Art / culture

“Let us build a church so big they think we’re crazy”

Santa María de la Sede in Sevilla is the world's largest Gothic cathedral. But why?

“Let us build a church so big they think we’re crazy”

Perhaps it is little known that the remains of Christopher Columbus, along with those of kings Fernando III “The Saint” and Alfonso X “The Wise” rest in Santa María de la Sede, the cathedral that holds the title of being the biggest Gothic building in the whole world. Actually, it is so incredibly big that it puts every other Gothic cathedral in Europe to shame (sorry about that, Saint Denis). One might think that the fact that the remains of all of these history-changing characters would be reason enough to justify the construction of a church with such colossal dimensions. After all, we are talking about the great explorer who, in the same year in which Isabella “the Catholic” reconquered the Iberian Peninsula from the Córdoba caliphate, expanded the territories of the Spanish crown far beyond any border anyone might have dreamed of. So yes, it would make sense that the famous Giralda, the bell tower of the cathedral, has a height of 104 meters.

But, to everyone’s surprise, the reasons why the Sevilla Cathedral is this big are very different. Actually, the construction of the cathedral began in 1402 (though some say 1434), so the size of the church has nothing to do with a tribute to Columbus. It has more to do with the “Reconquista” of the city, in 1248.

When the city was taken back from the caliphate, the largest mosque in town was consecrated as a Catholic church and was thus declared an archdiocesan cathedral, but after just over a hundred years of using it, the mosque was demolished. Some historians claim the building was already in a sorry state, while local oral tradition says the intention of the ecclesiastical authorities involved in the construction was to make “a church so great that those who see it think we are crazy.” In fact, as one reads the chronicles of the day in which the construction began, one finds that there is actually an entry in the book stating that the new building “has to be so good that no other can ever match it.” Quite possibly, it was a symbolic but sound statement of the Reconquista, as if the building were saying “We have taken Sevilla back. Period.”

In the video attached, shared by the user Tabia40 on YouTube, the marvelous blend of Moorish, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Academic architecture (hey, the church has gone through lots of renovations throughout the years) of St. Mary of the Chair (as in the episcopal see) can be seen in all of its splendor.