Cid and jewelry pieces of great value, such as the chalice donated by the Constable and the Byzantine crucifix of the 11th century believed to have belonged to Count Fernán González. The Chapterhouse stands out for its mudejar coffered ceiling from the 15th century. It was built in times of Don Alonso de Cartagena; currently displaying Flemish tapestry masters of the 16th century and paintings like the Madonna with child of Hans Memling (16th century).
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