From the lost Paradise to Judgement Day. Pórtico de la Gloria in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is the first great movie of mankind, filmed in stone.
Perhaps the chief beauty of the cathedral, however, is the 12th century Portico da Gloria, behind the western facade. This Portico da Gloria in the narthex of the west portal is a remains from the Romanesque period. It is a masterwork of Romanesque sculpture built between 1168 and 1188 by Master Mateo at the request of king Ferdinand II of Leon. The vigorous naturalism of the figures in this triple portal is an expression of an art form, varied in its details, workmanship and polychromy (of which faint traces of colour remain). The shafts, tympana and archivolts of the three doorways which open onto the nave and the two aisles are a mass of strong and nervous sculpture representing the Last Judgment.
The central tympanum gives us an image of Christ in Majesty as Judge and Redeemer, showing His wounds in His feet and hands, accompanied by the tetramorph. He is surrounded on both sides by a retinue of angels carrying the symbols of the Passion. In the archivolt are represented the 24 Elders of the Apocalypse, who are tuning their musical instruments.
The column statues represent the apostles with their attribute, prophets and Old Testament figures with their name on a book or parchment. These were all polychromed. Noteworthy is the faint smile of the prophet Daniel looking at the angel of Reims.
The middle pier represents Saint James, his face conveying an ecstatic serenity. The text scroll in his hand shows the words Misit me Dominus (the Lord sent me). below him is the Tree of Jesse (the lineage leading to Christ), while above is a representation of the Trinity. It is customary for the pilgrims to touch the left foot of this statue, signifying that they have reached their destination. So many pilgrims have laid their hands on the pillar to rest their weary bones, that a groove has been worn in the stone.
The lateral portals are dedicated to the rival churches: on the left to the Jews and on the right to the unbelievers.
The right tympanym is divided in three parts and is dedicated to the salvation of the souls. In the centre Christ and St Michael, flanked by Hell (represented by demons) and Heaven (represented by children). The purgatory is shown on the side.
The left tympanum shows scenes from the Old Testament.
Demons are represented at the bottom of the pórtico, signifying that Glory crushes sin.
Behind the portico stands the statue of Maestro Mateo, the master architect and sculptor put in charge of the cathedral building programme in the 12th century by Fernando II. It is said that whoever butts their head three times against the statue will be given a portion of Mateo’s genius and perhaps enhanced memory. There is usually a long line of visitors waiting to bump their head against the statue. The sculptures in this portico have been a point of reference for Galician sculpture until the 15th century.
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