The Cathedral



The construction of the present Cathedral of Huelva started in 1605 with several architectonic periods. The cathedral started as a Renaissance building, but ended as a Baroque one with certain elements from colonial and conventual architecture. The base of the cathedral is a former chapel which belonged in the convent built by Don Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia, so that the monks of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy could live there. The construction cannot be attributed to a concrete architect, but several names are related to it – Alonso de Valdeviras, who was the master builder of the Galician region of El Condado, Friar Juan de Santamaría, or master builder Martín Rodríguez de Castro. The duration of the project is different depending on the sources, but the building was finished around 1615.

The Difficulties during the 18th and 19th Centuries

In 1755, the Cathedral was dramatically damaged due to an earthquake in Lisbon – this damage was worsened by another earthquake in 1765. Because of this, a new baroque cathedral started being built in 1763. The construction was directed by architect Pedro de Silva from Seville with Ambrosio de Figueroa as master builder. After Figueroa’s death, Francisco Díaz Pinto took up the baton.

The renovation works would not end until well into the 20th century due to the political circumstances of Spain – the Napoleonic invasion and the suppression of nobility privileges in 1811, Minister Juan Álvarez Mendizábal’s ecclesiastic confiscation and the suppression of religious orders in 1835, and the usage of the temple as barracks during 1844 until its present condition as headquarter of the University of Huelva and Cathedral of the city. The last renovation was carried out in 1915, when the present bell-gables were erected over the main façade, which has obvious colonial elements.

The Foundation of the Diocese of Huelva

The history of this temple as Cathedral of Huelva started in 1953. Huelva separated from the Archdiocese of Seville to found its own Diocese. The Church of Nuestra Señora de la Merced (“Our Lady of Mercy”) was chosen as cathedral of the city.

Architectonic Characteristics

The baroque façade of the Cathedral is made of brick and is divided into three bodies separated by cornices. The lower body acts as a pedestal and includes the main door of the temple. This door consists of a round arch by two pairs of pilasters at each side and four-leaved oculi.

The laterals of the lower body have also semi-circular oculi. The middle body was conceived as a great reredos with niches. These were decorated with terra cotta sculptures of Our Lady of Mercy, St. Leander, and St. Walabonsus in 1978 by local master sculptor Antonio León Ortega and Mario Ignacio Moya Carrasco, who was his apprentice at that time.

The upper body is almost identical to the previous one except for certain differences – the middle niche is substituted by a rectangular window, and there are terra cotta sculptures of Virgin Mary and Beatified Vincent of Saint-Joseph in the lateral niches.

The centre of the façade is finished off with a balustrade over the centre of cornice, which has a bell-gable with lateral corbels but no bells, whereas the lateral bell-gables do have bells. The lateral zones of the middle and upper bodies have rectangular empty spaces and circular and oval oculi.

A Treasure inside the Cathedral

The interior of the Cathedral does not correspond to the 17th-century, Renaissance project due to the numerous rebuilding works which were carried out. Today the temple is a hall church with a basilican plan consisting of three naves separated by round arches and a central crossing. The main nave is roofed by a barrel vault divided into five bays by transverse round arches. The arches supporting the vault are also round arches and have over them a tribune with metal balconies over the main nave. The vault and the dome are supported by cruciform pillars. In fact, the pillars supporting the dome have pilasters with Corinthian capitals. On the other hand, the lateral naves are roofed with groined vaults and their walls are covered with reredos made by renowned master craftsmen of this field, such as Juan Martínez Montañés or Francisco Herrera the Elder.