La portada de platerías: The adulterous woman


Today I am going to write about the adulterous woman of “La Portada de Platerías”, a subject that wanted to write about for a long time now .  For those who didn’t  read my last entries I will summarize them together with today’s issue, however click here if you want to read more.


The “adulterous woman” is an iconographic representation in the left tympanum of the Santiago de Compostela´s cathedral south door (known as the facade of Platerías). The figure contrasts with the rest of the iconographic program of the tympanum (Christ´s Temptation), fact that caused the “adulterous woman” to become the subject of numerous ongoing researches, giving to this “shameless figure” a remarkable fame.

Foto: Más que piedros (Blogspot). Edición: Vojoway

Photo: Más que piedros (Blogspot). Edition: Vojoway

Trying to explain the presence of the “adulterous woman” based on the main representations of the tympanum is a complicated task, because despite the common  theme of temptation, there are some elements of a very different nature. There are also obvious signs that suggest that the figure has been manipulated to fit into the tympanum, which suggest that this figure was added later on,  but … why? Some studies suggested that the “Portada de Platerías” had suffered various restorations throughout time and that is the reason why the figure was added. However some recent studies claim that the figures and distribution we can see today are the original one (1116-1117).


As I have already mentioned in a past post of Gelmírez´ Palace, Gelmírez imparted justice in the space that are between to two buildings (the palace and the cathedral), and according to the researcher Manuel Castiñeiras, that was every Friday.  Also some parts  of the weddings were held there as the iconography of the facade helped as a “message booster” directed attendees. However this custom was not a Gelmirez´peculiarity, exists several documents which proof that this was a common practice in the churches.

The importance of this issue is that if Gelmirez used it for this purpose, and those attending these events were “compostelanos” citizens, it is likely that the “adulterous woman” as well as so many other figures, have two  levels of reading (theory defended by professor Karen Mathews): one more direct and targeting at city inhabitants, who were familiar with Gelmírez´s sermons; and two, a more complex interpretation, quoting the Sacred Scriptures, and that were only understandable only by those who learned in these in these areas (eg priests).

The first mention of the “adulterous woman” is found in the Book V, Chapter IX of the “Codex Calixtinus”. It is interpreted as an unfaithful wife punished by her husband, and here you can read the original fragment were the situation is explained:

“And we have not to relegate to the oblivion that next to the Lord’s Temptations  is a woman holding in her hands,  her lover´s rotting head, cut by her own husband, who forces her to kiss it twice a day. Oh, how great and admirable justice of  the adulterous woman to explain to everyone!””


Despite the Codex Calixtinus explanation, many historians such as Serafín Moralejo or Joaquín Yarza, two internationally well known Romanesque experts, believe that the correct interpretation is closer to the more elitist interpretations readings mentioned before. They believe that the figure represented Eve, the “Death´s mother ” (The original sin), or  Mary Magdalene, another biblical character who does not enjoy of a very good reputation. The fact that the “adulterous woman” appears in the Christ Temptations at  the right tympanum, and that at the left part  there is representation on of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, reinforce this theory.

Foto: M a n u e l (Flickr)

Photo: M a n u e l (Flickr)

Personally I find the theory of the unfaithful woman more attractive because:.

  • The uncovered beast give an archaic character to the representation, quite innocent today but very impressive if you were a person from the twelfth century.
  • Unruffled hair, another element that almost always accompanies figures of whose meaning has to do with temptation and sin. During the twelfth century began the practice of starting the nuptial rites outside the church. If we also take into account the Gelmírez´habit of this practice on the facade of Platerías and self didactic function of the Romanesque doorways, it is possible to deduce that the image had a concrete message for marriage, a warning to the church goes of the consequences of an infidelity.
  • The type of seat occupied by women. It is a faldistorium, a seat traditionally used by figures of high status. The faldistorium do not have a moral condition by itself, but this will is given by the character who occupies it. So,in this representation the figure occupies a position that does not apply to her as an “adulterous woman”, denoting arrogance.
  • A century after the re-use of the “adulterous woman” in “Platerías”, in the south door of the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris some reliefs were added symbolizing the judicial power of the bishop, setting out its role of moral guardian and the exposure of adultery, these fact  has given strength to the interpretation that we have been discussing so far.
Foto: Más que piedros (Blogspot) y Edición: Vojoway

Photo: Más que piedros (Blogspot) and Edition: Vojoway


After all these information, maybe now you can understand why I am so fascinated  by this figure, and why I was so eager to tell you about it. The best is that you can keep investigating about the subject. For now I say goodbye and I give you the turn to write a comment. You know how this works, leave a comment below and share the blog on the social networks.

Header Photo: Más que piedros (Blogspot).
Translation: Jessica Gispert.
I would like to  point out that during the writing of this post I have taken as a reference t Dr. Carlos Sastre Vazquez´book “La portada de las platerías y la mujer adultera”, book that  I recommend reading.


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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