The Cathedral of Santander
The Cathedral Church of Santander was built
atop the last vestige of tha ancient hill Somorrostro, which was
chosen by the Romans for the original settlement of the city we
now know as Santander. At the time it was built, the promontory,
almost completely surrounded by the sea, commanded the entire
bay. Its excepcional strategic situation helps explain the
continued occupation of the site troughout the Middle Ages.
concession in 1187 of a municipalcharter (fuero) to Santander,
under the protection of the Abbot of its church, stimulated
significant economic growth that led to the bulding of the
present cathedral, as well as the construction of a town castle
on the west flank of the hill, the consolidation of what would
later be known as the Old Town, and the erection of new
defensive walls around the town and its active port.
The Cathedral of Santander, as it now stands,
consists of two superimposed churches in Gothic style. The one
that underlies the present parish Church of Christ wal built
during the first third of the XIII Century; the upper church was
constructed during the rest of that century and was partialy
rebuilt and enlarged after the conflagration that swept the old
city in 1941. The Gothic structural complex was completed with a
XIV Century cloister.
Today's cathedral began life in the Middle
Ages as the Abbey of St. Emetherius, later to become the
Collegiate Church of Ss. Emetherius and Celedonius. It became
the cathedral of the new diocese of Santander when that was
estabilished in 1754.
People came to live around the Abbey
troughout the Medieval period. The population nucleus they
formed was the settlement called Sant Ander, that today is the
capital of Cantabria.
The lower church and the excavations
The original plan for the edification of the
church building was larger than the building that was eventually
constructed. The plan included two superimposed churches, each
with three naves, and more spans than were finally built.
The lower church (the present parish Church
of Christ) is preserved in its integrity, and consists of three
naves of four spans each, as well as three apses of somewhat
later execution than the rest of the structure. The pillars and
arches seem at first unexpectedly robust for the low vaults, but
in fact they are not, since they must also support the weight of
the Upper Church.
topography of the site dictated a northern location for the main
entry of this first church. The portal consists of two lateral
doors flanking a large church window, all sheltered by a porch
of the same date. The decorations on the capitals and keystones
are mostly vegetal. There are nevertheless some iconographic
decorations, and these are principally to be found in the
chapels and the newly discovered Gate of Grace, associated with
pilgrimages and Jubilees.
excavations were undertaken below the floor of the lower church
in the years 1982 and 1983. Part of the 100 sq. meters excavated
can be seen under a glass floor in the North nave. The
archeologists found abundant vestiges of the original Roman
settlement, including parts of important fortifications and the
remains of the baths. The inlet (praefurnium) of their firebox
was used in the Middle Ages as a tabernacle, where the skulls of
the Martyrs Emetherius and Celedonius were carefully guarded.
Right above this spot a series of early churches were built,
before the present Cathedral. Their remains also appeared during
the course of the excavations.
During the course of the excavations, besides
the skulls and other "connected bones of the bodies of the
Saints" (as a Medieval document has it), a large concentration
of other human bones was found around the place where the
Martyr's skulls lay. This phenomenon, common to other churches
erected over the sepulchres of saints (for example, Saint
Peter's in Rome, Saint James' in Compostela...), one that is
even more manifest where, as in this case, the relics are the
most important referent of group indentity, or a special focus
of devotion for the congregation, shows us that faithful wished
to await resurrection near the bodies of their venerant relics.
1533, faced with that advance of Protestantism, the tomb was
subject to a "pious profanation", that aimed to recover the
skulls of the Martyrs for veneration. Once found, they were
encased in two reliquaries, silver effigies of the Saints. These
have been preserved in the Lower Church, from whence they are
borne in procession to the altar of the High Church on important
The High Chruch
modern Cathedral of Santander corresponds to the higher church
in the original plan, and for that reason its original floor
plan coincicded exactly with that of the lower church. As befits
an abbey, the principal church door opens from the South to the
cloister. The bell tower, springing from the foot of the complex,
suggest in its sturdy sobriety a military fortress.
The building has been enlarged on two occasions. The first,
which took place in the XVII Century, involved the building of
peripherical chapels, while the second and most important was
done after the destruction caused by the fire that levelled the
city in February, 1941.
the new cathedral opened for services in 1953, it was almost
twice the size of the original building, due to the addition of
a transept, dome, new apse and ambulatory. The reconstruction
respected and maintained the gothic style of the surviving part,
corresponding to the naves, while minor classical element were
introduced in the new sections, to differentiate them from the
simple decoration, whether vegetal or stoired, is limited to
corbels, capitals, keystones, and a occasional frieze. For the
most part, the new decorations replicate the old, burnt ones,
but some new themes are added.
There is one notewothy concentration where are found the oldest
royal coats of arms bearing castles and lions known from any
part of Spain.
terrible fire of 1941 blazed through the whole interior of the
High Church. Consequently, all but one of its altarpieces have
had to be replaced, either with retables from different churches,
or with newly made ones.
The first chapel seen on the right on
entering the church was built in 1624 by Fernando Herrera
Calderón. The next one, dedicated to the "Bien Aparecida" Virgin,
was constructed by Don Juan Alvarado, about 1604. The last in
this nave is dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It was built
in 1622 by Sebastian de la Puebla.
the beginning of the ambulatory, next to the door of the
sacristy, there is a marble basin bearing a poetic inscription
in Arabic. According to tradition, it was brought to the church
by Cantabrian sailors who took part in the reconquest of Seville.
above it is a gallery decorated with a fresco by the painter
Jose Cataluña. It represents the construction of the old church
by King Fernando III, el Santo, whose son, the Infante Don
Sancho, brother of Alfonso X, became its Abbot.
The newly constructed Chanpel or Presbitery
contains the Cathedral's principal liturgical objects. Here is
the freestanding altar, whose Reliquary contains the old
Medieval inscription Multa corpora sanctorum hic sepulta sunt ("Here
lie buried the bodies of
many Saints"). This inscription is the basis for the name of the
old "Collegiate Chapel of the Holy Bodies". A second element is
the Bishop's Chair or Cathedra, from wich the church gets its
third is the Choir of the Canons of the Cathedral Chapter, which
was originally in the Royal Monastery of St. Jerome in Madrid.
Last, the altarpiece, which was brought from Tamariz de Campos
during the last reconstruction, is Baroque with added modern
sculptures by Alangua of the Asumption, and Saints Emetherius
and Celedonius, patrons of the church. In the ambulatory, there
are two altars, onde dedicated to Fernando III, the founder, the
other to the Apostle St. Matthias, to whom the town made a
solemn vow of gratitude for this intervention during the
terrible episode of Black Plague that ended in 1503. Around the
outside of the dome stand monumental stone statues of the four
Evangelists, done by Villalobos.
the North nave, at the position of the transept, we find the
tomb of the illustrious Santanderine writer, Marcelino Menéndez
Pelayo, work of the sculptor Victorio Macho.
Turning towards the foot of the church, the
next chapel, formerly called the Rosary Chapel, was finished by
the Inspector of the Royal Fleet, Fernando de la Riva Herrera,
in 1628. On the altar is a splendid monstrance in gided silver,
work of Maese Calvo of Burgos. On the north wall is the praying
statue of Bishop Sánchez de Castro, buried there. At present,
this is the chapel where the Sacrament is kept.
along, ther are two chapels that occupe the space where the old
Abbatial palaces once stood. At the feet of the church are found:
first, the penitential chapel, formerly dedicated to St.
Matthias; in the central nave, there is an old baptismal font
from the hamlet of Colsa, in the Cabuérniga valley; and, finally,
at the left of the church door, a chapel founded by Antonio de
Azoños Escobedo in 1671, whose Baroque altarpiece constains a
good copy of Raphael's Visitation.
All the church windows have modern stained
glass works of quality, depicting several Saints related to the
old cloister, which formerly surrounded a secluded garden
adorned with orange trees, is done in the sober and functional
Gothic style which characterizes the rest of the monument. It
occupies the early Medieval quarter called the Barrio of the "Ciminterio",
whose houses were levelled at the beginning of the XIV Century
to make way for the construction of the Cloister, pressed
forward by the Abbot Nuño Pérez de Monroy, Chancellor of Queen
Construction began with the North gallery,
which shelters the church door, while the last part completed
was the southern gallery, which until a century ago, stood atop
a cliff overlookng the sea. These passageways are separated from
the gardens bys a low wall topped by church windows separated by
graceful mullions, rewinforced at a later date with sturdy
segmental arches. Chapels open off the galleries at regular
intervals. The two main chapels are: that of Saint Peter, on the
far southeast, where the general councils of the town met, and
on the west, that of Santiago (Saint James the Greater), built
by an important family of royal shipfitters, the Escalantes, in
the XIV Century; on the wall of this gallery was the door to the
Hospital of the Holy Ghost, which was already there in the XIV
Today the cloister constains a good
number of tomb sculptures of Abbots and knights, that originally
came from the two churches of the Cathedral as well as other
churches in the town, and a number of keystones and carved
capitals wich were discovered during the reconstruction.
©2007 Diócesis de Santander
Pza. Eguino y Trecu, 1 - 39002 Santander
Tfno: 942 365657