Cámara Santa

Oviedo, Spain

The Holy chamber of Oviedo (Cámara Santa de Oviedo) is a pre-Romanesque church built next to pre-romanesque Tower of San Miguel of the city's cathedral. Nowadays, the church occupies the angle between the south arm of the cathedral transept and a side of the cloister.

It was built during the 9th century as a palace chapel for King Alfonso II of Asturias and the church of San Salvador of Oviedo. Apart from acting as royal chapel, the Holy Chamber was built to house the jewels and relics of the cathedral of San Salvador in Oviedo, a function it continues to have 1200 years later. Some of these jewels were donated by the Kings Alfonso II and Alfonso III, and represent extraordinary gold artifacts of Asturian Pre-Romanesque, brought from Toledo after the fall of the Visigothic kingdom.

Consequently, the cathedral of Oviedo was also called Sancta Ovetensis; owing to quantity and quality of relics contained in the Cámara Santa. The Holy Chamber remains as the only sample of the early medieval complex. It was built as a relics' room to keep the different treasures associated with the Kingdom of Asturias (Cross of the Angels, Victory Cross, Agate box, Arca Santa and Sudarium of Oviedo), brought from Jerusalem to Africa, and after several translations was finally deposited at Oviedo by Alfonso II of Asturias.

It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in December 1998.



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Founded: 9th century AD
Category: Religious sites in Spain

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4.2/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

David Carretero (4 months ago)
Nice chamber, the oldest in the cathedral.
Fran Fernández (6 months ago)
Disappointing restoration and "Chinese bazaar" layout of relics. He has asked for the magic of the place
AFR (6 months ago)
It is the oldest part of the cathedral. 9th century
Juanjo Castro Celeiro (9 months ago)
Alfonso II el Casto, who always considered himself a “humble servant of Christ”, had the so-called Holy Chamber built in the 9th century. It consists of two overlapping chapels and without any communication between them. The lower one is the "Crypt of Santa Leocadia" and the upper one is that of San Miguel; name that is given by the fact of being attached to the Tower of San Miguel, a building previous to it and which is one of the few vestiges that remain of the palace of the kings of Asturias. This tower can be seen today from the "Chapel of Our Lord of Covadonga" -at the beginning of the Cathedral's ambulatory- embedded in its walls. In the 12th century, this upper chapel underwent a profound transformation. The original wooden vault, typical of the pre-Romanesque, was replaced by a barrel vault and a series of columns decorated with a Romanesque apostolate was added to it, in order to try to tell us that, as well as the Romanesque apostolate, they support the roof of the chapel, in the same way the apostles –as a liturgical hymn beautifully says- are “columns of the Church”. The pious king, in constructing this building, wished that it would be the place where the holy relics that he had brought from nearby Montsacro were kept. Such relics had arrived in Asturias from Toledo -where they had been transferred "from different places" by the Christians to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Arabs, after the defeat of the Visigoth army in Guadalete. The most notable of all of them is the holy Shroud that corresponds, according to tradition, with the one that was placed on the face of Jesus Christ in the descent of the cross and until his final burial. The contemplation of this holy canvas reminds us that "by his blood we have received redemption, the forgiveness of sins." In this same place the crosses of Los Angeles and Victoria are guarded. It teaches, the first, of the Oviedo Church and the city of Oviedo and the second of the Principality of Asturias. As a result of the many relics that have been kept in this Holy Chamber for a long time, we could almost say, immemorial, the cathedral of Oviedo is called the "Sancta Ovetenesis".
Andres Vol (2 years ago)
Disappointing, I don't know why they put it if between the gate, people with audioguide attached to the gate, how far some things are behind the gate and the little exhibition space, you see nothing. Anyway it will be fine but ... I say it will not be.
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Quimper Cathedral

From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.

The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.

At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.

The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.

The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.

Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).

The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.

At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».

The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.