The Cathedral of Santa María, the Cathedral of Light, the Cathedral of the Sea, La Seu, the Cathedral of Mallorca or, as the Sóller writer Joan Pons called it, ‘la dama de la bahía’ (the lady of the bay). These are the names for what I myself like to call the jewel in the crown of the city of Palma de Mallorca.
THE CATHEDRAL OF MALLORCA: ITS HISTORY
This iconic monument of Palma de Mallorca dates back over 700 years, specifically to 1270, when its construction began, as the mosque that had stood on the same spot was gradually replaced. But did you know that it was built to keep a promise made by the king? To explain, we need to go back in time to 1229, the most important year (for many) in the history of Mallorca.
James I, King of Aragon, was caught in a terrible storm on his way to Mayurqa (as Mallorca was known under Islamic rule) in command of a large army. Extremely devoted to the Virgin Mary, he prayed to her for his and his soldiers’ survival, promising that he would build a church in her honour in thanks for their salvation.
And the result of this promise isn’t bad, is it?
But do you know who was the first person responsible for starting to turn the Cathedral of Mallorca into a reality? Well, it was King James II, with whom I allow myself some historical licence and I like to call him “el inquieto”, or “the restless one”. If you want to know why, visit Alcudia, Valldemossa or Bellver Castle and all will become clear.
Three hundred years of construction were to follow before the cathedral was completed in 1605.
Another key date in the history of Mallorca Cathedral is the year 1851. An earthquake, with its epicentre between the towns of Pórtol and Santa Eugenia, caused so much damage that major restoration work was necessary.
There was another major change at the beginning of the 20th century, but to the interior this time. This work was carried out by a Catalan architect whom you’re sure to have heard of: Antoni Gaudí.
Between 2001 and 2006, the ceramicist, sculptor and painter from the town of Felanitx, Miguel Barceló (nothing to do with the brand of rum or hotels, in case you were wondering), was responsible for the mural that can be found in the Capilla del Santísimo chapel. You’ll be impressed by his painting, believe me!
THE OUTSIDE OF THE CATHEDRAL OF MALLORCA
Wait a second; it’s not yet time to start your tour of the inside of the Cathedral of Palma de Mallorca. Take your time walking around the outside to admire its wonderful façade.
First take in its location. For centuries, the sea almost reached its base; the cathedral was only separated from the water by the Roman wall that still existed in the Middle Ages. The reflection of the church could be seen in the water and that’s how it came by one of its names: the Cathedral of the Sea.
And talking of walls, if you look carefully, you’ll see that the city had two walls. In the 17th century, the second one was built and today it makes a very pleasant walk, from where you can enjoy a spectacular sunset.
Now that you’re enjoying your stroll admiring the façade, take a first glimpse at the “ojo del gótico” (Gothic eye), as the main rose window is known. If it’s already stunning from afar, make sure you climb the 200+ steps that will take you up to the terraces of La Seu; seeing it up close will leave you speechless.
And, by the way, you can also tell me what the views are like from a height of 40 metres. Here’s a little preview of the views from the terraces, 40 metres high. Admit it, I’ve now convinced you to include this in your plans when you come to Palma!
THE INSIDE OF THE CATHEDRAL OF MALLORCA
What did you think of its location so close to the sea? And its façade? With the views from its terraces, have I made you green with envy?
Now that you’ve admired the location, the façade and the views from the terraces, it’s time to explore the inside of the Cathedral. I love watching people’s reactions when they step inside for the first time, because it’s impossible to avoid a look of amazement and to stop looking upwards. It still happens to me now, and I’ve been inside dozens of times to gaze at its majesty.
And my eyes, like yours, will be drawn almost hypnotically to the main rose window. If you start to lower your gaze, your eyes will rest upon the Capilla de la Trinidad chapel, where the tombs of two kings of the Kingdom of Mallorca, James II and James III, lie.
When you look at the altar, you are sure to wonder what the heptagonal object is. It’s a work by Antoni Gaudí, considered by many to be his most impressive legacy of the restoration work undertaken.
Make sure you take a moment to admire the infinite detail of the cathedral’s 16 chapels and, above all, remember to visit the Capilla del Santísimo, where you’ll find the mural by Miguel Barceló that I mentioned earlier.
And of course, don’t miss the detail of the rose window at the Great Door, the organ, the stained-glass windows and its mechanical clock (a really intriguing sight).
THE CATHEDRAL OF MALLORCA: INTERESTING FACTS
There are so many interesting things about the Cathedral of Palma. Here are some of the most curious:
- The cathedral’s belltower has nine bells. The largest is called Eloy (Eligius), the name of the patron saint of goldsmiths, and it “only” weights around 4700kg.
- It’s impossible to stop talking about the main rose window. It’s made up of a total of 1,236 pieces of glass and also treats us to a unique light phenomenon: the figure of eight. Twice a year, on 11 November and 2 February, you can see how the window is reflected beneath the rose window of the Great Door, forming a perfect figure of eight.
- Around the 14 columns supporting the cathedral naves are some wrought-iron rings. Look out for these when you visit; do they remind you of a women’s underwear garment? Ironically, they were given the name of ligueros (suspender belts) and caused a bit of a stir at the time!
- There are countless stories and legends surrounding the cathedral. Perhaps the most famous is the one about Doña Elisabeth Zaforteza Gual-Desmur, also called the dama emparedada (confined lady), who spent 13 years of her life inside one of its chapels.
Everything that you’ve read is just a taste of what’s to come when you visit the Cathedral of Mallorca. The “lady of the bay” will welcome you in all her splendour and with open arms, ready to show you all her beauty. And to continue enjoying the charm of the island of Mallorca, read our other articles and discover more iconic places in Palma, the Sierra de Tramuntana, and the best beaches for families and for adventure lovers.