Shortly after finishing the works in the transept of the Cathedral, Bishop Brother Diego de Mardones decides to make a main altarpiece. Several masters were summoned to choose a project that would please the Cathedral Chapter, and the chosen one was the design presented by a friar from Granada, Alonso Matías, who belonged to the Society of Jesus. Matías was an educated man, and he knew well the Italian treatise writers, such as Alberti, Vitrubio, Palladio or Vignola.
Brother Matías’s project was characterised by the use of different types of marble and bronze, the motif, the economical aspect. Córdoba had and still has numerous marble quarry, such as those in Cabra, Luque or Carcabuey, which have been used since ancient times in our city to build countless constructions. For the extraction of the different marbles, Luís González Bailén, from Cabra, was hired.
The works in the Main Altar started in 1618, but numerous problems with the General Father of the Society led to the later transfer of Brother Matías to another city in August 1625. From Montilla, Matías wrote to the Cathedral Chapter to suggest the way to continue the works in the altarpiece while he was away, and he advised them to take Luís González Bailén to be in charge of the rest of the works. In June 1627, Juan de Aranda Salazar was appointed new Senior Master of the altarpiece. He had already been working there since Brother Matías left and it was under his orders that the stone works were finished in May 1629. The beautiful ensemble was completed in 1653 with the finishing of the eucharistic shrine.
The Main Altar of the Cathedral has been frequently compared to that made by Juan de Herrera for the church in the Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. In fact, both are made in marble and they have a big monstrance at their front.
Brother Matías suggested a large base, on top of which he projected a big order of four columns that divide the first section in three parts. Over them, he made a sectioned entablature decorated with bronze vegetable motifs, and he levelled its height with the entablature by Hernán Ruiz I, which covered the apse all along. This way, we end up with a wide attic, whose size is similar to the first section, although only in the central part.
The original paintings were made by Cristóbal Vela Cobos, but they were substituted by the current ones in 1713, by Acisclo Antonio Palomino, born in Bujalance, very prestigious and quality author. Referring to the first ones, the Cathedral Chapter said: "… by a humble hand which is rather a stain and not varnish". The current paintings are a total of five canvases, four of which are displayed on the side parts of the first section and attic, and they represent the four martyrs from Córdoba: two from Roman times, "Saint Acisclus" and "Saint Victory", patron saints of Córdoba, and two from Muslim times, "Saint Pelagius" and "Saint Flora". The remaining canvas is at the top of the ensemble and it represents "The Assumption of the Virgin", after which the Cathedral was named at the time.
The sculptures located on both ends of the attic of the Main Altar, over columns of giant order mentioned before, were made by the sculptor Pedro Fraile de Guevara and they represent the pillars of the church, "Saint Peter" and "Saint Paul".
We will finish this brief study with the figure which is undoubtedly the main one of the Main Altar, the Monstrance or Shrine. It is a late work, made in 1653 by Sebastián Vidal with traces by Alonso Matías. It is divided in two sections, the first one square-shaped and the second, circular, and at the top there is a dome with cupola. It is thought, as we already mentioned at the beginning of the analysis, that Matías could have been inspired in the works by Juan de Herrera in San Lorenzo de El Escorial years earlier.
If you are not sure what to do in Córdoba, we recommend you visit the Mosque-Cathedral hiring one of our guided tours. We will explain there a special chapter dedicated to the Main Altar. Choose to do high quality sightseeing with qualified staff. Do not hesitate, ArtenCórdoba is the best option.