Huesca thematic

Number 78. November of 2004. Spanish language  Principal menu

Huesca Cathedral

Amazing architecture
that keeps a surprising bigger altarpiece

      The architecture of the large building which constitutes the cathedral unites a significant part of Huesca's history. As elsewhere, its walls would experience a succession of styles whilst under construction, in an evolving process which would continue over the centuries and leave ir bearing the traces of those from each era who wished to leave their mark on the city's most emblematic building. History and designs have come together in the cathedral, the understanding of which requires much more than a purely architectural analysis and delves into aspects which are much closer to the evolution of Huesca's urban structure. It is thought that a pagan temple once stood on the site, at exactly the most likely location for Huesca's, hypothetical Roman acropolis.
      No remains have come down to us, just as nothing can be said of the primitive Visigoth church which Huesca must have possessed. We know, however, that the present cathedral structure was erected over the Moorish central mosque (Mezquita Mayor), converted to Christian worship after the city's conquest in 1096 and consecrated in 1097. In fact, its square ground plan would be moulded on the Islamic outline, the only remaining vestige of which is the simple iron arch, near to the cloister in the ruins of the old bishop's palace.
      During the 12th century, while the Mezquita Mayor fulfilled its welcnming role, adapted as a Christian shrine, the beginnings of the future cathedral were born. It was North-facing and located around its Romanesque cloigter. The arrangement consisted of an atrium with three arcades, leading on to the interior space, next to which was the large chapterhouse and the bishop's palace, of which a simple Romanesque doorway still exists. Later, at the beginning of the 13th century, a new plain Romanesque structure would be raised, dedicated to Santa María de los Gozos, and located between the bishop's palace and the atrium, the access of which, in our own time, coincides with the door communicating the gothic cloister with the cathedral transept. Some remains still exist, among them the present cloister.
      It would be King Jaime I, at the request of bishop Jaime Sarroca, who would expedite the construction of the definitive building, begun in 1275. Executed in the gothic style and facing East, the new design was to see the chancel finished in 1295, made up of five polygonal apses, the central one being the largest with two others at each side. At the same time, between 1296 and 1304, the aisles and chapels were built, paid for by the various families who had tombs there.
      The cathedral is laid out in a Latin cross, with chapels down the side and three naves in four bays as well as the transept, the central nave and the transept being the widest of these. The interior is magnificently proportioned, aided by the naves' pointed arches. The walls rest on cylindrical columns with beading, the central nave and the transept are covered by stellar vaulting, and simple rib vaulting covers the aisles.
      Lighting is achieved through pointed openings with gothic tracery in the lateral stonework of the central nave, in the sides of the central apse and circular openings in the two extremes of the transept. Next to the apses ate the two sacristies; the oldest, built in 1307, reveals its gothic design with rib vaulting and serves as antechamber to the more recent sacristy, located behind the central apse. It is a magnificent Renaissance work, designed by Juan de Segura in 1536, covered by a stellar vault on capitals and columns. On both ends of the transept there ate doors; to the North, the old door of the primitive Romanesque church with its archivolts on capitals and its tympanum leads to the gothic cloister; the door to the South, of gothic design, opens onto an atrium covered by ribbed vaulting which, in turn, opens onto Palacio street.

     In the first phase of construction, the building reached as high as the aisles. The bell-tower, square at its base and chamfered higher up, was finished around 1310, when building work stopped. Later, in 1337, a provisional wooden roof was begun for the central nave and the transept. This is the point when construction takes place, by Guillermo Inglés, of the low part of the main facade which boasts a magnificent portico, outlined by seven pointed archivolts, replete with sculptured images all along ir and finished off in a gable with a rose window above. It is flanked by fourteen stone figures on either side accompanying a beautiful tympanum presided over by the Virgin Mary. The lintel is carved with the coat-of-arms of Huesca, Aragon and bishop López de Azlor carved on it.
      The construction of the incomplete gothic cloister, composed of simple ribbed vaults, was begun in 1405, and in 1493 Juan de Olózaga decided to continue with the cathedral's construction by raising the walls of the central nave, the transept and the central apse. Externally, the flying buttresses and the upper part of the main facade were built, the latter in a florid gothic style as shown in its central roundel, its lateral, blind, coupled windows and its fluted pillars terminating in pinnacles.

      Even though construction work on the cathedral was considered finished in 1500, a series of finishing touches were added. The central apse, covered by rib vaulting, received the magnificent alabaster retable created by Damián Forment between 1520 and 1533, presiding over the presbytery in a similar way to that of the Pilar Basilica in Zaragoza.
     Also, in 1574, the dividing line between the two parts of the facade, one above the other, was highlighted by powerful, framed eaves on wooden brackets, making a striking horizontal cut and helping to fix the proportions of the pieces on the facade.
 Pórtico de la Catedral. A la izquierda, San Lorenzo (véase una pequeña parrilla en su mano derecha)
      The exterior of the cathedral was thereby finished, with its paints-taking construction in ashlar masonry, a polished example of different gothic periods calling attention to the imposing structure.
      On the inside, the Santo Cristo chapel is worthy of mention, situated in the old apse at the end of the left-hand side, covered by a dome and built on Mannerist lines by Pedro de Ruesta in 1622.
      Also covered by domes, the San Orencio and San Joaquín chapels are examples of Baroque decoration built in 1646 and 1655. The other chapels, almost all renovated throughout the Baroque period, are covered by ribs, and those in the transept by pointed tunnel vaults.


*" Huesca, Guía de arquitectura", por L. Laborda Yneva
** mMnuel Tomé

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