A tour of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela: the cloister of the Cathedral (Part 7)

After visiting the cathedral museum, we will walk through the cloister of the Cathedral.

But first, it is worth a detour to the left to see the chapel of Alba. It was built in the 16th century. Its founder, Canon Gómez Vallo, had the custom of celebrating a mass every day at dawn, and this is where its name comes from. In the main altar you can see the transfiguration of the Lord. This altar replaced the original one, the work of Cornielis de Holanda.


Now we enter the cloister itself. Before the current one was built, 45 m. long on each side (one of the largest in Spain), two others had already been erected. The first, in the time of Archbishop Xelmirez, whose remains are in the lower room of the museum. Then around the year 1266 the second one was built, and part of it was discovered in the excavations of 1964.

The creators of the current cloister of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela faced many architectural problems. The first was the great difference in level between the cloister and the Obradoiro square. Secondly, the floor of the Cathedral’s naves was higher than that of the cloister. In addition, the size of the cloister had a series of technical problems to be solved.


After several studies, the construction of the current cloister began thanks to the intervention of several architects. The first of them was Juan de Alava (worked between 1521-1534) who built the north wing. The east and south facades are the work of the architect Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón who took charge of the works in 1538, continuing the style of his predecessor. Later Juan de Herrera continued with the commission. The construction was completed in 1590 with the creation of the west façade, a work carried out by Gaspar de Arce.

claustro-2The cloister has only one floor, with smaller openings in the corners. It still has Gothic reminiscences that we see for example in the starred vaults, but it could already be classified as Renaissance. Each bay has its corresponding buttress towards the courtyard, crowned with a pinnacle. Its four sides are topped by an artistic cresting reminiscent of that of the facade of the Treasury, in the Plaza de Platerías.

A large number of tombs are located in the covered sections, since the cloister has been a cemetery for canons since the 16th century. Three sundials stand at the top of three of the sides of the courtyard.
In the southern section is the door to the Cathedral’s archives (access is reserved for scholars). Here was guarded the Codex Calixtinus (XII century) attributed to Aymerico Picaud (secretary of Pope Calixtus II). You may be familiar with the news of the theft and recovery of the Codex in 2012. Undoubtedly, it is a priceless document and a key piece in the history of the Camino de Santiago.

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