Burgos, Burgos Cathedral, El Cid

Arguments in Stone and Bronze and Gilded Leaf

Group 2 — Maureen, Savannah and Weslee

Today was a great reminder of travel’s demand for flexibility. Our class meeting and museum visit were postponed so that an ill classmate could visit the clinic with one of the professors. He is now on the mend. We were, however, able to visit the Catedral de Burgos this afternoon as a group. Adán led us in a tour of the cathedral’s many chapels. Once again, we were confronted with the palimpsest of historical landscapes and spaces. Here in Europe, recorded history abounds and these layers of style and interpretation are most visible and well-preserved. The phenomenon of palimpsest is something we were prompted to look for before our trip even began, and now that we are here, it is hard to miss.

The earliest parts of the Cathedral are Romanesque in design, dating back to the 11th century. When it was updated in the 13th century, most Romanesque elements were lost. Now it stands as an unmistakably gothic structure, modeled on the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

Exterior of Burgos Cathedral

The main part of the cathedral was completed in the 14th century. It contains some distinct elements, however, like the crossing of veins in the gothic ceiling vaulting, its unique orientation (a geographical imperative in the mountainous city of Burgos), and a fifth door on the northeast side. The red marble, imported from Northern Italy during a time of Spanish rule in that region, is most striking in the altar to Saints Peter and Paul, though it can be found as an accent throughout the structure. In each chapel, we also encountered many Baroque altarpieces. They range from early to late Baroque, a phenomenon that can be measured in the apparent complexity of the pieces. The sacristy is a clear model of Rococo style with its colorful and ornate ceiling and asymmetry.
Cofre de El Cid
The cathedral also contained a gallery of fine art, something we have seen in most Spanish cathedrals as evidence of the Spanish crown’s historical dedication to collecting great works to display power and prestige. It is also the burial place of many important Spanish icons, the most notable of which is El Cid. Although El Cid spent much of his career as a mercenary, serving both Christian and Muslim lords, in subsequent centuries he was recast as Christian warrior. On 16th century Arco de Santa María he appears with the moniker “maurorum pavori terorique” (terror of the moors). In the twentieth century, El Cid also served as a useful symbol of nationalism and military power as witnessed by the Franco-era statue of the Cid that still looms over the Puente de San Pablo.

When we all sat down to reflect on it at the end of the day, there was a general consensus in the group on our feelings about the Cathedral. Since day one in Burgos, it has been our landmark to get around town. “If you get lost, look for the Cathedral,” Jesús told us when we arrived here. Every day, we have walked past it and at least one of us has paused to take a photo at some fresh new angle. It is both impossible to miss and impossible to ignore. We could not wait to finally see inside, and, today, it did not disappoint.