There is one thing which Murcia City does not lack – churches. It is astonishing just how many of these were founded several hundred years ago and have significant historic interest. However, of all the buildings in Murcia City, the Cathedral has to be the most emblematic and it is certainly one of the most prominent, fronting on to the Plaza Cardenal Belluga in the heart of the old part of the City. It is impossible not to be impressed by this remarkable building and we have spent many hours in the square in front of it having a coffee and something to eat, as well as looking around inside the building. There always seems to be something new which appears to you on a closer inspection.
￼ The actual building of the Cathedral itself began with the laying of the foundation stone in 1388 by one Bishop Pedrosa. Remember, this was over a hundred years before the final expulsion of the Moorish armies from Spain and it occurred at a time when Murcia was still very much a frontier region in nature. Like many churches here, it was built on the site of an old mosque and, with the prevailing instability early in its history, the cost of building, and other factors such as epidemics which could plague the city it would be over 350 years before it was completed, in 1751.
Another repercussion of the lengthy period of construction is the variety of architectural styles which give the Cathedral its charm and character. The tower, which replaced the minaret of the old mosque, was built in three stages. The first part of the work was in the early 16th Century and lasted 1521-55, led by Jacobo Florentino, a friend of Michaelangelo. The style has been described as “Florentine Renaissance”. The second stage was a century later, ending in the mid 17th Century, and can now be seen in the garlands and carvings of the saints in their niches. This particular pause in work resulted both from a lack of resources at the time as well as stability problems which, it is said, were caused by a long period of torrential rain. The third stage, to complete the octagonal roof approaching 100 metres above the ground, began in the mid/late 18th Century, being finished just before the century end and was very much of the baroque style of the time. Indeed, the main façade of the Cathedral has been described as one of the best examples of baroque art in the whole of Spain. Some further restoration work was carried out on the tower (the importance of which was greatly increased in past times by its clock and bells to mark irrigation periods and announce floods, storms, deaths, weddings and festivals) at the end of the 20th Century.
￼ Do take a good look at the main façade and the stone sculptures such as that of the Crowning of the Virgin, or those of the four saints of Murcia/Cartagena (Santa Florentina, San Fulgencio, San Isidoro, and San Leandro). There is also a carving of Saint Patrick which may, at first, seem a little strange. However, it is easily explained. One of the important victories against the Moors took place on 17 March – St Patrick’s Day. Note also, high up on the front of the Cathedral the carved double cross, which is also associated in the region with Caravaca de la Cruz. The richness of the ornamentation of the façade also reflects the increasing wealth which was flowing into, and was available in Murcia in the 18th Century.
There is much worth looking at on the outside of the Cathedral. The side door around the left side (as you face the main façade) has figures carved in the stonework around it to represent the conquest of Granada from the Moors in 1492, following which Murcia ceased to be a frontier territory and could feel more secure. Among the figures are a pomegranate, the Catholic Monarchs of the time (Ferdinand and Isabella), the Bishop and even a representation of the stonemason himself. Unfortunately, the last mentioned was regarded as having put himself in too elevated a position and was severely punished!
At the other side of the Cathedral, on the exterior of the Vélez Chapel is a long length of chain carved in the stone. This represents the freeing of the Murcian lands and population from the yoke of the Moors by, among others, the Marquis of Vélez and is reputed by some to have been carved in a single piece of sandstone. Given its size, this is something on which we remain to be convinced!
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.