Oviedo Cathedral de San Salvador

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The cathedral of Oviedo is the city's most distinctive and impressive building with a tall spire that extends skywards and dominates the old town. Constructed of large, and almost white stone blocks, the cathedral makes an immediate impact with everyone who sees it as it overlooks a large square, la plaza de la catedral.

The history of a place of worship on this spot goes back well over 1,000 years to the days of the Visigoth empire and King Fruela. The first church to be foundered here was built in 765 AD, but it was destroyed by the Moors before the turn of the next century.

However, with the Moorish invasion of Asturias being defeated, it was not long before King Alfonso II replaced the ruin with a new church and the Basilica of San Salvador was built. This Romanesque and pre-Romanesque basilica remained for several centuries and was developed and extended before ultimately being replaced by the present day cathedral.

The "Catedral de San Salvador" is of Spanish national importance because of the many Christian relics from other churches that were saved and stored here during the time of the Moors invasion of central and southern Spain.

History of the cathedral of Oviedo

The Cathedral of Oviedo that stands in place today was first started in the fourteenth century and it took nearly three centuries to complete. Much of the old basilica was destroyed during this process and works actually continued on the building through to the seventeenth century. Although built in a combination of styles, the cathedral's overwhelming aesthetic is clearly Gothic with its detailed cloisters, elaborate buttresses and of course the crowning spire.

Other unusual features do however set this building apart from many others. The main portico has Arabesque decorations that appear to take their influence from the Moorish style and the original old tower (still intact) is of a much more simplified Romanesque style.

As you take a closer look at the cathedral you become more aware of its history and influences. The holy chamber still utilizes part of the original structure and once within it there is a much darker and more austere atmosphere than in other newer parts of the building.

The main altar is one of a number of masterpieces and its soars into a circular alcove with complex decorative masonry and what must once have been vivid colours within its art work. One contrast with this cathedral is the lightness of the exterior masonry and the near gloomy lack of natural light once within.

There is also an interesting myth associated with one of the statues in the cathedral. The statue is that of San Pedro and he holds a metal key within his hand. Legend has it that if you make three wishes and are then able to rotate his key three times, one of your wishes will be granted.

Highlights of the cathedral

All the individual features of Oviedo's cathedral are too many to list, but some of the main and more visual ones are as follows.

The chapels, of which there are (we believe) ten.

Each chapel has a different style, use and age, with the oldest artifact, an image of San Salvador, in the chapel of Covadonga and dating back to the eleventh century.

The main chapels are those of the seventeenth century Santa Barbara (containing an image of the saint), San Roque (with the tomb of an Abbot), and San Antonio in the Baroque style with statues and a large altar.

Other chapels include, those of Velarde (with ornate carvings), Santa Eulalia (with the interned saint buried within), Bethlehem (used for the performance of funerals), Vigiles (designed by the architect of the same name), the Chaste King (with an entrance from the fifteenth century) and the chapels of the “Pantheon of the Kings” and the “Assumption”.

The cathedral is also noted for its chapel ceilings and for housing the remains of past Asturian monarchs.

The Cloister, Holy Chamber and Transepts

The impressive Gothic cloister (with some remains from the original twelfth century Romanesque structure) was completed in the fifteenth century and, along with the spire, is the cathedral's most visually stunning structural element. It has ornate and highly carved stone buttresses, corbels, capitals and mullions and encloses a small lawn covered courtyard.

The Holy Chamber is notable not in itself, but for the items it holds within. Amongst these are two crosses of immeasurable value. The first is the cross of Angels, a gift from King Alfonso II and the emblem of the city and the second is the cross of Victory, the symbol of Asturias with a deep story to its origin.

Also in this chamber are a holy chest and the crypt of Santa Leocadia.

The south transept doubles as the housing for the Santa Teresa baroque altar and access to the cathedral's museum. The north transept contains another altar.

As ever, words cannot convey the images that the cathedral presents and with no internal photography allowed we are unable to reproduce them here.

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