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December 27, 2015

Spain: Seville, Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See and the Giralda

Looking up inside Seville's Cathedral.

Looking up inside Seville’s Cathedral.

Seville’s cathedral, the Catedral de Santa María de la Sede, is the largest cathedral in the world. It gets this distinction through a technicality: There are two larger churches in the world, the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil and the Vatican’s St Peter’s Basilica, but these structures are not seats of bishops and thus do not qualify as cathedrals.

The size is by plan. According to local oral tradition, the members of the cathedral chapter said, “Hagamos una Iglesia tan hermosa y tan grandiosa que los que la vieren labrada nos tengan por locos”–“Let us build a church so beautiful and so grand that those who see it finished will think we are mad.” I suspect that few of today’s numerous visitors view the construction of such large church as an act of madness. But undoubtedly the modern tourists do appreciate the grandeur of the place.

La Giralda, once the minaret for a mosque and now the bell tower for Seville's cathedral

La Giralda, once the minaret for a mosque and now the bell tower for Seville’s cathedral

Construction of such a large cathedral was a multigenerational task. Groundbreaking occurred in 1401; the cathedral was completed in 1528. In reality, Seville’s cathedral dates back even further. Like many churches in Andalusia, the Seville Cathedral was built on top of the site of a mosque after the Reconquista. The builders used some columns and other elements from the earlier building, including La Giralda, the mosque’s minaret. Converted into a bell tower, La Giralda is now the city’s most well known symbol. Seville has numerous belfries that started life as Moorish minarets but La Giralda, like its attached church, is the most impressive.


Intricate details on the cathedral’s ceiling

The inside of the cathedral is cavernous. Amongst the ornate details is the large embellished tomb of Cristóbal Colón. It is said that the remains of Cristóbal Colón, otherwise known as Christopher Columbus, went a world tour after his death. Perhaps in the end they actually made it to this tomb inside Seville’s cathedral. In truth, I’m a bit cynical about this sort of thing. Cathedrals often have relics from far away places with uncertain provenance. But in this case there actually does seem to be some proof that Columbus’s bones do in fact lay entombed inside Seville’s cathedral.

Near the Seville Cathedral are the Alcázar of Seville and the General Archive of the Indies, which holds archival documents illustrating the history of the Spanish Empire in the Americas and the Philippines. All three are all included together in UNESCO World Heritage list. And all three are worth visiting.

Carriages wait for tourists outside of Seville's cathedral.

Carriages wait for tourists outside of Seville’s cathedral.

The choir

The choir


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