11 June 2019
How Málaga Cathedral
became known as
‘The One-Armed Lady’
My visit to Spain last week began and ended in Málaga, where I visited the cathedral once again, having first visited it five years ago, during Holy Week 2014.
The cathedral stands within the line of former walls of the mediaeval Moorish city, close to Málaga’s Moorish Alcazaba or citadel.
Málaga was re-conquered by the Christians on 18 August 1487. Initially, the Aljama mosque was converted into a cathedral and consecrated with a dedication to Santa Maria de la Encarnación (Saint Mary of the Incarnation).
The minaret of the mosque became the bell tower of the cathedral, and the site of this first cathedral is more or less where the present-day sacristy, museum and gardens are located.
But the chapter or canons of the cathedral soon proposed building a new cathedral. Because of the restrictions of the site, the new cathedral was built on a north-south axis. The door of the main façade was built in Gothic style about 1510 and this is the sacristy door that today leads into the gardens.
The cathedral was built on or near the site of an early Almohad mosque in the Renaissance style between 1528 and 1782, following plans by Diego Siloe (ca 1495-1563), the Burgos-born architect who also designed the cathedrals in Gaudix and Almería.
The cathedral is built on a rectangular plan, with a nave and two aisles. The nave is wider than the two side aisles, but they are of the same height.
The façade, unlike the rest of the building, is in Baroque style and is divided into two levels. On the lower level are three arches, and inside these arches are portals separated by marble columns. Above the doors are medallions carved in stone. Those on the side doors represent the patron saints of Málaga, Saint Ciriaco and Saint Paula, while the medallion over the centre depicts the Annunciation.
The original plans envisaged two towers. The north tower is 84 metres high, making this the second-highest cathedral in Andalusia, after the Giralda of Seville.
The south tower remains unfinished. A plaque at the base of the tower says the funds raised by the parish to finish the south tower were used instead to help the former British colonies that became the United States to gain independence.
However, church records show the money may have been used to renovate the roadway called the Way of Antequera, which began in the present street Calle Martinez Maldonado.
Because only one tower was ever completed, the cathedral is known as La Manquita, or ‘The One-Armed Lady.’
Inside, the interior of Málaga Cathedral shows influences of the Renaissance and baroque styles.
Only the cathedrals of Granada and Seville, which have similar proportions, and the immense Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba can rival the architectural splendour of the interior of Málaga Cathedral.
The Gothic altarpiece in the Chapel of Santa Barbara is the oldest altar in the cathedral and is the only altar to survive from the time the mosque was converted into Málaga’s first cathedral.
There are 16th century tombs in the Chapel of San Francisco.
The Chapel of the Incarnation has a neoclassic altarpiece (1785) designed by the sculptor Juan de Villanueva and carved by Antonio Ramos and Aldehuela. A group of figures representing the Annunciation and sculptures of Málaga’s two patron saints, Saint Ciriaco and Saint Paula, were carved by Juan Salazar Palomino in the 18th century.
‘The Beheading of Saint Paul,’ a painting in the Chapel of La Virgen de Los Reyes, was painted by Enrique Simonet Lombardo (1866-1927) during his visit to Rome in 1887.
‘El Convite del fariseo’ or ‘The Banquet of the Pharisee’ (ca 1635), a large painting in the Chapel of San Julián, is the work of the Flemish painter Miguel Manrique, a disciple of Rubens.
The 17th century choir stalls, carved in mahogany and cedarwood, were designed by Luis Ortiz de Vargas. After his death, 42 finely carved statues of the saints were completed for each stall by Pedro de Mena y Medrano (1628-1688), one of the most celebrated sculptors and woodcarvers in Spain at the time and a pupil of Alonzo Cano (1601-1667).
The 18th century painter and essayist Antonio Palomino described the choir with its stalls as the ‘eighth wonder of the world.’
Some of the chapels leading off the side aisles also exhibit works by Pedro de Mena and his tutor, Alonzo Cano, the architect who designed the façade of Granada Cathedral.
The two cathedral organs are considered to be among the best of Spanish baroque organs. They were built in the 1770s by Julián de Orden, the organ-maker from Cuenca.
Despite the standing of the architects who initially designed the cathedral, building work continued at a slow pace throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. In the late 1700s, the Bishop of Málaga, José Molina Larios – who gives his name to Málaga’s main shopping street – commissioned José Martín de Aldehuela (1729-1802), an architect from Aragon, to rebuild and repair the cathedral. He had designed other buildings in Málaga province, including Ronda’s New Bridge.
The Portal of the Patio de los Naranjos joins the doorway also known as the Puerta de las Cadenas. The Holy Week and Easter processions in Málaga enter the cathedral through this doorway.
Until the mid-20th century, the cathedral was attached to surrounding houses. They have since been demolished, and the cathedral stands on its own in the centre of the old town, one of Spain’s most impressive unfinished buildings.
The small Cathedral Museum is reached by a wooden staircase in the cathedral shop.
Beside the cathedral, the Iglesia del Sagrario was founded in the 15th century on the site of a mosque. The church has an unusual rectangular shape, and the 16th century Gothic doorway is all that remains of the original church, which was rebuilt in 1714.
The gardens include a number of interesting items in the so-called Museo al Aire libre de la Cathedral de Malaga.
The oft-photographed cathedral gardens on Calle del Cistner also include a strange monument of unmarked crosses to victims of the Spanish civil war.
In the square in front of the cathedral, the Bishop’s Palace is a series of buildings, some dating from the 16th century, that were joined together to form one large block in the 18th century, with a Baroque façade facing the Plaza del Obispo.
The façade in red white, pink and grey marble was designed in the 18th century in the late Baroque style by the architect Antonio Ramos, master builder of the cathedral.