St. Martin’s Cathedral can be described as a transitional Romanesque temple: its construction was extended through the centuries in a sometimes haphazard way, especially considering that, although the initial project must have been of great magnitude, the economic situation -not always benevolent- made that many parts had to be adapted, delayed or never even completed.
For the beginning of the works, the date of consecration of the main altar (1188), can be taken as a reference. The construction of the basic structure would take about 80 years (it was fast when compared with other cathedrals in the surroundings), although some parts were only resolved temporarily: for instance, the final section was covered with wood. To finish, a gate and two towers were built (the current western façade, with access to St. Martin’s Square), although one of them was never completed. This is a classical Romanesque solution, which intended to provide stability to the ensemble and save the wide uneven terrain.
In parallel to the construction of the temple, the Bishopric took care of consolidating the place with relics; not only from the patron saint St. Martin, but also from local saints such as St. Euphemia. The intention was therefore to turn the Cathedral into a temple for pilgrims.
The conflicts of the 15th century, such as the Irmandiño revolts or the attack of the Count of Benavente, as well as later additions (chapel of the Holy Christ, ambulatory …), have made disappear or hidden most of the Romanesque stonework. However, the temple still preserves many elements that allow us to know in detail the architecture and sculpture of that time: façades, portico, museum …
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Here you can see the Cathedral’s original facing: the wall with its buttresses and semi-circular windows. The north gate had to be rebuilt after the attacks of the Count of Benavente in 1471, although it is possible that it followed the original scheme, indebted to the western gate of Santiago cathedral
Although the apse was much modified with later reforms (dome, ambulatory, chapel of the Holy Christ, clock tower …), part of its Romanesque decoration can still be seen, such as the arches disposed in corbels with geometric decoration. The rosette forms a cross with equal arms ending in circles. At one end you can see the figure of a lion with a lamb in its claws.
The Cathedral originally had five chapels (it was common at the time) arranged in a Latin cross plan, which is preserved. The main arm is divided into three naves with eight sections, with typical Romanesque cruciform pillars and semicircular arched windows supported by a pair of columns. The vaulting solution is Gothic.
The main gem of the cathedral, this ensemble is inspired by one of the greatest works of the Romanesque, the Gate of Glory in Santiago de Compostela by Master Mateo, from which come its theme and sculptural resolution. Although it does not reach its artistic level, it has an enormous plastic quality. Despite the modifications, the set still retains all the splendor of its style.