During the late Middle Ages and Renaissance eras, the Spanish monarchs endeavored to make their country a bastion of the Church, both religiously and politically. During this era, no other major power was as closely tied to Rome as Spain. In recognition of this, the Iberian Peninsula was adorned with countless new churches. The greatest of these, without peer, was the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See in Seville. The largest church in Spain and the third largest cathedral in the world, it was built at the height of Spanish power and affluence. Amazingly, it has never received the designation as a basilica. Nevertheless it is one of Spain’s most visited cathedrals and the most popular Christian pilgrimage destination in the south of the country.
In the early- to mid-13th century, the long-stalled Christian reconquest of Spain from the Moors resumed, churning its way relentlessy through the Andalusian heartland cities. In 1236, Cordoba, the ancient capital of the caliphate, fell. Many other Moorish cities fell soon afterward, culminating in the conquest of Seville in 1248. Although the capture of Cordoba was perhaps more symbolically important, it was the loss of Seville that truly sealed the doom of the Muslims in Spain.
While the Moors continued to hold out in the ever-shrinking kingdom of Grenada for another 244 years, the success of the Reconquista was now a foregone conclusion. To celebrate their triumph, and to establish their religious hold on Seville, the victorious Christians began erecting new churches all over the city. By the late-14th century, Seville was effectively the southern capital of Spain, and it was decided that the city should be graced by a new cathedral worthy of the Reconquista. The city’s mosque, which had been allowed to stand for a century and half but had been badly damaged in an earthquake, was torn down to make way for the new edifice.
When plans for the cathedral finally began to move ahead in 1401, city and church leaders decided that it should be among the largest and grandest churches ever built. This not only established Seville as one of the great Christian cities of Europe, but being on the site of the great former mosque it also symbolized the crushing of Islamic Spain.
Construction began in 1402, and proceeded apace throughout most of the 15th century. In 1492, Christian armies took the Moorish Kindgom of Grenada, thereby completing the Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula. In the wake of the final victory, efforts were redoubled to quickly finish the cathedral, although it took another fourteen years. When it was finally completed, it surpassed the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul as the largest church in the world, which in turn probably inspired the construction of a new St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, which overtook the cathedral of Seville a century later. It remains the third largest church building in the world, and is the architectural glory of Catholicism in southern Spain.
The Cathedral of St. Mary of the See is the official designation of Seville Cathedral. It is both enormous and exquisitely rendered. The largest Gothic building in the world, the cathedral dates almost entirely from the 15th century. From a size standpoint, it is more impressive for its floorprint than for its height. Despite being the third largest church in the world, and despite being the tallest church in Spain, at 340 feet it barely ranks in the top 100 when compared to other cathedrals around the world. However, it more than compensates for this by boasting one of the world’s most beautiful bell towers: La Giralda, which was constructed in the 12th century as a minaret for the city’s mosque.
The cathedral interior represents what is probably the pinnacle of Gothic architecture. It boasts the longest nave in Spain, and an impressive 44 chapels. Huge quantities of gold, fresh from the New World, were used to adorn the place, especially the ceilings and the titanic, phenomenally detailed alterpiece designed by Pierre Dancart. For most visitors, the historic highlight of the cathedral is the Tomb of Christopher Columbus, whose remains were moved here in 1898.
The Cathedral of St. Mary of the See is located next door to the royal palace, just south of the old city center. It is open Mondays through Saturdays from 9:30am-4:00pm, Sundays 2:30pm-6:00pm. The cost of admission is E8.00. Web: www.catedraldesevilla.es (official website)
In addition to the cathedral, Seville is home to a trio of important basilicas: the Basilica of Our Lady of Hope of La Macarena; the Basilica of Jesus of the Great Reign; and the Basilica Shrine of Mary Help of Christians. The nearby city of Cordoba hosts the spectacular architectural hybrid Mezquite Mosque-Cathedral.