Santiago’s Cathedral: La Portada de Platerías


There are four things that come to mind when one thinks of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and probably even when one has not had the pleasure to be there in person: the thurible (Botafumeiro), Santo dos Croques (although its name  should be rethought, since headbutting it has been banned since 2008), Pórtico de la Gloria and Portada de Platerías.


Photos: Luis Miguel Bugallo, Amaianos, José Antonio Gil Martínez y Amadalvarez (Wikipedia)

This post is about the latter, but inevitably this will take me to the next two posts about the iconography  in both tympanums (the arches with reliefs crowning both gates), these are elements that are always interesting. I might have to explain a couple of things, but I will try to do it in the less arid way possible. Shall we start?


Photo: Amadalvarez (Wikipedia)

Platerías is the portal at the south façade of the apse. If we take the latin cross floor plan we would be talking about the end of the right arm of the cross. Here is a little graph for you to picture it.

Planta Catedral de Santiago de Compostela

Image: José-Manuel Benito (Wikipedia). Editio: Vojo.

Before we continue, and just in case you are not familiar with these terms, a façade is plainly an outside wall, but when we talk about “portada” we refer to the decorative motifs and iconography on the walls that adorn the said wall or façade.  


Built between 1103 and 1117, the tympanums belong in style to the Romanesque period, like most of the cathedral and its elements.  Out of the whole façade, the most interesting part are the tympanums. Most of the iconographic programs of the Romanesque usually follow an order and explain a story, in the case of the Platerias façade this is not the case entirely. Some of the statues do not match the ensemble, the most obvious and renown case is that of the “adulterous woman”, on the left tympanum. A lot has been written about this statue, there are some different interpretations about its presence on the façade. If you want to know more about this particular statue I invite you to visit my post on the topic.


There are several theories about the reasons for the “medieval puzzle” of Platerias. The most recent one is the one proposed by the historian Manuel Castiñeiras. He suggests that on the façade are the statues created for this building but also the ones of the former Francigena façade at the north entrance (it was called Francigena because it was used  for the access of the pilgrims coming from Camino Francés) and also the elements that were made for the western façade that was never actually made. So, from this two things transpire: first is that Platerías is the only Romanesque façade of Romanesque origin, and second, that at some point during its construction there was an extension to the façade and the gaps were filled with the decorative elements that were originally made for the other two façaces, the north and the west ones.


Diego Gelmírez (1068-114), was the first archbishop of Santiago, this is key to understand the reason for this façade. For a start we need to understand that the rules for the celebration of the marriage ritual, written in the twelfth century, was carried out in the immediacies of the cathedral, the archbishop was, apparently, very fond of officiating it by this façade of Platerías. This might be connected to the presence of the statue of the adulterous woman. Other authorities also used to celebrate trials in the same place, in a way that the decorated façade of Platerías was the background for these events, reminding the believers with the iconography on the walls which were the consequences of a sinful life or failing to keep their marital vows. It could also be, but this is not certain, that at the time the Palace of Gelmirez was close to this façade and it might have just been convenient, distance wise…well, we will never know for sure, but it might be the reason why this is the only remaining decorated façade that has survived until the present time.

– Some might think that this is interesting enough, but that many questions have been left unanswered, like: `What are the depictions on the tympanums?´ or `What is out of the norm with these representations and what are their meanings?´

These are valid questions from the avid reader, but this is only a blog post. So, if you are interested in knowing a bit more about this, read in more detail about Platerías’ right tympanum  and  left tympanum.

Let us know what you think and leave a comment if you have a minute.

Header Photo: Amadalvarez (Wikipedia).
Translation: Elvira Sánchez.


About Author

Sergio De Arriba

Graduado en Historia del Arte, trabajo como Gestor de Contenido Cultural y arquitecto de rutas en VOJO, aunque de vez en cuando también realizo vídeos corporativos e ilustraciones. En este blog mi intención es mostraros el Arte de la forma más atractiva y sencilla posible, alejándome de descripciones complejas pero sin olvidar los métodos científicos que acompañan a la teoría artística.

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