La Giralda: A harmonious blend of Moorish and Renaissance architectural styles

The magnificent campanile of the Seville Cathedral

When you look at the Giralda, it is hard to imagine that it is a product of two entirely different cultures. The lower half is part of the minaret built in the 13th century by the Almohads – a Moorish dynasty originated from North Africa. The upper half is a Renaissance-style bell tower built in the 16th century by the Christians, who took controls of Seville after the Reconquista. Despite the differences in architectural styles and religious traditions, the building appears to be seamlessly integrated and harmonious, and is reflective of the multi-cultural aspects of Spain.

Giralda means ‘one that turns’ in Spanish. The decorative bronze sculpture placed at the top, which rotates with the wind and acts as a weather vane, is responsible for the name. It depicts a young woman holding a cross, symbolizing the victory of Faith.

Islamic Section – Highly ornate Moorish minaret

Giralda exterior
Giralda exterior

The minaret part of the tower appears to use two types of construction: Ashlar stone in the base and brick exterior in the rest. Richly decorated arched windows and balconies adorn the brick exterior on all four sides of the tower. They allow light and air into the interior.

Mounted on top of the original minaret was a hemispherical dome, and above it was a stack of three bronze spheres of decreasing size, crowning it with a crescent moon. The dome and spheres remained in place until an earthquake destroyed them in 1365.

Each side of the tower measures 45 ft at the street level. The foundation below the street level is a bit wider and is about 20 ft deep. Most of the stones used on the foundation and the base came from the existing Roman structures, including a wall nearby. The minaret segment of the tower is about 165 ft high.

The interior of the minaret consists of chambers at the center and ramps around them built with enough space to allow people and horseback riders to climb the tower. There are a total of 35 ramp segments, starting at the entrance and ending near the Christian part of the Giralda. The image below shows a segment (i.e., number 23) with the original flooring. As you can see, the ramp is big enough for people to walk comfortably, and the path is lit by the light that passes through the window situated on the right side.

A ramp segment of the Giralda, the bell tower of the Seville Cathedral
A ramp segment of the Giralda

Christian Section – Bell tower with Victory of Faith at the top

Giralda upper part
Giralda upper part

In the 16th century, Seville was flourishing, thanks to the trade with the New World conquered by the Conquistadors. With an enormous wealth in hand, the cathedral chapter entrusted the work of building a magnificent bell tower for the Seville Cathedral to Hernan Ruiz II in 1558. He was an ingenious architect who already built other structures in the Seville cathedral. It took ten years for him to complete the bell tower addition.

Overlaid on top of the original minaret are the four stories built with the Renaissance-style architecture. The transition to the new addition is smooth, and onlookers hardly notice the difference. The size (includes width and height) of the stories decreases as you go higher. The bottom two floors are square-shaped, and the top two are circular.

The first story sits perfectly on top of the minaret and appears as though it is a continuation of it. Built with bricks, stones, and ceramics, it serves as a bell-chamber housing 24 bells, eight on each side. The exterior is highly ornate with columns, round windows, and an arch in the middle of each side. The bells hang between the pillars. Mounted above the corners are the bronze flower vases with lilies.

The second story has two levels. In 1765, a Franciscan Friar named José Cordero installed a beautiful bell in the upper level of this story, and it became the 25th bell of Giralda. The third story is circular, and the fourth looks like a jar and is named “La Tinaja” (The Jar).

El Giradillo

Sitting above the fourth floor is a dome which acts as a pedestal for a magnificent bronze sculpture of a young woman holding a cross, symbolizing the victory of Faith. This sculpture is known as El Giradillo because it rotates with the wind and acts like a weather vane.

The woman in the statue is holding the cross with the right hand and the foliage with the left. The semi-oval plate attached to the lower part of the cross helps to point El Giradillo in the direction of the wind. This rotating behavior is responsible for Giralda’s name, which means ‘one that turns’ in Spanish.

El Giradillo is about 13 ft high and rests on a pedestal that is 10 ft high. It was cast in bronze by Bartolomé Morel in 1568 using a model most likely built by Juan Bautista Vázquez el Viejo, who was also responsible for the reliefs on the Chapter house dome. The model for the cast was based on a painting by Luis de Vargas. A duplicate of El Giradillo is in front of the Puerta del Principe.

Panoramic views

If you take the Seville Cathedral tour, it culminates with the climbing of the Giralda, first walking on the ramps of the minaret and then taking the flight of steps to the belfry, the last stop. As you climb the minaret part, you can stop at the balconies to view the surroundings. Once you reach the belfry, you can go around all the four sides and get a 360 view of the historic city of Seville. One of the spectacular views you see is of the Seville Cathedral itself.

Patio de los Naranjos (Courtyard of the Orange Trees) located on the north side of the Seville Cathedral
Patio de los Naranjos – Courtyard of the Orange Trees

The image shows an aerial view of the Patio de los Naranjos, a garden of orange trees, enclosed by the structures belonging to the Seville Cathedral complex, which are, the northern facade of the Seville Cathedral on the left, Iglesia del Sagrario in the middle, and a gallery on the right.

The small tower in the middle of the right side (i.e., north side) gallery belongs to the Puerta del Perdón (Door of Forgiveness), a gate through which visitors enter the Patio de los Naranjos from the Calle Alemanes. The gallery on the east side (not visible) houses La Bibliotheca Colombina, a library that holds the private book collection of Fernando Colón, the second son of Christopher Columbus. Both Fernando Colón and Christopher Columbus were interred in the Seville Cathedral.

The Patio de los Naranjos used to be the courtyard of the Almohad mosque once stood in this space. The only thing that remains of the courtyard from that era is the fountain where the worshipers performed ritual ablutions, i.e., washing of feet and hands before entering the mosque.

The Patio de los Naranjos is now used by the visitors to gather and relax before and after the tour of the Seville Cathedral.

A panoramic view from the belfry of the Giralda in Seville, Andlusia, Spain
A panoramic view from the belfry of the Giralda

The image shows the eastern end of the Seville Cathedral. The dome with the roof lantern is above the Capilla Real. Below the cathedral is the La Plaza de la Virgen de Los Reyes, and behind it is the Real Alcazar and the adjoining gardens. The Guadalquivir River is in the far end of the image.

Related Pages
Seville Cathedral: An awe-inspiring architectural marvel
Sala Capitular – The Chapter House of the Seville Cathedral
Sacristía Mayor – The Main Sacristy of the Seville Cathedral

Copyright © 2020 by Lawrence Rodrigues. All rights reserved.

Sacristía Mayor: The Main Sacristy of the Seville Cathedral

A magnificent building that houses valuable art treasures

Attached to the south side of the Seville Cathedral, the Sacristía Mayor (Main Sacristy) is a Greek cross-shaped building crowned by a circular dome at the crossing. Surmounting the dome is a beautiful roof lantern built to provide daylight to the hall below. The work on this building started by the architect Diego de Riaño, and after his death in 1534, Martín de Gainza continued the work and completed in 1543.

The Sacristía Mayor, along with the Sala Capitular, is a Renaissance-style addition to the Gothic-style Seville Cathedral. Both were built in the 16th century and attached to the south side of cathedral, separated by an anteroom called Antecabildo. Unlike the Sala Capitular – which followed an unconventional elliptical design – the Sacristía Mayor followed the traditional design with a grand circular dome and roof lantern, a trend at that time in Renaissance-style architecture. Also, they were built for different purposes. The Sala Capitular was the meeting room of the cathedral’s chapter, whereas the Sacristía Mayor was a repository for the liturgical items. 

Preserved in the sacristy are the art treasures that provide a glimpse of the glorious era in which religious art flourished in Seville. On display are the finely-crafted liturgical items, including monstrances, reliquaries, custodias, crosses, mostly made of precious metals like gold and silver. Besides, adorning the walls of the sacristy are the masterpieces painted by famous painters, including Goya, Murillo, Campaña, and Zurbarán.

Dome

An external view of the dome of the Sacristía Mayor (Main Sacristy) attached to the Seville Cathedral in Andalusia, Spain
Dome of the Sacristía Mayor

The dome of the Sacristía Mayor is relatively large and stands out when viewed from outside. As you can see from the image, it is a beautiful structure surmounted by a roof lantern supported by the flying buttresses.

On the right side of the image is the Giralda, which is on the other side of the cathedral. Notice the small roof lantern in front of it. It belongs to the dome of the Sala Capitular. This goes to show that the Sacristía Mayor is bigger and taller than the Sala Capitular.

The image below shows the ceiling of the dome. As you can see, there are three concentric panels ornate with bas-reliefs depicting scenes related to the Last Judgement (the Second Coming of Christ). Click the image and view the full size for a view of the reliefs.

Reliefs depicting the Last Judgement carved on the ceiling of the dome of the Sacristía Mayor attached to the Seville Cathedral in Andalusia, Spain
Reliefs depicting the Last Judgement carved on the ceiling of the dome

Here is a brief explanation of the reliefs:

  1. Top layer: Depicts Jesus seated on a bow with his feet resting on a globe representing the earth. His right hand is up, and the left is down. He is holding a lily with his right hand, and there is a sword above his left shoulder. These two symbolize mercy and justice, respectively. Flanking Jesus on the left is the Virgin Mary, and on the right is St. John the Evangelist.
  2. Middle layer: Depicts the saved ones, who with folded hands looking up to Jesus
  3. Bottom layer: Depicts the damned ones who are being herded to hell by beast-like demons

Interior

Interior of the Sacristía Mayor of the Seville Cathedral in Andalusia, Spain
A view from the entrance

The image shows a view of the interior of the Sacristía Mayor you see as you enter this room. In the middle is the Custodia de Arfe, a processional custodia made by Juan de Arfe y Villafañe, a master sculptor born into a prominent family of goldsmiths/silversmiths.

On the left is the silver statue of San Fernando attributed to Pedro Roldán, who made it in 1671. On the right is the statue of La Inmaculada Concepción (Immaculate Conception of Mary) made by Alonso Martínez of Seville in 1650.

Descent from the Cross by Pedro de Campaña in the side enclosure of the Sacristía Mayor attached to Seville Cathedral, Spain
Descent from the Cross by Pedro de Campaña in a side enclosure

Behind the Custodia de Arfe are the three richly decorated enclosures, each with a famous painting.

The image shows the enclosure at the opposite end of the entrance. As you can see, it has highly ornate arched doors and vaulted ceiling richly decorated with sculptural reliefs. In the center within an oval-shaped frame is the relief of Virgin Mary, and surrounding her are the twelve apostles.

The main attraction of this enclosure, however, is the brilliant oil painting, Descent from the Cross, mounted on the back wall.

Art treasures

When you are in the Sacristía Mayor, it feels as though you in an art museum because its space is filled with valuable art treasure. On display at the sacristy are the finely-crafted liturgical items and numerous paintings. The liturgical items include monstrances, reliquaries, custodias, and crosses, mostly made of precious metals like gold and silver. Here are some of the art treasures:

Custodia de Arfe

The magnificent silver sculpture, known as the Custodia de Arfe (Arfe’s Custodia), bears the name of its builder, Juan de Arfe y Villafañe, a master sculptor born into a prominent family of goldsmiths/silversmiths.

Custodia de Arfe in the Sacristía Mayor of the Seville Cathedral in Andalusia, Spain
Custodia de Arfe – Front View

With a height of over 12 ft and weight of over 1000 pounds, the Custodia de Arfe, which was made between 1580 and 1587, is massive and was intended for the processional use.

As you can see, the tower-shaped custodia has four circular floors, and crowning the top floor is a sculpture representing Faith. Influenced by the Greco-Roman architecture, each floor of the custodia appears like a miniaturized Greek/Roman building.

The floors are similar in design, but their size, including the height and diameter, decreases proportionally as the tower rises from the bottom to the top. In the center of the floor is the cella, and surrounding it are two concentric rings, each made of 12 Greek-style columns.The outer ring columns are on the edge of the floor. The proportionality applies to the size of the columns and the sculptures.

The custodia rests on a circular base made later by a different silversmith. Mounted on this base are 12 cups, each of which aligns with a column.

  1. Floor – 1 (Bottom floor) : The circular part of each column rests on a square base. Engraved on this column are the grapevines that criss-cross to the top from their roots at the bottom. Figures of angels and birds eating grapes are in between the vines. Carved on the three sides of the square base are bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Old and New Testaments. Standing in the center of the cella is a beautifully carved silver sculpture depicting the Immaculate Conception made by Juan de Segura in 1668. It replaced the figure of Faith that was part of the custodia when Jaun de Arfe built it. Flanking the Immaculate Conception are the statues of Peter and Paul.
  2. Floor – 2: The columns of this floor are of the Corinthian order. Placed in the cella is the holder that hosts the Blessed Sacrament during the procession.
  3. Floor – 3: The columns of this floor are of the Ionic order. The cella holds the statue of the Mystic Lamb opening the Book with Seven Seals, an apocalyptic scene envisioned by John of Patmos and narrated by him in the Book of Revelation.
  4. Floor – 4: The columns of this floor are of the Corinthian order. The cella houses the sculpture depicting the Holy Trinity, i.e., the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Custodia de Arfe in the Sacristía Mayor of the Seville Cathedral
Custodia de Arfe

The image shows the location of the Custodia de Arfe. As you can see, it is in the middle of the sacristy and behind it are two famous paintings mounted on the wall.

Right: The Vision of San Fransciso – A masterpiece by Juan Sánchez Cotán (1560 – 1627), a Baroque painter and a pioneer of realism in Spain.


Left: Virgin of Mercy – A great work attributed to Juan de Roelas (17th century).

Descent from the Cross – A masterpiece by Pedro de Campaña

Descent from the Cross by Pedro de Campaña in the Sacristía Mayor of the Seville Cathedral
Descent from the Cross by Pedro de Campaña

The image shows an oil painting, Descent from the Cross, mounted on the back wall of the enclosure behind Custodia de Arfe. This masterpiece was painted in 1547 by Pedro de Campaña (1503 – 1580), a noted Flemish painter born in Brussels and trained in Italy. He painted numerous religious masterpieces, some of which are on display in the Seville Cathedral and various churches in Spain. Descent from the Cross is believed to be his best work.

As you can see from the painting, the motionless body of Christ is being lowered with reverence by three men in red robes. According to the accounts in the Gospels, the men on the ladders are Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, and the man holding Jesus’ legs is St. John the Evangelist. Waiting at the bottom are four grief-stricken women that include Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene.

Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary

A sculpture depicting La Inmaculada Concepción ((Immaculate Conception) in the Sacristía Mayor of the Seville Cathedral in Andalusia, Spain
La Inmaculada Concepción (Immaculate Conception)

Sculpted by Alonso Martínez of Seville in 1650, this beautiful silver work represents the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception states that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was born without the stain of the original sin.

Seville was famous for its mastery in silversmithing, and the sculpture representing the Immaculate Conception is a fine example of that mastery. As you can see, it is a stunningly beautiful work with great attention paid to details.

Clad in a beautiful cloak, the Virgin Mary is standing on a crescent moon up and is among angels. With her hands clasped, she is looking downwards with grace. The crescent moon conveys important symbolism, i.e., conquering sin. Adorning her head is a finely crafted crown, and surrounding it is a halo with rays.

The Immaculate Conception is a popular theme in the art presented in the Seville Cathedral. For example, La Inmaculada Concepción is a masterpiece painted on the dome of the Chapter House by the noted Spanish painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.

Bust-reliquary of Santa Rosalía

Bust-reliquary of Santa Rosalía in the Sacristía Mayor of the Seville Cathedral
Bust-reliquary of Santa Rosalía

This impressive work of art in silver was made by Lorenzo Castelli, an Italian silversmith, in 1688. Santa Rosalía (St. Rosalia) is a saint invoked by the Catholics during a pandemic. As the COVID-19 pandemic is devastating our planet, St. Rosalia is becoming popular internationally because of the belief that she can us from the pandemic.

Here is the story of St. Rosalia:

Born in 1130 into a wealthy family in Palermo, Italy, St. Rosalia led a strange life. Early in her youth, she left home and lived like a hermit in a cave nearby. She is believed to have written these words on the walls of the cave;

I, Rosalia, daughter of Sinibald, Lord of Roses and Quisquina, have taken the resolution to live in this cave for the love of my Lord, Jesus Christ.

She spent her entire life there and died in 1166, unbeknown to the rest of the world. Her body remained in the cave until a hunter discovered them in 1624. As the story goes, she appeared to that hunter and asked him to recover her remains from the cave and bring them to the city in a procession. At that time, Palermo was beset by a Plague pandemic, which disappeared after her remains were carried in procession three times through the city. In gratitude, the people of Palermo declared her the patron saint of Palermo.

When Jaime de Palafox y Cardona, the bishop of Palermo, became the archbishop of Seville, he decided to promote St. Rosalia in Seville and donated the bust-reliquary St. Rosalia to the Seville Cathedral.

Related Pages
Seville Cathedral: An awe-inspiring architectural marvel
Sala Capitular – The Chapter House of the Seville Cathedral
La Giralda: A harmonious blend of Moorish and Renaissance architectural styles

Copyright © 2020 by Lawrence Rodrigues. All rights reserved.

Sala Capitular: The Chapter House of the Seville Cathedral

A magnificent building unique in design and rich in decoration

No visit to the Seville Cathedral is complete without seing to the incredibly beautiful Sala Capitular (Chapter House), an ellipse-shaped hall attached to the southeast corner of the building. It is a highly ornate hall crowned by a magnificent dome that is elliptical in shape – a novel idea at the time of its inception and considered a great engineering feat. Surmounting the dome is a beautiful roof lantern, also ellipse-shaped, built to provide daylight to the hall below.

Added more than 50 years after the completion of the Gothic-style Seville Cathedral, the Sala Capitular is a Renaissance-style building, and despite the difference in architectural styles, it blends harmoniously with the main building. The architects responsible for this perfectly-designed building were Hernán Ruiz II, who started in 1561, and Alonso de Maeda, who completed in 1592. It was the first building with the elliptical dome in Spain. The elliptical design of the hall lends itself to better acoustics and visibility.

Exquisitely designed interior

The Sala Capitular used to serve as the meeting room of the cathedral’s chapter, a college of clergymen set up to advise the archbishop to run its religious and administrative affairs. The chapter members, referred to as canons, would sit on the benches placed along the wall during the meetings, typically chaired by the archbishop. Because of the oval design, they would have had perfect visibility of the hall and clear acoustics.

Archbishop's Chair in the Chapter House of the Seville Cathedral, Andalusia, Spain
Interior with the Archbishop’s Chair on display

The image shows a section of the oval-shaped wall with its upper part covered by beautifully engraved friezes. Even the floor of this hall is exquisitely designed. As you can see, it is a marble floor covered with tantalizing patterns, the design of which was inspired by the Piazza del Campidoglio, a beautiful square in Rome designed by Michelangelo.

On display at this hall is an ornate chair, known as Archbishop’s Chair, built by Diego de Velasco in 1592. This elegantly designed mahogany chair was used by the archbishop during the meetings of the cathedral chapter.

Spectacular elliptical dome

Dome of the Chapter House of the Seville Cathedral, Seville, Andalusicaa, Spain
Dome of the Chapter House

The richly decorated elliptical dome presents a stunning sight to the visitors. The paneled ceiling of the dome is ornate with an ensemble of paintings, reliefs, stain glass windows, and artwork. Francisco Pacheco, a canon of the chapter, designed the decoration of the vaulted ceiling.

As you can see from the image, in the center is the interior of the elliptical lantern roof decorated with artwork. Covering the dome ceiling below the lantern are a number of ellipse-shaped concentric panels. The radial segments that flow from the top intersect these panels and divide them into trapezoidal-shaped curved blocks, which are smaller at the top and bigger at the bottom. Each of these blocks contain decoration ranging from simple artwork to intricately-carved bas-reliefs.

The blocks in the top two panels contain flowery artwork and geometrical patterns, and the blocks in the panel below, i.e., third from the top, consist of paintings and circular stained glass windows. Carved on the fourth panel from the top are the narrative bas-reliefs inspired by the episodes described in the New Testament.

The images below show different parts of the dome ceiling.

Paintings and Stained glass windows

The third panel from the top is the most remarkable one consisting of a famous painting and eight portraits painted by Murillo. Sandwiched between the portraits are the circular stained glass windows brightly lit by the outside light.

Immaculate Conception – A masterpiece by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Immaculate Conception - A masterpiece by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo in the Chapter House of the Seville Cathedral in Andalusia, Spain
Immaculate Conception – A masterpiece by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

In the center of the third panel is the La Inmaculada Concepción (Immaculata or Immaculate Consumption), a masterpiece by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, a Baroque-style painter from Spain known for religious masterpieces.

This painting is one of the twenty-four Murillo painted in his lifetime on the theme of Immaculate Conception. In this painting, he presents the Virgin Mary up in heaven with a bright light behind her. Clad in a white robe and blue cloak, she is standing on a crescent moon and is among the angels. With her hands clasped, she is looking downwards with grace.

The crescent moon conveys important symbolism, i.e., conquering sin. Note that the Immaculate Conception is a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church that states the Virgin Mary is born without original sin.

A highly decorative frame with beautiful artwork encloses La Inmaculada. Above the frame is an inscription in Latin describing the painting.

Portraits of the Spanish and Sevillian Saints

Besides La Inmaculada, Murillo painted eight circular portraits of saints that adorn the rest of the third panel. Surrounding each painting is a decorative frame with the name of the saint inscribed in Latin at the top.

The saints in the portraits have connections to Seville, either born or martyred in Seville. Here is the list of eight saints in the counter clock-wise direction starting from La Inmaculada:

NameDescription
1. San FernandoSt. Ferdinand (1199-1252). Patron saint of Seville. He was King Ferdinand III of Castile.
2. San LeandroSt. Leander (534 -600). Bishop of Seville
3. San LaureanoSt. Laurian(? – 546). Bishop of Seville from 522 to 539
4. Santa RufinaSt. Rufina (270 – 287). Martyred in Seville
5. Santa JustaSt. Justa (268 – 287). Martyred in Seville
6. San Pio?
7. San IsidoroSt. Isidore (560 – 636). Bishop of Seville (600 – 636)
8. San HermenegildoSt. Hermenegild (? – 585). Martyred in Seville.
List of Saints in the third panel

Santa Justa and Santa Rufina

Paintings of Santa Rufina and Santa Justa on the dome of the Chapter House attached to the Seville Cathedral
Portraits of Santa Justa and Santa Rufina painted by Murillo

Saints Justa and Rufina were sisters who lived and martyred in Seville in the 3rd century. They are considered the protectors of the Giralda and the Seville Cathedral.

In the center is a circular stained glass window flanked by two circular paintings depicting St. Justa on the right and St. Rufina on the left. A trapezoidal frame encloses each painting with the name of the saint inscribed at the top in Latin.

Inspirational Bas-Reliefs

Carved on the fourth panel (from the top) of the vaulted ceiling of the dome are the narrative bas-reliefs. There are sixteen of them – eight in the vertical (portrait) format and the other eight in the horizontal (landscape) format. The vertical format bas-reliefs were made by Juan Bautista Vázquez el Viejo (nicknamed “the Elder”) and Diego de Velasco around 1582 – 1584. The horizontal format bas-reliefs were made by Marcos Cabrera in 1590.

The carvings of bas-reliefs alternate between the horizontal and vertical formats, which are separated by the Ionic order pilasters. A border that looks like the arched door encloses the vertical bas-reliefs.

List of Bas-reliefs

PortraitLandscapeLocation
1. The Assumption of the Virgin2. Jesus with ApostlesSouth, below La Inmaculada and San Fernando
3. Miracles of St. John the Evangelist4. Daniel in lion’s denWest, below San Leandro
5. A son of man with sharp sickle and gathering of grapes6. Baptism of JesusWest, below San Laureano
7. Angels with trumpets8. Parable of the sowerWest, below Santa Rufina
9. Mystic Lamb opening the scroll10. Jesus calming the stormNorth, below Santa Justa
11. Mighty angel with legs like pillars on fire12. Jesus praying in the Garden of GetsemeneEast, below San Pio
13. Jesus driving the money changers from the temple14. Vision of St. Peter – Angels lowering a large sheet carrying animalsEast, below San Isidoro
15. Unidentified16. Jesus washing the feet of ApostlesEast, below San Hermenegildo
List of Bas-reliefs

Assumption of Mary and Jesus with Apostles

Inspirational bas-reliefs on the ceiling of the Chapter House dome
Inspirational bas-reliefs on the ceiling of the dome

The section of ceiling shown in the image is located just below La Inmaculada. As you can see, there are three beautifully carved bas-reliefs. The vertical format bas-relief in the middle depicts the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, and the horizontal format reliefs to its left and right depict Jesus with his 12 Apostles. In the left bas-relief, Jesus washing their feet and in the right bas-relief, Jesus standing on a pedestal and preaching them.

The horizontal bas-reliefs are smaller and covering the space above and below them are the inscriptions in Latin. The vertical bas-reliefs cover the entire panel and its inscriptions are in the panel below.

The Vision of St. Peter – Angels lowering a large sheet carrying animals

Chapter House - Bas-relief depicting the Vision of St. Peter narrated in the Acts of the Apostles
Angels lowering a large sheet carrying animals – The vision of St. Peter narrated in the Acts of the Apostles

This bas-relief depicts the Vision of St. Peter, a scene narrated in the Acts of the Apostles.

Here is a summary of the scene from Acts 10: 9-14:
Peter was traveling to the city along with other Apostles. As others were preparing the meal, Peter went up to a terrace to pray. There, he became hungry and wanted to eat, then fell into a trance. In his vision, Peter saw heaven opened up, and a large sheet, held by its four corners and carrying four-legged animals reptiles, and birds, was being lowered to the ground. A voice asked him to kill the animals and eat. Peter refused because he had never eaten any unclean animals before.

The image shows two angels lowering a large sheet carrying animals, while St. Peter, presumably in a trance, is lying down with his left hand holding his face.

Apocalyptic visions of John of Patmos

While the horizontal bas-reliefs depict the life of Jesus as described in the Gospels, six of the vertical bas-reliefs depict the apocalyptic visions of John of Patmos described by him in the Book of Revelation, the last book in the New Testament written in a symbolic form about the apocalypse and prophecy. A vast majority of Christians believe that John of Patmos is the same person as St. John the Apostle and St. John the Evangelist, the author of the Gospel according to John. However, many modern scholars have disputed this belief.

John of Patmos wrote the Book of Revelation while in exile on the Greek island of Patmos. He was banished to Patmos by the Roman authorities during the reign of Emperor Domitian (81-96 CE) because of his evangelization activities in Ephesus, where he preached Gospel in the Great Theater. After the death of Domitian, John was released from exile and reported to have returned to Ephesus. He is believed to have died there at the ripe age of 92.

Here are some of the bas-reliefs inspired by the apocalyptic visions of John of Patmos:

Mystic Lamb opening the book with the seven seals

Located above the entrance, this bas-relief captures John’s vision that marks the beginning of the apocalypse. Here are the verses that inspired the bas-relief:

Revelation 6: 1-2 – The Lamb opening the book/scroll with seven seals

1. And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.
2. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
Bas-relief depicting the Mystic Lamb opening the book with the seven seals
Mystic Lamb opening the book with seven seals – An apocalyptic vision of John of Patmos

In this vision, John sees God holding a scroll with his right hand. Locked by seven seals, this scroll contains the judgment of God on sin and evil. Then an angel appears and asks the question – who is worthy of opening the seals. One of the 24 elders replies – only the Lion of Judah (implies Jesus) is worthy of opening it. Then a mysterious Lamb, a symbolic representation of Jesus, appears and opens the seal one by one. Every time the Lamb opens a seal, it triggers an apocalyptic event.

As you can see from the bas-relief, God is holding a book with his right hand, and the Mystic Lamb is opening the seal. Surrounding God and the Mystic Lamb are the angels and elders.

Angels with trumpets

This bas-relief captures the symbolism behind the apocalyptic nature of John’s visions. Here are the verses that inspired the bas-relief:

Revelation 8: 1-6 – Angels with Trumpets

1. When he broke open the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
2. And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.
3. Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God's people, on the golden altar in front of the throne.
4. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God's people, went up before God from the angel's hand.
5. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
6. Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.
Angels with Trumpets - Bas-relief on the Chapter House dome in the Seville Cathedral, Andalusia, Spain
Angels with Trumpets – An apocalyptic vision of John of Patmos

John sees this vision when the Mystic Lamb opens the seventh seal. In this vision, there is a silence for half an hour, and then seven angels are given trumpets. An angel with a golden censer comes and stands in front of the altar in front of the throne. He fills the censer with incense, and smoke rises from the burning incense as people start praying. The angel fills the censer with fire and throws it on to the earth. Then the angels with trumpets started sounding the trumpet one by one, each time triggering catastrophic events.

As you can see from the image, God is at the center holding the globe surrounded by angels, most carrying the trumpets and one at the bottom holding the censer (a container for burning incense) with his left hand and fire with his right hand.

Mighty angel with legs like pillars of fire

This is one of the most beautiful and expressive bas-reliefs in the Sala Capitular. It captures the essence of a mysterious verse in the Book of Revelation. Here are the verses that inspired the bas-relief:

Revelation 10: 1-8 – The Angel and the Little Scroll

1. Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head. His face was like the sun, his legs were like pillars of fire.
2. He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand. He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land
3. And he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke.
4. And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven say, 'Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down'
5.Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven.
6. And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, 'There will be no more delay'
7. But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.'
8. Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more: 'Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land
Mighty angel with legs like pillars of fire - Bas-relief on the Chapter House dome in the Seville Cathedral, Andalusia, Spain
Mighty angel with legs like pillars of fire – An apocalyptic vision of John of Patmos

The bas-relief perfectly captures the essence of the verses 1 to 8 from chapter 10 of the Book of Revelation. It depicts the mighty angel with legs like pillars of fire wrapped in a cloud. As you can see, his left foot is on the land, the right foot is on the sea, and the right hand raised (to heaven). He is holding an open book (little scroll) with his left hand and John appears to receive that book. Unlike many of his other visions, John himself is a participant in this vision. Many Bible experts believe that the mighty angel is Christ.

Related Pages
Seville Cathedral: An awe-inspiring architectural marvel
La Giralda: A harmonious blend of Moorish and Renaissance architectural styles
Sacristía Mayor: The Main Sacristy of the Seville Cathedral

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