Seville Cathedral: Retablo Mayor – Altarpiece of the Main Chapel

Altarpiece of the main chapel of the Seville Cathedral in Spain

Retablo Mayor – Altarpiece of the main chapel

Retablo Mayor – Altarpiece of the Main Chapel
The Retablo Mayor is an amazing altarpiece like no other. This massive and intricately-carved wooden structure is 66 ft high and 60 ft wide and is part of the altar at the Capilla Mayor (Main Chapel) situated in the central nave of the Seville Cathedral.

The construction of this altarpiece started in 1482 by Pieter Dancart, a sculptor from present-day Belgium, and continued by several skilled sculptors before the completion of the first phase in 1528.

As you can see from the image, the Retablo Mayor is a recessed structure held by tall pillars on either side. The front-facing portion is a grid of compartments, each housing a narrative relief carved in wood and coated with a copious amount of gold.

The side sections are perpendicular to the front portion and are attached to the pillars. These were part of the second phase of the altarpiece construction, which started in 1550 and completed in 1564.

At the top is a canopy-like structure with three rows of octagonal niches.The structure above the base consists of seven columns and five rows of compartments. Not all the compartments are of equal size.

Just above the base of the altarpiece and at the center of the bottom row is a beautifully carved sculpture of Mary holding baby Jesus, known as the La Virgen de la Sede (Virgin of the See). Carved in wood and coated with silver, this sculpture was made in the 13th century. La Virgen de la Sede is the patron saint of the Seville Cathedral and is also responsible for its official name, Catedral de Santa María de la Sede.

Reliefs depicting the life of Jesus

The top four rows of the front portion depict the scenes from the life of Jesus Christ. The compartments are separated vertically by pilasters, which are also ornate with carvings of historical figures from the Bible or Church.

Row 2 – Birth of Christ.
1. Saints Joachim and Anne – Mary’s parents
2. Birth of Mary
3. Annunciation – Archangel Gabriel appearing to Virgin Mary and announcing that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus
4. Nativity of Jesus – Birth of Christ
5. Execution of male children by King Herod’s soldiers
6. Circumcision of Jesus
7. Adoration of the Magi

Row 3 – Jesus – Early years
1. Presentation of Jesus at the temple
2. Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist
3. Raising of Lazarus from the dead
4. Assumption of Mary into Heaven
5. Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem
6. Last Supper
7. Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Three Apostles, Peter, John, and James, are asleep

Row 4 – Last days of Jesus
1. Arrest of Jesus
2. Jesus at the Column – Flagellation
3. Crown of thorns placed on the head of Jesus
4. Resurrection
5. Trial of Jesus. Pontius Pilate presenting Jesus to the crowd and uttering Ecce Homo (Behold the Man).
6. Jesus carrying the cross
7. Disrobing of Jesus

Row 5 – Death of Jesus and Resurrection
1. Burial of Jesus
2. Three Marys at the sepulcher: Mary Magdalene, Mary of Cleopas and Mary Salome
3. Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene
4. Ascension of Jesus to Heaven
5. Harrowing of Hell – Jesus descends into hell between the time of Crucifixion and Resurrection
6. Supper at Emmaus – The breaking of bread
7. Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles

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

Copyright © 2020 by Lawrence Rodrigues. All rights reserved.

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