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The Chatedral of Tarragona

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A great cathedral for a small medieval city. We present the elements that are part of the most important cathedral in Catalonia.

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The Chatedral of Tarragona

Main facade

fachada principal Catedral Tarragona
Main facade of The Chatedral of Tarragona

The skyline of Tarragona would not be the same without the contours of the unfinished facade of the Cathedral. In 1348 the plague wreaked havoc throughout Europe, causing the death of a large percentage of the population of our city. It was due to this crisis, and the decimation of the labor force, that the upper section of the main facade remained unfinished forever after. On the facade, which is stripped of Stucco and polychrome, we can see a large central Gothic body wedged between two lateral Romanesque doors. In its center, the great twelve-lobed rose window presides over the cathedral square. The Gothic section, which dates to the end of the XIII century and beginning of the XIV, was disrupted by the plague, as we have mentioned before. In the great timpanum relief, attributed to Jaume Cascalls, we see a representation of the last judgement, presided over by Christ. Twelve figures in representation of different social levels rise from their tombs in answer to the calls of angels with celestial trumpets. Portrayed on the line below in two dramatic scenes, we see the condemned being taken to the jaws of hell.

In the mullion, the stylish image of the Virgin Mary welcomes people who approach the doors of the Cathedral. Her posture is humanized with her hip tilted to one side under the weight of the Infant. Completing the scene on both sides of the door are the coarser statues of the Apostles and profits, which lend it balance and sobriety.

The central nave

NAU CENTRAL CATEDRAL TARRAGONA
The central nave

The central nave of the Cathedral is 104 meters long by 26 meters wide, and has a regular height of 16 meters, although it extends a further 10 meters in the dome. 

In this central area of the Cathedral stands the magnificent grand organ designed by the architect Jaume Amigó in the XVI Century. The sculpted part is the work of Jeroni Sancho and Perris Ostris. The large doors that close upon the organ were painted by Pere Serafi and Pietro Paolo de Montalbergo. These twills, which represent the scenes of the annunciation, the birth, and the resurrection, were restored in 2018, and after years of absence hang once again in position. High up in the central nave there is a standard or banner which was granted in 1543 by Pope Calixto III to the Archbishop Pedro de Urea, “the pirate archbishop”, who was a real Captain General of the pontifical squadron against the Turks. Also situated in the central nave are two rows of seats that date from the XVI Century. The Cathedral was reformed as part of the acts of the centenary for the visit of Saint Paul in 1963; a part of the choir was transferred to either side of the current chancel and the door, to the Diocesan Museum.

The chapel of Saint John

capilla de san fructuoso catedral tarragona
The chapel of Saint john

The chapels of Saint John the Evangelist and St. Fructuous are identical and were built during the period of Archbishop Joan Terés. The architect contracted for the work was Pere Blai, one of the great figures from the famous “Escola del Camp”, that flourished in our region during the Renaissance in the XVI Century. The chapel of St. Fructuous, that embraces as well the portrayals of his deacons Augurio and Eulogio, also houses the tomb of the “Cardinal of peace” Francesc d’Assis Vidal I Barraquer, and an inscription, that complied with his will to pay homage to his Auxiliary Bishop Manuel Borràs. Next to both, is the tomb of the Archbishop Josep Pont I Gol.

Saint fructuous, the first known bishop of the Tarragona See was martyrized together with his deacons Augurio and Eulogio in the Tarraco Amphitheatre on the 21st of January 259 A.D. In his chapel in the Cathedral relics are preserved and four contemporary frescos depict his life and martyrdom.

Opposite the chapel of Saint Fructuous, one can observe the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre patronized by Canon Barceló, whose shield is the boat with a furled sail. The sculpture work was carried out in 1494 and used an ancient Roman sarcophagus. It represents the Holy Burial.

The chapel of the baptistery

Known as the Chapel of “Saint Úrsula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins”, it was built in the first years of the XIV Century in Gothic style, specifically in the period of the Archbishop Arnau Cescomes. Since the beginning of the XIX Century, it has housed the baptistery of the Cathedral. At that time, the great marble baptismal pilar that presides over the chapel instead of an altar, was built.

Medieval pictorial decoration, that had been hidden for centuries by a layer of grey paint, has been discovered on the walls. On both sides, the chapel is flanked by the tombs of two Cardinals from the Tarragona See: Gaspar Cervantes de Gaeta, founder of the University of Tarragona in the XVI Century, and Manuel Arce Ochotorena (1944-1949).

Next to this chapel is that of Saint Michael, built in 1365. It contains the altarpiece dedicated to this advocation that was brought from the village of Cérvoles and which belongs the Diocesan Museum.

The chapels of the Cardona family

capilla de los cardona
The chapels of the Cardona family

The chapels of the Cardona family are two twin constructions which were commissioned by the Archbishop Pere de Cardona in the year 1520. They were dedicated to the advocation of St. Mary Magdalene and the Annunciation. Although they are Gothic style, the Cardona family mausoleum, situated between the chapels, was done in Renaissance style. Currently, the first chapel houses a Gothic altarpiece dedicated to the Virgin Mary which is attributed to the Gerona master Lluís Borrassá. It comes from the Cistercian monastery of Santas Creus, situated 30 kilometers from Tarragona. In the other chapel, we find the altarpiece of the Virgin Mary from Solivella, a work by Mateu Ortoneda. Both pieces date from the XV Century and belong to the Diocesan Museum of Tarragona Cathedral. 

The chapel of the Immaculate Conception is Baroque and was commissioned and financed by the Canon Diego Girón de Rebolledo. The mausoleums for this figure and his family were the work of Francesc Grau. The decoration of the chapel is attributed to; Domènec Rovira — the altar —, Francesc Tramulles and Josep Juncosa — the paintings —, and Francesc Grau — the sculptures—, All except the one of the Virgin, which is by Vicentó.

capilla inmaculada concepcion
The Chapel of the Immaculate Conception

The chapel of Saint Tecla

The most modern chapel in the Cathedral dates from 1775 and is dedicated to the patron of the city, Saint Tecla, virgin, and proto martyr. This work by the architect Josep Prat, is a chapel in the Neo-Classical style, yet with some baroque influences. It has a carved interior of mottled marble in diverse tones inside its dome.

The sculptures were undertaken by Carlos Salas and represent the Glorification of Saint Tecla. The relief on the altar depicts various episodes in the life of the saint, and inside the niches of the four angles there appear representations of the cardinal virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance.

During the celebrations of the saint, the Arm of Saint Tecla is placed inside an ebony chest in the main reliquary of this chapel. Saint Tecla has been the patron saint of Tarragona since the Christian restoration of the city in the XII Century. However, the name of the saint appeared in an inscription found recently in the Paleo-Christian site by the river Francolí.

The transept

crucero creuer catedral Tarragona
The transept

In the transept of the Cathedral, we find the dome which has a height of 26 meters at its center. The purpose of this architectural structure was to enable natural light to enter the central part of the temple. Above this dome there is a small bell tower. The width of the two wings of the transept is 52 meters and at this central part one can observe a double level of ledges that denote the change in style between Romanesque and Gothic, a sign of the growth of the Cathedral during construction. During the reforms undertaken in 1962, a new altar was placed under the dome. From the vault of the dome hangs a lamp called the "Salmonet de les Matines". According to tradition, its reflection through the Gothic rose window of the main facade helped to guide a ship in danger during a storm. This legend was the inspiration for a popular story that was turned into a poem by Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer.

We also find small chapels in the transept, that of Saint Barbara and the Christian doctors Saint Cosme and Saint Damian, both with baroque altarpieces.

Chapel of Christ the healer

capilla cristo salud catedral tarragona 1
Chapel of Christ the healer

Around the year 1500, the construction of this chapel of outstanding devotion in Tarragona was undertaken. The two laterals were commissioned by the Canon Joan Barceló.

These are three chapels in flamboyant Gothic style. In 1801, the altar of Christ the Healer was made by Vicenç Roig “Vicento” and financed by the Canon Josep Francesc de Vilallonga. The lateral chapels are dedicated to Saint Thomas and the Virgin of the Rosary. The carving of the first was done by Vicentó, while that of the Virgin was done by the XX century sculptor Lluís Saumells.

On the exterior facade of this part of the Cathedral there is a large rose window facing east with the central theme dedicated to the Virgin. Also, in this sector we find the small Romanesque chapel of Saint Lucas, which was formerly dedicated to Saint Peter. The Baroque altarpiece is by Jaume Juncosa and dates to the XVIII Century.

The bell tower

CAMPANAR CATEDRAL TARRAGONA
The bell tower

The tower of the steeple is basically Gothic, although the interior works were initiated around the year 1200 and the construction lasted until a little before the consecration of the Cathedral in 1331. It has a central part made with cushioned ashlars which render a uniqueness to the work. The maximum height of the tower is 70 meters and at the top it is crowned by a small bell tower, in which the “Capona” is housed. This bell, made in 1509, is the most popular bell in the Cathedral of Tarragona. It has a weight of 5188 kilos. In the lower windows there are 14 more bells, the oldest being from the beginning of the XIV Century. At the foot of the tower there is the door known as Saint Tecla and the Romanesque chapel of Saint Oleguer, the archbishop who restored the Cathedral in 1118.

Inside the belltower we find the clock room, where that of 1882, installed by Josep Besses, is preserved. There are also remains of the mechanism from 1510, a work undertaken jointly by Municipal Bodies, The Archbishop’s Palace, and the Canons’ Chapter. 

The Apse

The main Apse of the Cathedral is in Romanesque style. From the outside it has an appearance of a church-fortress, characteristic of the initial construction phase of the Cathedral.

In its interior, watching over the temple is the magnificent main Gothic altarpiece from the XV Century, made partly in polychromatic alabaster by Pere Johan. In the center is the image of the Virgin Mary, and on either side, Saint Paul, and his disciple Saint Tecla. The life and miracles of the Patron Saint of Tarragona appear represented in six delicate scenes with reliefs of the Predella. The rest of the scenes represented in the upper part are from the New Testament about the Virgin Mary and the Passion of Christ. Behind the altarpiece, the main sacrarium is found with the Gothic image of Saint Michael.

In front of the altarpiece, the main old Romanesque altar from 1230 still stands. The guides love to explain the scenes from the life of Saint Tecla of this altar and compare them to those depicted on the great altarpiece. To the right of the presbytery, the tomb of Joan of Aragon is to be found. He was the Patriarch of Alexandria and Apostolic Administrator of the Tarragona See, who in 1331, consecrated the Cathedral.

The main sacristy and the treasure room

sacristia tesoro catedral tarragona
The Main sacristy

The main sacristy of the cathedral dates to the XIII Century. Inside, one can admire the Baroque carving of the dying Christ on the Cross, with its exaggerated writhing, which comes from the church of Saint Michael del Pla. The sacristy communicates directly with the main apse and the cloisters.

Behind a Gothic door we find the quarters known as the treasure room, where mainly gold-work liturgical objects are stored. Amongst these items are chalices, crooks, monstrance, and the Urn of the Maundy Thursday crafted by the silversmith Gaspar Arandes in 1685. The real treasure in this room is observed when one looks up: The ceiling is decorated in a magnificent Mudejar Gothic coffering dating from the XIV Century.

The chapel of Saint Mary of the Taylors

The chapel of the Taylors (1340) is next to the sacristy, and although it was built by the Confraternity of the Presbyters, it is named after the guild that used it as a headquarters. It was built in Gothic style and contains an alabaster altarpiece dedicated to the Virgin Mary (1336).

The chapel of the Holy Sacrament

capilla santisimo catedral tarragona
Capilla del Santísimo Sacramento

The chapel of the Holy Sacrament was built using part of the old canons’ refectory. It was begun around 1580 and is one of the most outstanding examples of Renaissance art in Catalonia. The work, which was done in the Renaissance style, was directed by Pere Blai and Jaume Amigó, leading representatives of the “Escola del Camp”. It is a work full of peculiarities, from the main door built with Roman granite columns taken from the ancient provincial forum to the roof lantern built with great daring above the barrel vault of the old canons’ dining area. The decoration of this chapel was undertaken by artists such as Domènech Albrion and Nicolau Larrault who did the sculptures, Issac Hermes Vermey who did the paintings, and Felip Voltes who did the doors of the tabernacle. Inside, the quintessential humanist Archbishop Antoni Agustín (1586) is buried. Apart from his religious side, he was also a prominent bibliophile and promoter of archaeology in Tarragona.

The cloister

The cloister, built at the end of the XII Century and the beginning of the XIII, was the center of life for the canon community which inhabited the Cathedral in the past. Next to this area are found the refectory or dining room, the kitchens, the chapter house, the dormitory, the library, and various chapels. The cloister was built in a transitional style from Romanesque to Gothic. The examples of Romanesque are seen in the capitals, the columns, and the small, barred arches. The Gothic part starts further up: The vaults, the rest of the arches and keystones.

The cloister of the Cathedral is made up of numerous capitals, upon which are many notable biblical or symbolic scenes, as well as simple plant motifs. The most well known is what is called “the Procession of the rats” carved on one of the cornices which illustrates the tale of a cat who feigns death only to wake up and devour the rats who are carrying him to his funeral.

The Romanesque door of the cloister that leads to the interior of the temple is made of marble. It has a tympanum decorated with a Christ in Majesty and the Tetramorph.

In this area of the cloister, we find the Gothic chapel of Our Lady of Snows (1317) and the Renaissance chapel of the Holy Savior (1533).

The chapel of the Virgin of the Cloister

In the chapel of the Virgin of the cloister, A statue of the virgin from the XIII Century is worshipped. Tarragona owes its patronage to numerous miracles related through many books which tell the tales of the fortunes of Marion devotion. Although the current chapel is modern, due to its prior destruction during the Peninsular War (XIX Century), the archway that gives access to the cloister remains, and is found next to the Roman wall that surrounded the worship area of the Provincial Forum.

Also to be found in this area of the cloister is the chapel of Our lady of Guidance, a Romanesque work currently undergoing restoration.

The diocesan museum

This museum is currently divided between two areas of great historical value: Room II is in the chapel of Corpus Christi and other adjacent rooms.

museu diocesa
The diocesan museum
  • Room I is to be found in the zone of the cloister that occupies the former canons’ refectory

ROOM I – THE OLD REFECTORY

A part of the old refectory remains near the exterior door of the cloister of the Cathedral. The rest of this former annex, that has a slightly pointed barrel vault, was converted into the chapel of the Holy Sacrament. The refectory was the dining room for the Canons’ community that resided in the Cathedral. Their culinary tastes are known to us through the book “llibre del coch de la Canonja de Tarragona”. The wall that flanks the cloister is of Roman origin and, in the first century A.D., it enclosed the worship area of the Imperial temple of Tarraco. 

In 1154, the Canons Regular of the Rule of Saint Augustine, who would be governed by a claustral Prior, established themselves in the Cathedral. They were dedicated to the sole use of a chapel dedicated to Saint Mary. Thus, was organized the Cathedral chapter.One of its walls is still mainly Roman and retains two windows and a large arch from the first century A.D. This room contains Roman objects such as mosaics, amphoras, the sarcophagus of the Muses, the funerary stele of the charioteer Eutyches, as well as the Mihrab from the World heritage Site Medina Azahara. There is also a collection of sculptures of the Virgin Mary, the old grate from the choir of the Cathedral, the wall paintings from Peralta and many more objects. Next to the door there is a bust of Archbishop Antolín López Peláez, who played a decisive role in setting up the Diocesan Museum in this space, which was inaugurated on the 31st of January 1915. However, the museum, as an entity, had existed in the chapel of Saint Tecla the Old since the time of Archbishop Fleix I Solans, who had promoted it in 1869. In June 1993 a new era of the Diocesan Museum was inaugurated by Archbishop Pont I Gol, although this room was not incorporated until the inauguration of the Pallium Exhibition in 1992. In this zone of the cloister there are the chapels of Saint Raymond and Saint Mary Magdalene.

ROOM II - THE CHAPEL OF THE CORPUS CHRISTI

The old chapter room from the XIII Century has been known as the Chapel of the Corpus Christi from the moment that Guerau de Rocaberti (1330) ordered the construction of the apse and gave it to this new dedication. It houses various headstones, tombs and coats of arms related to his family. Today, it is Room II of the Diocesan Museum where altarpieces, gold work and mainly Gothic style sculptures are kept.

There are various sculptures from the first half of the XIV Century on its walls. In 1932 it was the place chosen in the Cathedral to install a Gothic picture gallery. This is also where the famous “chained library” was situated, which is remembered on a headstone on one of the walls in the same room. This sector of the Cathedral includes the new chapter hall that dates from the XVIII Century. It is here that the tapestry of the “Good Life” or the “Powers” created in Arras (XV Century) is kept, and the mortuary cloth of Pedro Antonio Aragón (XVII Century), from Poblet.

The canonry house

The Canons’ housing was built in the last decade of the XIX Century, under the supervision of the architect Ramon Salas y Ricomá, whose face appears as a sculpture in one of the windows. At that time, they regularized the facades and other irregular constructions that were to be found around the cloister, adapting them to a Neo Gothic style, in line with the Pontifical Seminary built between 1883 and 1886. 

Saint Tecla the old

Santa Tecla la Vella
Saint Tecla the old

This small Romanesque chapel from the XIII Century contains the memory of the primitive Cathedral that existed before the current one.  It is a construction that houses the tomb of Archbishop Bernat Olivella (1287) and antiques from different parts of the Cathedral, basically headstones and shields such as the raised frontispiece of the old University of Tarragona and other groups of sculptures. It was the original setting for the Diocesan Museum of Tarragona in 1869.

The old cemetery of the city used to be next to Saint Tecla the Old, and extended along the street that today is called, the Calle de les Coques.

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