The history of Palma’s cathedral is closely linked to the autochthonous monarchy of Mallorca that was founded after the conquest in 1229.
It was King Jaume I of Aragón whom conquered Mallorca from the Moors. At that time, Palma was named Medina Mayurqa and, on this exact site the main mosque was standing. Soon after the conquest, King Jaume and the bishop of Barcelona ordered a new temple for Christian worship constructed on the site of the Mosque, which would be dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The first effective bishop of Mallorca came to be the 25 year-old Ramon de Torroella, in 1237, whom was elected by Pope Gregory IX, the bishops of Lleida, Barcelona and Vic and Ramon de Penyafort, the pope’s trusted assistant. Torroella erected the secular canonry of the cathedral in 1240, and was very involved in the establishment of religious orders on the island, organizing the diocese and the coexistence with Jews and Muslims. Torroella held office until his death in 1266, where he was buried in the cathedral that was still under construction.
After the death of Torroella, the new bishop of Mallorca Pere de Morella had the honor of consecrating the main altar, in 1269.
It was under the reign of King Jaume II (1276-1311) that the works of the current temple began. In the second half of the 13th century the first chapel was finished, the Trinity Chapel, which covered the Royal Chapel that reserved space for the tombs of the royal family of Mallorca.
The works of the cathedral lasted until the 17th century.
Its first architect was Ponç Descoll, whom started the works of the first chapel of the new church, the Trinity chapel. Ponç Descoll is also believed to have been the first architect of the Bellver castle, as well as he was working on the Almudaina palace next to the cathedral.
Descoll was later succeeded by Jaume Fabre, also the architect of the church of Sant Domingo in Palma and the headquarters in Barcelona.
The next element, the current Royal Chapel, was built between 1314 and 1327, after having widened the Placa del Mirador towards the sea. In the middle of the fourteenth century the work continued with the widening with three naves, at which time Berenguer de Montagut took over.
It is quite possible that exactly the fact that Berenguer de Montagut took over the leading role, has linked the cathedral of Palma to the Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona, as it was Montagut whom was the master builder of that church.
There multiple theories about how the cathedral came to have its side naves with apses, however, we are almost certain that their were not a part of the initial blueprint of the construction. Indications in the construction and in historical documents show that around 1330 there is a style change in regards to changing from a single nave to three naves, however, much smaller than they came to be and, in the same style as the cathedral of Barcelona. As with the aforementioned Santa Maria del Mar church in Barcelona, it was decided to raise the naves in the mid-14th century. It was a change of plan related to the reincorporation of Mallorca to the Crown of Aragón (1343).
According to French art historian Marcel Durliat (1917-2006), the architects were Jaume Mates and Llorenç Sosquela based on the theory that Juame Mates was known for purchasing stone from the quarries of Santanyí. However, Catalonian art historians Alexandre Cirici i Pellicer and Agustí Duran i Sampere defend the theory that Berenguer de Montagut was the leading architect.
In the years between 1389 and 1397, Guillem Oliveres directed the works of the cathedral, while Pere Morei, Jean de Valenciennes, Henry l’Alemany and Guillem Sagrera sculpted the portal called “Mirador”. The Almoina portal and the bell tower were both finished in 1498. The bell tower has nine bells, of which the largest is called “Eloi” and has an inner diameter of 1.98 m. Eloi is oprated manually, while the other eight bells are operated mechanically.
At the beginning of the 16th century the construction of the choir enclosure in the center of the main nave began. Between 1592 and 1601 Miquel Verger built the main portal.
The entire cathedral was consecrated in 1601.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Baroque begins to permeate the interior of the Cathedral, in the form of altarpieces, paintings and sculptures marked by post-Tridentine spirituality. From this period, the Corpus Christi altarpiece, the cloister and the new chapter house stand out.
In 1851, the entire main facade was in danger of collapsing due to an earthquake. The restoration of the cathedral with the new main facade, was the work of Madrid based architect Juan Bautista Peyronnet.
The Gaudí reformation
The works of Antoni Gaudí was carried out in the years between 1904 and 1914-15, under promotion of Bishop Pere Joan Campins. The changes of Gaudí initially met a lot of skepticism and critique, as he removed some unique elements of the cathedral such as a corridor of Mudejar candles.
Gaudí also removed a Baroque altarpiece from the Royal Chapel that covered for the Trinity Chapel and the old Gothic altarpiece, as well as began to open the windows and rose windows.
He moved the high altar to the lower vault of the presbytery, as well as the choir stalls made by Felip Fulló from the Renaissance choir in the middle to the sides of the Royal Chapel.
Between the Royal Chapel and the first column he built tribunes with elements from the choir and presbytery. On the walls of each side of the episcopal chair he placed ceramic decorations with the coat of arms of each bishop of Mallorca, as well as texts from the Roman Pontifical made in wrought iron and golden lettering.
On the fourteen columns inside, he placed the beautiful chandeliers – known as “ses trobigueres” (troubadours) – with sixteen candles of electric lights on each. Gaudí knew the art of forging iron and designed the elegant shapes of these chandeliers. Gaudí drew them already in November 1904, and they were made of wrought iron by several blacksmiths, including Sebastià Nicolau and Fiol, from the village of Porreres. With these chandeliers installed, Gaudí successfully illuminated the cathedral with electricity in accordance with the technical advances of that time.
The final work of Gaudí worth highlighting, is the Crown of Thorns, the massive chandelier hanging from cables in the choir. The Crown of Thorns came to be the last work of Gaudí in the cathedral before his death. Some of the people who worked alongside Gaudí includes his business partner Joan Rubio i Bellver, Josep Maria Jujol, Guillem Reynés Font and Joaquim Torres-Garcia.
Josep Maria Jujol started the works of the masonry back wall with splashes of paint that was supposed to represent the universe, however, this work was stopped due to an intervention because of its contradiction to the religious view on life.
The reform of Miquel Barceló
The chapel of Sant Pere – also known as Santísimo – was renovated by Mallorcan artist Miquel Barceló in the time between 2001 and 2006, and has become one of the tourist attractions of the cathedral. Barceló’s work represents the Eucharist through the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, which allows him to display the marine fauna, and the Canaanite wedding around the risen Christ.
The lower part of the walls of the chapel is made by painted ceramics made in the workshop of famous potter Vincenzo Santoriella, in Vientri sul Mare, Italy, and covers a total area of 300 square meters.
Barceló is also the artist behind the altar, the pulpit, the presidential chair and two boulders.
The destruction of the former chapel and the representation of Christ were both subject to protests, as they were seen as too controversial. Also the darkening of the 12 meter high windows to create an underwater lightning was up for debate. The main defenders of the new chapel were Bishop Teodor Úbeda i Gramage and the liturgical canon Pere Llabrés i Martorell and, the reform was finally carried out by the Fundació Art a la Seu, with funding from various public institutions and private entities.
The rose window of Palma’s cathedral
The rose window (rosassa) in the central nave of the cathedral is one of the biggest of its kind in the world, along with the rose window of the Notre Dame in Strasbourg. The rose window has a diameter of 13.3 m, and made out of more than 1,200 pieces of stained glass that create the star of David.
The rose window was originally constructed in 1370, in order to equalize the difference between the apses and naves. The glass was added in 1599.
Twice a year, on February 2 and November 11, you can experience a huge event in the cathedral, namely the Light of God. This special event is the result of the sunlight breaking through the massive rose window, casting a reflection of the opposite intter wall below the other rose window. This creates the shape of the number “8”.
8 in Christian faith is a mythological number, as it represent eternity. Gaudí also used the number 8 in many of his creations e.g. the chandeliers on the columns, or the columns inside La Sagrada Familia which also have eight edges.