As the name indicates, the town of La Seu d’Urgell, which is located at the confluence of El Segre and La Valira rivers deep in the Catalonian Pyrenees just south of the border with Andorra, is the seat of the diocese of Alt Urgell. There existed an 11th century cathedral dedicated to St. Ermengol, which was in a state of ruin by the beginning of the 12th century. An intermittent rebuilding effort for the Cathedral began sometime after 1131, but it was the bishop Arnau de Preixens who gave the definitive impulse for the new construction of the Cathedral Santa Maria d’Urgell in 1175 by contracting the master builder Raimundus Lambardus (Ramon Llambart in Catalan), who appears to have been an Italian, to build the present Cathedral, and the work was substantially finished by 1183.
It is not common for a church built during the 11th or 12th century that the name of its master builder should be known, but it is also recorded that Master Raimundus brought four experienced assistants from Italy with him to the site. The fact that the present Cathedral was built by an Italian workshop explains the Lombard Romanesque design elements on the exterior of the Cathedral, while the overall plan, which may have followed the foundation of the earlier cathedral, closely resembles that of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa in the present day French Pyrenees. Scholars of the Romanesque architecture appear to agree that the Catalonian Romanesque churches had been inspired by the southern French model for the most part, almost devoid of Mozarabic influences that are found in church buildings in Navarra, Aragon and further west.
As the site plan shows, the Cathedral is laid out in a Latin cross plan. To the south of the square-proportioned cloister, there is the Chapel of San Miguel dating from 1035.
The four-bay long nave is covered with barrel vaults between simply shaped cross arches springing from the Greek cross-shaped piers defining each bay. The central apse with an oven vault is almost as wide as the nave, but stops short of the barrel vault of the nave in height, and extends above with a diaphragm wall with a good size rose window.
The aisles are covered with groin vault ceilings, an architectural design feature adopted earlier at Sant Vicenc of 1029~1040 in Cardona, another Catalonian town deep in the Pyrenees, although at a much lower height here at La Seu d’Urgell.
The very prominent transepts that are slightly narrower in width than the nave are again covered with barrel vaults, but without intermediate cross arches. There are two square towers at the ends of both transepts. The lateral view from the south transept toward the end wall of the north transept shows the two very prominent apsidal chapels of the transepts on either side of the choir/chancel on the central axis.
As the transepts are narrower than the nave, the dome over the crossing is slightly modified to an oblong shape at the base.
A visitor encounters the west facade of the Cathedral, while walking through a relatively narrow Carrer Santa Maria, which highlights the creativity of the master mason. Note the finely proportioned Lombard campanile of two-story design atop the gable, deeply inset windows and Lombard mouldings on the upper section of the wall, as well as the richly moulded archivolts around the main entrance.
The east elevation, unlike the hemmed-in west elevation, faces a generous park and Carrer Ramon Llambart, named in honor of the master mason of the Cathedral. The semi-cylindrical volume of the apse with its dwarf gallery dominates the façade, while generously proportioned clerestory windows of the transepts also draw our eyes. The dwarf gallery, a design feature of the Italian and German Romanesque churches of the twelfth century, here at La Seu d’Urgell has finely proportioned fifteen arches supported by double columns. Master Raimundus chose to finish the eastern façade of the Cathedral in several simple masses, rather than articulating five different apsidal chapels as projecting volumes.
The view from the 14th century cloister completes the survey of calibre of the Lombard workshop skilfully executing the chalk and charcoal cartoons of the Master. There are relatively small circular windows for the nave wall, good-sized windows for the aisles, deftly shaped southwest tower, and finally, the campanile which is seen in a three dimensional, more favorable light than as a flat two dimensional view when seen from Carrer Santa Maria.
Location: 42.357867° 1.462099°
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