The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela: Romanesque Art

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela: Romanesque Art

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is the most outstanding work of Romanesque art in Spain and stands as the final goal of all the Caminos de Santiago that bring thousands of pilgrims year after year. Its inaugural stone, from which the monumental city of Santiago de Compostela was born, was forged in a sacred forest which is now considered to be a Holy City and World Heritage Site. The cathedral is claimed to be capable of rewarding pilgrims’ faith with its powerful spirituality and beauty.

Romanesque art is the art of Europe from approximately 1000 AD to the rise of the Gothic style in the 12th century, or later, depending on the region. The period before that is known as  Pre-Romanesque. The term was invented by 19th-century historians because it retained many basic features of Roman architectural style but also developed many unique characteristics. In Southern France, Spain and Italy there was an architectural continuity with the Late Antique, but the Romanesque style was the first style to spread across the whole of Catholic Europe. 

Romanesque art was also greatly influenced by Byzantine art, especially in painting, and by the anti-classical energy of the decoration of the Insular art of the British Isles. From these elements was forged a highly innovative and coherent style.

Santiago Cathedral History

Bernard the Elder, Admirable Master and Roberto began the construction of the Romanesque Cathedral in 1075, during Alfonso VI’s reign and Diego Peláez’s bishop. After that initial stage, a number of historical changes suspended until they were launched again in 1100. The works were developed by Master Esteban (also known as “Maestro de Platerías”); little by little the construction of the Cathedral progressed throughout the 12th century. In 1168 Master Mateo was commissioned to complete it, including the western closure and the building of the Choir in the main nave. In 1211 the Basilica was consecrated.

Although the fundamental medieval structure has been preserved, over the centuries the Cathedral has changed its physiognomy as a result of the building of annex areas, during the Renaissance, and especially during the Baroque period, when works such as the main chapel, the organs, the closing of the chevet or the Obradoiro facade were carried out, among other important developments. During the Neoclassical period the new Azabachería facade was executed and over the past one hundred years various changes have continued to be carried out.