Officially named Santa Iglesia Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de Santa María de Burgos and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Burgos is located in the historical centre of the Spanish city of Burgos.
The city of Burgos, located on the banks of the River Arlanzón high on the northeastern edge of the Meseta plateau in Spain, had an illustrious history and was a busy and wealthy commercial hub in the Middle Ages. Known as a historic jewel of Burgos, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Burgos was the first Gothic cathedral to be built in Spain, replacing an earlier Romanesque church and is the third largest cathedral in the country, next to those of Toledo and Seville. Known as the final resting place of the legendary El Cid, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Burgos was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO on 31 October 1984.
Unfortunately, nothing much is known about the original Romanesque church that was constructed in 1096 and finally became small for the need of a growing city that was the symbolic capital of the kingdom and an increasingly dynamic business centre. Finally, the decision to build a new cathedral was made in the 13th century and according to the common practice of the time, the Romanesque building was demolished, presumably during the second construction campaign of the new cathedral that began in the mid 15th century.
The construction of the new building was done in two phases over 300 years. The first phase began with the laying of the corner stone on 20 June 1221 and the building was completed by 1243. Afert that, the second phase began in the mid 15th century with the addition of the large octagonal Capilla del Condestable behind the high altar and the spectacular pinnacles on the top of the two towers which flank the main entrance on the west facade.
Finally, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Burgos became an extensive example of the evolution of the Gothic style of architecture, with the complete history of Gothic art exhibited in its architecture and exclusive collection of art, which includes paintings and stained-glass windows, choir stalls and the tombs.
The name of the first architect is not really known, but it is generally assumed that he was French, brought to Burgos by Bishop Mauricio. The plan of the Cathedral is based on a Latin Cross of harmonious proportions of 275 by 193 feet (84 by 59 m) and the three-story elevation, the vaulting, and the tracery, the ornamental stone openwork of the windows are closely related to contemporary models of the north of France. The west façade of the cathedral, off the Plaza de Santa Maria, was clearly inspired by the facade of the cathedrals of Paris and Reims.
The Portal of Saint Mary, built in the 13th-century, is equipped with three pointed arches. The central portal is known as the Royal Door, or the Door of Forgiveness and the lateral portals are dedicated to the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception.
In the middle of the second part of the façade, there is a rosette of Cistercian inspiration, with tracery of a six-pointed star, or Solomon’s seal. The third part exhibits a graceful gallery marked by spires and several pinnacles and consists of two large windows, equipped with mullions. There are two almost identical towers above the side doors of the first part, consisting of three storeys, with pilasters decorated with pinnacles and statues at their corners, and with decorated openings pointed on each side of each storey: The spires of the Burgos cathedral with their fine fretwork were raised on the towers with an octagonal base. The parapets that connect to the tops of the towers are decorated with the sculpture of Christ showing the footsteps of his Passion in one and the sculpture of Saint John the Baptist in the other.
There are three important doorways of the cathedral. The 13th-century southern entry to the transept, the Puerta del Sarmental or the Sacramental Door, which is accessed saving a steep staircase, is dedicated to the archaic theme of Christ in Majesty. The side jambs are decorated with six carved figures, four of which represent Moses, Aaron, Saint Peter and Paul the Apostle, but the other two are not easily identifiable. The 13th-century Puerta de la Coronaría and the early 16th-century Puerta de Pellejería, located on the other side of the cathedral, along the Calle de Fernán González, provide a useful synthesis of Gothic and Plateresque styles, which was the main architectural style in Spain during the late 15th and the 16th centuries. The imposing and profusely decorated Escalera Dorada or the Golden Staircase, made of marble and black and equipped with gold railings, is located inside the Puerta de la Coronaría.
The huge interior of the cathedral, containing numerous side chapels and a superbly carved Choir with seats depicting realistic scenes from the bible and the lives of saints, is gracefully decorated with remarkable sculptures, carvings and paintings. The tomb of the legendary Spanish hero and a national icon El Cid and his wife, Jimena Diaz, whose remains were brought to the cathedral from nearby San Pedro de Cardeña in 1921, is marked by a plain slab and is roped off at the transept crossing between the choir and the chancel. The Choir, set right in the middle of the nave and made of dark walnut, introduces a heavy note against the light filtering in through the stained glass windows above. Three ornamented lateral Gothic arches lead to the huge, late 16th-century Renaissance altarpiece that fills the high altar. The interior of the cathedral is illuminated by the light filtering through two levels of 16 mullioned windows, among which there are two 8-sided stars, placed one within the other so perfectly perforated openings that they seem to be hovering in the sky above.