Cathedral of Santa Maria d’Urgell, the symbol of Catalan Romanesque architecture

If you are visiting Lleida and arrive by chance to the town of Seo de Urgell, you can not miss the opportunity to visit one of the most important buildings not only of this municipality, but of all Catalonia. The cathedral of Santa Maria d’Urgell is one of the greatest symbols of Romanesque architecture in the region, thanks to its interesting combination of Italian, French and German styles.

This religious complex has undergone different changes over the centuries but, today, it is still the only fully Romanesque cathedral in Catalunya. Its history dates back to the 12th century and it is dedicated to the Virgin of Urgell, patron saint of the city, who dominates the cathedral and attracts thousands of people every year who are curious about the art and history of Spain.

History of the cathedral and its cultural importance

cathedral of Urgell

The Urgell Cathedral is a reference of the Catalan Romanesque. | Shutterstock

The cathedral of Santa Maria d’Urgell began to be built in 1175 and was then a revolution in the architecture and distribution of buildings that were being made in Catalonia. It is believed that from the moment its construction was completed so far it has been the only entirely Romanesque building of its kind in this community.

After hundreds of experts have analyzed and studied its construction, it has been determined that this cathedral, in its day, would have been built with a dual purpose. On oneside it was a place for religious worship but, at the same time, it was also a fortress. Thus provided protection in case of attack. This was conclued after noticing the thickness of its walls, uncommon at that time.

Throughout its history, it was found that there have been several buildings on this same location. During the 5th century a church was built to San Justo. Years later, in the same place, another place of religious worship was built. However, because of the ongoing attacks and the instability of the structure, it was finally in the 12th century when the cathedral that can be visited today was built.

The structure of the cathedral of Santa Maria d’Urgell

The cathedral of Santa Maria d’Urgell attracts visitors to this area of the Catalan Pyrenees for its unique structure. Also, the temple worships the Virgin of Urgell, which presides over the building in a polychrome carving that dates back to the 13th century.

On the outside, you can see up to five access doors and a somewhat unusual structure for Romanesque buildings that shows the Italian influence it had during its design. Normally, Romanesque architecture is characterized by the simplicity of its facades. However, in the case of this cathedral one can appreciate a design marked by a bell tower and several geminate windows. It also has a large cloister, a visible and ornamented apse and several towers. This apse shows, once again, its clear Italian influence.

cathedral of urgell

The Cathedral of Santa Maria d’Urgell | Shutterstock

The whole cathedral is built in granite, giving it a sense of sobriety in the whole structure. It has three central naves that form an unusual transept for the time due to its length. Inside, what surprises the most is the feeling of space, especially in the central nave. The different naves are separated by pillars. To all this, you can also see columns attached to the corners. Its noble look combines with an imposing barrel vault for the central nave and two ribbed vaults in the aisles.

Another of the spaces that most often attracts attention is its cloister, located on one of the sides of the cathedral. This one was built during the 13th century and has an access from the insides of the cathedral. The columns that support the arches of the cloister, as well as some of its interior pillars, are decorated with carvings and geometric figures.

Built at first independently, you can also find in the set of this curious cathedral, the church of San Miguel, which is accessed from the southern part of the cloister. This small construction with a Latin cross plan consists of a single nave. From the outside, it mixes with the strange silhouette of the building that for so long has attracted the attention of experts.

The latest restorations brought a new discovery in the Urgell Cathedral

cathedral of Urgell

An access to the Urgell Cathedral. | Shutterstock

During the 20th century, the cathedral of Santa Maria d’Urgell underwent several renovation works by Josep Puig i Cadafalch. Firstly, he habilitated its entrance and design in what now makes up the cathedral museum, and then made a new discovery that had gone unnoticed for centuries. After carrying out works inside the cathedral, more specifically in the clock tower, he discovered amazing bell tower, a two-story tower topped by a showy battlements that, today, can be seen during the visit to the cathedral.

Thanks to all the historical and cultural path, to its importance within the Spanish Romanesque and to the set of extensions and changes that has been taking and that have made it so special, the cathedral of Santa Maria d’Urgell won the title of Cultural Interest in 1931. Since then, thousands of tourists come on their holidays in Catalonia and the Pyrenees to visit this characteristic building that symbolizes the only known example of Romanesque architecture in the community.

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