If the outside of The Cathedral is magnificent, inside is at least equally so. It is quite awe-inspiring to walk into this enormous space and muse on the events and times it has passed through. One interesting feature is the number of chapels which are to be found as you walk around the periphery of the inside of The Cathedral, with its three gothic style naves. There are, in fact, 23 such chapels (two less than the number of bells in the tower!) each with its own particular style.
The most magnificent of the chapels is undoubtedly that of the Marqués de los Vélez. It is of gothic style and was started in 1490 on the orders of Don Juan Chacón, and finished in 1507 by his son, Don Pedro Fajardo, the first Marqués de los Vélez. The stone carving in the interior of the chapel is extremely intricate and it is almost impossible to think just how much work must have gone into it. Try finding any smooth stone – you may find it difficult! The chapel was, of course, well furnished, thanks to the generosity of its patrons with flags relating to their military exploits.
Of course, chapels such as this, or the Junterón Chapel (completed in 1525 and regarded by some as one of the most original of all Spanish Renaissance works of its type), did have one other great merit. They were generally built for, and financed by, prominent members of the nobility, which meant that the expansion of The Cathedral was funded by other than the Church itself. The decoration in many of the chapels, entirely apart from any stonework, can also be quite exceptional. Thus, for example, the Capillo del Socoro o de los Dávalos contains a Salzillo statue representing the Virgin and young children in the altarpiece.
The main altarpiece in The Cathedral is also, as you would expect, very impressive, but is not of great antiquity. The old gothic-style altarpiece was replaced by one of a Renaissance type which, however, was itself destroyed by a fire in 1854. What you see today is of late 19th Century origin. The fire was, in fact, quite devastating. As well as the main altar, stained glass windows, much of the furnishing and even some of the structure, was destroyed or damaged. Bishop Barrio started the restoration, especially of the main altarpiece and organ. The choir stalls came from the dissolved San Martin de Valdeiglesias Monastery (Madrid) and were a gift of Queen Isabel II.
There are two other features associated with The Cathedral which you should not miss if you are there when they are open:
First, there is the Cathedral Museum. This is a very modern museum, despite its historic environment. There is now a small charge for entry. As you enter the museum, you will walk over a glass floor beneath which you can see the remains of the old walls of the Central Mosque. After the Christian Reconquest of Murcia in the 13th Century, the mosques were transformed into Parish Churches with the principal one in Murcia City being Saint Mary’s, later The Cathedral. There is an enormous amount to look at in the Museum with the old chapels inside it themselves dating back to medieval times. There are paintings going as far back as the 14th Century, statues from the 15th Century, and altarpieces from the 16th Century. ￼ We were particularly impressed when we visited the museum by the “Custodia de Corpus”, dated at 1685, which is made of silver and is a six foot high piece of religious art of some magnificence and opulence. There are historic Church articles from ancient lecterns to vestments and chalices – and much more, including works of that most famous of Murcian sculptors, Francisco Salzillo. As you walk up the stairs to the first floor, note the proliferation of old brickwork to the side. The arches which have been blocked up with some of this brickwork appear to have wooden lintels above them. As you reach the first floor, more decorative brickwork can be seen. The reason for all of this is that the museum is largely in an area which, during the 14th Century, was cloisters, which have since been bricked up!
Second, there is the Cathedral Tower. This is a defining feature of The Cathedral as already briefly mentioned earlier. It is also one of the highest Cathedral Towers in Spain. There are guided tours of the tower which can be arranged in the Museum. When we did one, it lasted for about half an hour and we were treated to the bells chiming at 12.30 as we ascended! You can see the clock and bell chambers during the ascent and the views of the city, the surrounding hills and the huerta are spectacular.
Incidentally, each of the bells in the bell tower has its own name and one dates from around 1720. The oldest Church bell conserved in Murcia hung in the original towers of The Cathedral. It is known as the “Campana de los Conjuros” (The Bell of Exorcisms) and refers to its protective functions against storms and other perils. This bronze bell was made in 1383. An early book of 1485, which is conserved in the Municipal Archives, has the silhouette of the 14th Century tower in which the bell hung. There is one very strange feature about the tower. The ascent is between the outer wall and the inner rooms, but how do you go up? The obvious answer would be by a spiral staircase – but it would be wrong! You walk up a slope! It is only when you get very near to the top that there is a short spiral staircase.
Article by Clive and Rosie Palmer who have written several guide books on towns and regions in Murcia. These can be seen at, and obtained from, www.lulu.com, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Copies of some of the books may also be available from Cosas y Cosas, Cehegin and Best Wishes, Camposol Urbanización.