Covadonga The Basilica
Covadonga – The Cave, The Basilica, The Collegiate and The Museum – Asturias – Spain.
Once we arrive to the Real Sitio we can differentiate four different areas: the Covadonga Cave, the Basilica, the Collegiate and the Museum.
The entry gate is guarded by two impressive stone lions, right underneath the cave and on the road to the Chapel. At this entry we can also find small and charming restaurants and outside cantinas to serve out door terraces.
According to the legend King Pelayo and other asturian warriors fought the Arabs from a cave dug on one of the rocky faces of the Covadonga Valley. The tale says that a little virgin appeared to Pelayo in the cave before the battle forecasting the victory of the Christians over the Muslims.
A different legend also tells that before the battle with the Muslims the cave was probably used, about 1500 years ago, as a celebration and worshiping centre by Celtic sorceress and as holy meeting place for the Celtic tribes that lived in the area at that time.
This would be the earliest divine origin of the Covadonga cave, used in the first place by pagan Celtic tribes for magical and spiritual practices.
As in many other locations throughout the region, with time the Christians took over the holy Celtic spaces to build over their own churches and sacred places, and Covadonga was not an exception.
A Christian chapel was the first construction inside the cave and it was ordered by King Alfonso I the Catholic (739-757) as a memorial of the battle of Covadonga. The cave was covered with wood and it kept a small sculpture of the Virgen de Covadonga, its jewellery and valuable belongings but a fire in 1.777 destroyed the chapel, the sculpture and all original belongings.
The actual sculpture of the Virgen de Covandoga, that can be visited today, is a donation from the Cathedral of Oviedo from 1.778 and is also a wooden sculpture beautifully painted and dressed. The chapel was also reconstructed in stone as it can be seen today.
In the cave we can also visit the tomb of King Pelayo. His stone coffin was moved by King Alfonso X, the Wise (1.221-1284) from its original tomb at the Abamia Church into the cave of Covadonga to enhance the importance of this singular place.
Behind the cave, in the guts of mountain, an underground cascade runs free, and it reaches the outside world right underneath the cave, falling some 20 meters down into a natural water pool where pilgrims and visitors throw coins wishing their dreams to come true.
After heavy rains or when the snow melts from the mountains around bringing more water into the stream, the sound of the waterfall is so intense that from inside the cave you hear nothing but the water crushing against the rocks and falling into the pool.
At one side of the pool there is a seven tube water fountain and again the legend has something to say: if you drink from all seven tubes from the fountain you get married within a year. Many asturians try to respect this tradition by going to Covadonga and drinking from all seven tubes before their marriage.
To access the cave there are stairs available from the pool directly to the cave. Half way on those stairs there is a souvenir shop with items from Covadonga. It is not uncommon to see people going up the stairs on their knees because of a religious promise or some other personal engagement.
The other way to access the cave is passing by the stone lions and following the road all the way up to the Basilica. Once at the Basilica’s esplanade there is a small pedestrian path that leads to a 30 mts tunnel carved on the mountain and which is the antechamber of the Covadonga cave.
Silence and respect are demanded on the visit to the cave, especially when there is a mass or a prayer going on.
Many visitors from different regions and countries come every year to worship “la Santina” as it is commonly known in Asturias.
Even Pope Jhon Paul II made a very special visit to the Santina and to the Real Sitio of Covadonga in 1989, visiting also the Picos de Europa on his travel through the Camino de Santiago.
THE BASILICA OF COVADONGA
The basilica was designed by Roberto Frassinelli and it was erected between 1877 and 1901 by the architect Federico Aparici Soriano.
In 1777 a fire destroyed the old chapel that was by the Covadonga cave. It was then decided to raise a new and impressive structure. There was an initial project that at the end was rejected because of its high cost and the opposition of local priests.
The final project was approved and launched by King Alfonso XII almost one century after the destruction of the original chapel. The initial project by Ventura Rodriguez with a classic design was finally replaced by the actual structure which has a Romanesque style.
The original idea from the actual construction came from a German painter called Roberto Frassinelli, “el Alemán de Corao” that lived in the region. The technical project, based on Fransinelli´s idea, was done by architect Federico Aparici.
The building sits over a large terrace and it has three different aisles, being the central aisle way larger that the laterals. At the esplanade we can find a 4 tones bell from 1900, a bronze statue of King Pelayo from 1964 and an obelisk from 1857 and which according to the legend it stands at the place where King Pelayo was crowned.
The Covadonga Basilica was inaugurated on September 7th 1901, and the dignity of Basilica was given by Pope Leon XIII.
The style of the building is Romanesque and it was built using pink limestone from the mountains around. By the entrance portico there are two sculptures representing the two regional bishops under whose mandate the works started and ended.
The inside of the basilica is famous because of its simplicity with just some decorative elements placed at the head of the Basilica. The higher alter is headed with an image of a sitting Virgin with the Children, done by the Catalonian sculptor Samsó.
On this area there are also two big paintings of Madrazo and Carducho that represent the Battle of Covadonga and the proclamation of Pelayo as King of Asturias.
Underneath the high altar there is a pit with the relics of San Melchor and blessed Pedro Poveda. At the left apse there is an altar dedicated to San Melchor, the only Asturian saint, canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1989. At the right apse there is a baroque sculpture that represents the donation of the chasuble to Saint Domingo.
Because of their economical contribution to build the basilica, flags from all South American countries are permanently shown.
The organ is modern and it dates from 2001.
Despite of the many fires and collapses, the Museo de Covadonga still keeps very valuable and unique pieces.
The crown of the Virgin of Covadonga is a very valuable piece of jewellery created by Felix Granda Buylla in 1918. It is made of gold with diamonds, rubies, sapphires and pearls. This crown is only used during the Covadonga celebration day, on September the 8th.
At the museum we can visit drawings from the basilica construction project done by the architect Ventura Rodriguez (a project that at the end was rejected and replaced by the actual structure) as well as an impressive painting of King Pelayo.
Pieces of jewellery, an ivory Christ from the XVI century donated by King Felipe II and ancient liturgical clothing together with other pieces of ancient art can also be admired at the Covadonga museum.
THE COLLEGIATE OF COVADONGA
It is the most ancient building at the Real Sitio. It has a rectangular plant distributed around a court with a square tower, a vault and a choir. It was built between the years 1585 and 1599 being Diego Aponte de Quiñones the bishop of Asturias.
Two abbots from the XI century are buried at the cloister.
It is also noticeable the church’s baroque altarpiece that comes from the Santa Maria de Valdedios monastery.
The inside cannot be visited but we can see its beautiful outside with ancient shields and the court’s fountain.
Covadonga The Basilica