It’s the year 1219. Bishop Don Mauricio sets off from the heart of Castile to the Holy Roman Empire. He travels on behalf of his king, Ferdinand III, to pick up Beatrice of Swabia, the future queen. It is a long journey full of difficulties through the countryside and cities in which he discovers something never seen in the Iberian Peninsula. On his return, Don Mauricio brings not only a princess but the inspiration that would shape one of the most beautiful monuments in our country: the Burgos Cathedral.
The year of our Lord 2021 marks eight centuries since the first stone of this monument to the Virgin Mary was laid. A titanic work that is considered the first Gothic building within our borders. Unlike its compact and immovable predecessor, the French style breaks free of gravity’s bothersome laws and rises, graceful and elegant, towards the sky. Gone are the flat walls, the small windows, and the heavy Romanesque round arches. In their place, masters sculpted massive stone trees that extend their branches towards the celestial vault, joining each other in light pointed arches. An impossible fineness that still stands today as a testament to the architects’ genius.
Gone are the flat walls, the small windows, and the heavy Romanesque round arches. In their place, masters sculpted massive stone trees that extend their branches towards the celestial vault, joining each other in light pointed arches. An impossible fineness that still stands today as a testament to the architects’ genius.
Work on the Burgos cathedral began at the chancel and presbytery. Around 1238, the works on this part and a large part of the transept and naves were completed. After the first French architect’s death, his compatriot, Master Henry, took over the project. He took inspiration from the Rheims Cathedral to complete the gabled façade. During the second half of the 13th century, and under the Spanish Johan Pérez, the side chapels were completed. A new cloister was erected. However, the cathedral as we know it would not be finished until the 15th century when the Colonia family added the spires to the towers on the main façade, and the domes over the transept and the beautiful Constables Chapel.
Light to portray the Almighty
While the sculptural expertise is evident in statues and columns, the masters achieved an even more remarkable feat for not only did they carve stone, but light as well.
One of the most essential features of the Gothic movement is its ability to flood buildings with light through enormous windows. Masters recreated biblical scenes, drew the delicate countenance of saints, and filled their stone forests with life. And they used nothing but talent and color to do so.
During the cathedral’s construction, Burgos became an important glassmaking center and a benchmark for this art. The masterpieces found in the Monastery Santa Maria Real de las Huelgas, the cathedrals of Leon, Astorga, Oviedo, and, of course, Burgos were all forged in the city’s workshops. Inside the latter is the most significant piece of the Iberian Peninsula artistic ensemble: the rose window of the Sarmental Gate. This mosaic dated around 1260 is the only stained glass window that remains almost intact since its installation. Imbued with the famous red glass of Burgos, it is a mesmerizing display of geometry. To create it, master sculptors and glassmakers worked hand in hand to bring the Chapter and King Ferdinand III’s vision to life.
Even though some of them have suffered irreparable damage, after eight centuries, the windows endure. In 1812, Burgos castle was blown up, which shook the entire temple and destroyed many stained-glass windows, forcing their reconstruction in the nave and some of the chapels. However, the current conservation state is excellent thanks to the city’s professionals’ work and dedication. The Vidrieras Barrio workshop recently restored the Chapel of the Constable windows; between 30 and 40% are authentic.
Just half an hour from Burgos stands the majestic Lerma Ducal Palace. Perched on the upper part of the town, it was built in the time of the Habsburgs around a central courtyard surrounded by colonnaded galleries. The palace, now a Parador, presides over the stately Plaza Mayor of a charming town. The medieval area, with its little houses, the arch, and the prison bridge, as well as the San Blas convent or Duke Passage, are well worth a visit.
The restaurant offers an excellent array of tasty dishes based on regional products: roasted lamb, Burgos cheese, or black pudding are accompanied by the traditional Torta de Aranda and watered, of course, with the best wines of the D.O. Arlanza.