History

The Santa Catedral de Nuestra señora de la Asunción y de San Frutos (literally “The Holy Cathedral of Our Lady of the Holy Assumption and Saint Frutos”) also known as Segovia Cathedral was built between XVI and XVII centuries and belongs to the late Gothic style. It is one of the more ancient cathedrals in Spain and Europe. It was made in the midst of the XVI century, specifically between years 1525 and 1768. In this period of time the most popular kind of architecture in Europe was already Renaissance style. Thus, we can distinguish a predominantly Gothic style in Segovia Cathedral, since not only it has a late Gothic style but also it has some Renaissance elements.

The beauty and elegance of Segovia’s Cathedral as well as its visual impressiveness and size makes possible its denomination as The Lady of Cathedrals. This was an expression coined by the President of the first Spanish Republic, Emilio Castelar. This cathedral is located in Plaza Mayor (the main square of Segovia) and it is halfway between a couple of monuments that have great historical and architectural significance for the city. These monuments are the Aqueduct of Segovia and the Alcázar of Segovia, which means literally “Segovia Fortress”. It must also be stated that Segovia is one of the cities that possesses one of the greatest numbers of churches in Spain. Each one of the different and constituent stones of the Santa Catedral de Nuestra señora de la Asunción y de San Frutos reveal many centuries of magnificent history.

The same history is found in the entire city, which was chosen as a world heritage site in 1985.

Construction 1525-1768

Once the Revolt of the Comuneros was over and the comuneros defeated, Charles I of Spain and V of Germany forced the cathedral chapter to build a new cathedral far away from the palace, which was located in the present and emblematic Alcázar of Segovia. When the decision of building new headquarters was made, the location was chosen and a master builder was sought after. Regarding the location, the current cathedral was built on one of the highest spots in the city, in the so called Plaza Grande and on top of the old convent of Santa Clara. The convent of Santa Clara was exactly located on the headland; it consisted of a two floor cloister with houses, stockyards, vegetable gardens and a church.

In the early years of the construction of Segovia Cathedral, which started on top of the current west facade, the church of the Convent of Santa Clara was used as the main place of worship in the city, but later it was demolished. The first architect who had the Cathedral was D. Juan Gil de Hontañón. Next to him was his quantity surveyor García de Cubillas working side by side. Both were supervised by the watchful eye of the former canon churchwarden D.Juan Rodríguez. The first stone was placed in the west facade on 8 June 1525 and its consecration was on 16 July 1768 by bishop D. José Martínez Escalzo, which was 243 years after the placement of the first stone.

In order to reduce costs, some elements from the old cathedral were transferred to the new location: It was the magnificent XV century cloister designed by Juan Guas, which was financed by bishop D. Juan Arias Dávila. The chancel, which was also from the XV century, was made of walnut wood with the honored seats of King Henry IV and his wife Joan of Portugal, along with sculptures and paintings. Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón, son of Juan Gil de Hontañón, succeeded his father as an architect of the Cathedral. He died in 1577 and in that year there was already the figure of the ambulatory. The 18 chapels of the ambulatory were completed in 1607.Gil de Hontañón was succeeded by D. Juan de Mugaguren, who was named master builder. He was, among other tasks, in charge of the reform of the tower in the year 1615. Overall, the last stage of the construction of the Cathedral was between 1607 and 1658 and architects such as D.Pedro de la Brizuela and D. Francisco de Viadero would have a major role in the creation of the crossing and dome respectively. On the outside, the facade of San Frutos, which was the main entrance of the Cathedral, was built on granite in 1608, but it was not finished until 1633.

The design of this façade recreates a reduced scheme of the one found in San Lorenzo de El Escorial. The image of San Frutos, the patron of Segovia, was sculpted by D. Felipe de Aragón in 1611. Another two doors complete the entrances of the Cathedral. One is the entrance of Perdón (“Forgiveness”) in the west and the entrance of San Geroteo in the south. Inside the Cathedral we can find works, which are not only renowned for their artistic quality, but also because their beauty tells the Story of Salvation. This is the most beautiful love story. Among these works the most important are” The Lamentation over the Body of Christ” by Juan de Juni (1571), the triptych from the Flemish painter Ambrosius Benson (h.1532-36), “The Tree of Life” by Ignacio de Ríes (XVII century), “The Lying Christ” by Gregorio Fernández (XVII century) or the altarpiece by José de Churriguera.

Inside the cloister you can visit the Chapterhouse, which was designed by García de Cubillas. It has a fantastic carved coffered ceiling from 1559 and a collection of Flemish tapestries, in which a story about Queen Zenobia of Palmyra is narrated. In the anteroom of the Chapterhouse you can see a monstrance in gilded silver used in processions in the day of celebration of Corpus Christi. Sequentially, there is a small museum hall with works from Sánchez Coello and Pedro Berruguete among others. In the mid-section of the hall you can find the tomb of a royal member, Don Pedro. Inside Segovia Cathedral, the light that comes through Flemish stained glasses immerses visitors into a fascinating world full of color and is always within architectural materiality.

Between the years 1539 and 1544 more valuable showcases were elaborated by Pierre de Holanda, Pierre de Chiberry, Walter de Roch, Nicolás de Holanda and Nicolás de Vergara. Different scenes about the Old and New Testament or about the Life of Virgin Mary remind humankind that the Cathedral evokes heavenly Jerusalem, the kingdom of God on earth. In the Cathedral, God is mysteriously present; this is a place for theophany, a place which is the manifestation of the sacred. So it says in the Apocalypse book of Saint John, “it was pure gold, like transparent glass”. In the XVIII century many stained glasses were removed and were replaced by clear glasses in order to give more light to the presbytery and to the high altar. The altarpiece at the high altar is the work of the Italian architect Francesco Sabatini, it was dedicated to La Virgen de la Paz (“Our Lady of Peace”) and it was made with Neoclassical style different colored marbles and bronzes. It’s funding led to the consecration of the Cathedral in the year 1768.

It is essential to highlight an event of great importance in the historical tour of the marvelous richness of the Cathedral: A fire caused by lighting in the old wooden steeple, which was 25 meters high, on 18 September 1614. This initiated a complete renovation that affected the current shape and slenderness of Segovia Cathedral. This renovation was possible thanks to the charity of different institutions and to the people of the city of Segovia. The current structure was designed by baroque architect Pedro de Brizuela and was executed by Juan de Mugaguren. Total cost of this restoration was 11,000 ducats. They respected the four Gothic buttresses in which the American mahogany wooden structure was supported. Although this material was replaced with stone.