BSanto Domingo, Dominican Republic
There are several religiously based terms being used in relation with this church such as Basilica and Cathedral. Metropolitan Cathedral as opposed to a just plain Cathedral or a Basilica Minor. What do all those terms mean? Let’s find out before we go ahead with our story on Santo Domingo.
A Cathedral is a church where the bishop’s throne (called cathedra) is located. It is the main church of a diocese. A Cathedral may or may not be a Basilica. It is the home church for the bishop or archbishop of a Catholic diocese while a basilica may also be the Cathedral in the diocese there is no requirement for it to be so. You will remember that the Pope is only infallible when he teaches ex-cathedra (or from his throne).
A Basilica is simply an important church building designated by the pope because they carry special spiritual, historical, or architectural significance. Once named a Basilica the church can’t lose its status as a one. This is the highest permanent designation for a church building.
As another example: The University of Notre Dame in Indiana has the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on campus but that Basilica is not the diocesan Cathedral.
On the other hand, the differences between a Metropolitan Cathedral and a Basilica Minor are: A Metropolitan Cathedral is one to which other diocesan cathedral churches are suffragans. This can be related using a business metaphor as follows:
A Metropolitan Cathedral is one to which other Cathedrals in a region report.. To clarify a bit more, a suffragan bishop for example is one who is chosen to help another bishop of higher rank.
The term Basilica comes from a Greek word meaning regal or kingly, in other words a cut above the rest Over the centuries the Catholic Church has used basilica in this sense, with the pope granting the title Minor Basilica to a church that has unusual historical significance, or is especially sacred because of the presence of a relic or relics. There are more than 1400 Minor Basilicas around the world.
A Short History of Spain in the 1400’s
A wedding of 1469 proves of profound significance in the history of Spain. Isabella, aged eighteen, marries Ferdinand, a year younger than herself. Five years later, in 1474, she inherits the throne of Castile. Her husband argues (on the grounds of masculinity rather than seniority) that the crown should be his, but the nobles of Castile support Isabella. It is agreed that the young couple shall rule jointly.
After another five years, in 1479, Ferdinand inherits the throne of Aragon. At first he keeps it to himself, but the habit of partnership has become engrained. In 1481 he shares this crown too with Isabella. They become known as Los Reyes Católicos, the Catholic Monarchs.
Castile and Aragon remain for the moment separate kingdoms, with their own laws and governments. But the shared rule of the Catholic Monarchs means that most of Spain is now finally reunited (Navarre will not be formally annexed to Castile until 1515). The Iberian peninsula is not quite a single kingdom – the old Visigothic concept of the Reconquista – for Portugal has long been independent. But the later ideal of reconquest, for Christianity, is almost complete.
Only the Moorish kingdom of Granada stands in the way – together with what is perceived to be an internal threat to the purity of the Christian religion.
In 1478 the pope, Sixtus IV, allows Ferdinand and Isabella to establish a special branch of the Inquisition in Spain. There is believed to be a danger to the church from Jews masquerading as Christians.
Such Jews are referred to as marranos (‘swine’). Their conversion is the result of anti-Semitic violence during the previous century. To escape the likelihood of death at the hands of Christian mobs, many Jews (probably about 100,000) accept baptism. But a considerable number continue to practise their Jewish faith in secret. The concept of secret groups of heretics particularly alarms the church; and the remarkable tenacity of the Jews of Belmonte, in maintaining their faith behind a Catholic facade, proves that there is good cause for the inquisitors’ suspicions.
The first Grand Inquisitor is appointed in 1480. He is Tomas de Torquemada, who himself comes from a family of converted Jews. His dedication to his task will become legendary. And the public much appreciates the great ceremonies which he stage-manages – the famous auto-da-fés.
The auto-da-fé (Spanish for ‘act-of-faith’) is a solemn religious ceremony in a tradition going back to the inquisition against the Cathars. The inquisitor and those accused of heresy process into a public place, such as the main square of a town. After the holding of a mass, the verdicts on the accused and the sentences on the guilty are announced.
In 1492 Torquemada persuades Ferdinand and Isabella to expel from Spain all Jews who are unwilling to convert to Christianity. About 160,000 of them leave the country.
Ten years later the same demands are made of the Spanish Muslims. From being one of the most tolerant countries in Europe, in the heyday of Cordoba and Toledo, Spain becomes the most intolerant.
The Inquisition extends its sway to Latin America, to Portugal and to the Spanish Netherlands. It is not finally suppressed until 1820 in Portugal and 1834 in Spain. The expulsion of the Jews in 1492 coincides with the completion of the Reconquest. Muslim power in Spain is at last brought to an end with the fall of Granada.
Granada is difficult to subdue by military means alone. While steadily capturing outlying strongholds of the Muslim kingdom, the Spanish also meddle in a dispute between members of the ruling family. Their chosen prince, Boabdil, agrees under duress to surrender Granada to Ferdinand and Isabella when he is in a position to do so. In 1491 they call in their pledge. When Boabdil refuses to deliver, they besiege the city of Granada. It falls to them in 1492.
The long Spanish tradition of tolerance between Muslim and Christian survives briefly after this final Christian victory. The Moors of Granada are promised religious freedom. The promise is honoured for only a few years.
In 1495 Queen Isabella’s strict confessor, Jiménez de Cisneros, becomes archbishop of Toledo. He decrees that Muslims must convert to Christianity. The result is a Moorish uprising in 1499, after which the choice becomes even more stark. From 1502 the Muslims of Granada must convert immediately or leave Spain.This is the dilemma already imposed by the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 on the Jews. Identifying fraudulent conversions, whether from Judaism or Islam, will keep the inquisitors busy for years.
In Santa Fe, a royal encampment from which the siege of Granada is conducted, the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella debate whether to accept a proposal put to them by a visionary explorer, Christopher Columbus.
For eight years Columbus has been pestering European courts, particularly those of Portugal and Spain, to sponsor him in an undertaking which obsesses him. The Portuguese explorers have had notable success in their attempts to sail east round Africa towards India and China, but Columbus has become convinced that he can achieve the same more easily by sailing west.
It has long been the accepted view, deriving from Ptolemy, that nothing but sea separates Europe from India and China round the back of a spherical world. During the 15th century the notion has developed that the unseen distance by sea is much less than the known distance between Europe and China by land.
Columbus believes that he has found mathematical proof of this in an apocryphal text of the Old Testament where the prophet Esdras states that the earth is six parts land to one part sea. Columbus argues, first to the king of Portugal in 1484 and then to the Spanish monarchs, that India is therefore within reach of a caravel sailing west from the Canaries.
The Portuguese court rejects his argument. The Spanish monarchs delay for years while a commission investigates his claims. Finally, in the camp near Granada, they accept his somewhat exorbitant terms regarding the honours which will be heaped upon him if he reaches India or China, and his share of whatever is found.
Once agreement is reached, after so many years, Columbus moves fast. With his partners (brothers from a Spanish ship-owning family named Pinzón) he prepares vessels for the great adventure.
On his first trip, Columbus led an expedition with three ships, the Niña (captained by Vicente Yáñez Pinzon), the Pinta (owned and captained by Martin Alonzo Pinzon), and the Santa Maria (captained by Columbus), and about 90 crew members.
They set sail on Aug. 3, 1492 from Palos, Spain, and on October 11, 1492, spotted the Caribbean islands off southeastern North America.
On 3 August 1492 a little fleet of three vessels sets sail from the small Spanish harbour of Palos. Columbus is in command of the largest, the Santa Maria; the captains of the other two, the Pinta and the Nina, are the brothers Martin Alonso and Vicente Yañez Pinzón.
Three weeks are spent loading stores in the Canaries until, on September 6, the three ships sail west into the unknown. During the next month there are several sightings of coastlines which turn out to be illusions. At last, on October 12, a look-out on the Pinta spies real land.
Columbus and the Pinzón brothers step ashore on 12 October 1492 on an island in the Bahamas. They plant the royal banner of Spain, claiming the place for Ferdinand and Isabella. They name it San Salvador, after Jesus the Saviour. (It is not known which island they landed on, though there is one in the Bahamas that still bears name.)
These are not the first Europeans to reach the American continent, but they are the first to record their achievement. Columbus believes that he has reached the East Indies. They landed on an island they called Guanahani, but Columbus later renamed it San Salvador (an Island in the Bahamas). They were met by the local Taino Indians, many of whom were captured by Columbus’ men and later sold into slavery.
Columbus thought he had made it to Asia, and called this area the Indies, and called its inhabitants Indians. Greeted by friendly inhabitants of San Salvador, he therefore describes them as Indians – an inaccurate name which has remained attached to the aboriginal peoples of the whole American continent. By the same token this region becomes known to Europe as the West Indies.
A few days later the explorers sail on. They pass many more islands, giving each a new Spanish name, until they reach during November the most important landfall of their expedition – the large island of Cuba, which Columbus convinces himself to be Cipango.
This is a place of marvels described by Marco Polo at the eastern extremity of Asia, usually now assumed to be Japan.
Beyond Cuba the next significant landfall is another large island which Columbus names after Spain itself – Española, or Hispaniola. On its shores the Santa Maria runs aground and is wrecked. Columbus decides to leave a small colony of some forty men, with food and ammunition for a year, while he sails back to Spain with news of his achievement.
Returning with Vicente Yañez Pinzón in the Niña, Columbus reaches Palos on March 15 (amazingly the Pinta arrives in Palos later on that same day, after losing contact with the Niña a month earlier in an Atlantic storm). Columbus makes his way to the court of Ferdinand and Isabella in Barcelona, where he is received with every honour. He presents the monarchs with a few captured natives of the Bahamas and some gold treasure.
This is the high point of Columbus’s career. Three more voyages to America lie ahead of him, and great achievements. But from now on misfortune, often deriving from his own inadequacy as a colonial administrator, increasingly blights his endeavours.
The Island of Hispaniola, where Columbus came ashore on about October 12, 1492 on his first voyage of discovery (1492-1493)
Columbus named this island Hispaniola in honour of the King and Queen it was under that name from 1492 to 1697 when the islands split into two countries that we know today as: Haiti & The Dominican Republic.
The Statue of Christopher Columbus in Colombus Square (Parque de Colón), the main Plaza of Santo Domingo, facing the Cathedral of Sta Maria la Menor which commemorates his arrival on the shores of Hispaniola, the future Dominican Republic on or about October 12th in 1492.
A few years later, the Island of Hispaniola and the town of Santo Domingo were made the hub or the center from which the Spaniards extended their explorations to the continents of both North and South America.
Aerial view of the Cathedral, Columbus Square (Parque de Colón) & The Columbus Monument photo by: Otlo Piron
Statue of commemorating Columbus’ discovery of America in 1492, located in Columbus Square (Parque de Colón) facing the Cathedral.
Statue commemorates Columbus’ discovery of the Americas in October 1492 located in Columbus Square (Parque de Colón) facing the Cathedral.
The Cathedral in Santo Domingo was commissioned by Pope Julius II (Julius the Fearsome) in 1504 and construction on this very first Cathedral in the Americas began with the arrival on May 8th in 1512 under the leadership of Bishop Fray García Padilla a Dominican Friar and new Bishop of Santo Domingo.
He remained in the position until Bishop Geraldini, who had been appointed in 1519 to replace him finally arrived in 1521.
In 1521, the newly arrived Bishop Alexander Geraldini encouraged both the clergy and the gentry of the island to build a much grander and awe inspiring Cathedral, more in keeping or in line with its status as the first Cathedral in the Americas. They enthusiastically agreed and the foundation stone of the current Basilica was laid in 1521.
The contractor was Luis Moya bishop of Saoya, who built the church according to plans which had been developed by Alonso Rodriguez, of Seville. By 1523, construction finally got underway and continued until completion and the consecration of the Church in 1541.
The Façade of the Cathedral is made of a gold-tinted coral limestone. The Architecture of the church combines elements of both the Gothic and Baroque schools of architecture.
Great political power had been added to Spain in Europe. In 1520 the throne of Spain fell to a young man, Charles, the grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella.
His mother was Juana, the Spanish princess, and his father was Philip the Handsome, of Burgundy. Philip the Handsome was the son of Maximilian, the Archduke of Austria.
Now it curiously happened that the thrones of each of these three countries was left without other heirs than Charles, and in 1520 he was King of Spain, Archduke of Austria, and Duke of Burgundy and the Low Countries, including the rich commercial cities of Holland and Belgium.
In addition to all this, the German princes elected him German Emperor, and although he was King Charles the First of Spain, he is better known in history as Emperor Charles the Fifth.
So it happened that in February of 1546 the Emperor Charles V asked Pope, Paul III, to grant the church, at Santo Domingo, in what was then called Hispaniola the status of Metropolitan Cathedral and Primate of the Americas.
The Pope, was so favourably impressed by the Emperor Charles’ initial work of “evangelization” in the Americas that he granted his request almost immediately.
When Rémi first arrived at the Cathedral, the President of the Republic and his party were in the Church attending to business. Visitors were not allowed in the immediate area until El Présidenté had left.
El Présidenté’s limousine and security escort vehicles await his return outside the gates of the Cathedral.
El Présidenté was on site to announce the participation of the Republic in the extensive restauration work being undertaken to preserve the Cathedral for posterity.
The Coat of Arms on the front of the Basilica Cathedral are we believe to be the coat of arms of the Emperor Charles V. the King of Spain.at the time the church was being built.
The crest shown above is clearly on display in the Basilica Cathedral as can be seen above the stained glass windows in this photo.
As Colonel Klink would say: “Very Intrestink!” (Walter Klemperer as a major characters of the 1960’s television series Hogan’s Heroes)
One of the interesting things about the Basilica Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor is that it does not have a bell tower. That is because of a lack of funds, it took 29 years to build the cathedral yet even as it was nearing completion, some of the planned features had to be omitted because there simply was not enough money available to complete it according to plans.
As we mentioned in our opening comments the Cathedral is an integral part of The Colonial Santo Domingo UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to the huge investments made in the Cathedral, the Old Colonial town of Santo Domingo is also undergoing renovations and refurbishment. This is a brief tour of the Old Colonial Town…
Santo Domingo has many of the Western hemisphere’s oldest Spanish buildings, so it should not be surprising that the Cathedral in the centre of the Dominican capital would be quite a spectacular example of Spanish colonial architecture.
The church was, as we saw earlier, was built between 1521 and 1540 and was intended to be the base of all conversion activities for the Catholic faith in the New World.
The outside of the Cathedral is primarily Romanesque and Plateresque with some Gothic features on the north side which faces the Parque de Colón. One of the principal features of the Plateresque style is characterized by an intricate and minutely detailed relief ornament that is generally applied to the surface of buildings for extravagant decorative effect and without regard for structural articulation.
Favourite motifs of this florid ornament include twisted columns, heraldic escutcheons, and sinuous scrolls. Clusters of this jewelry-like ornament contrast with broad expanses of flat wall surface.
The principal feature of the Plateresque style are the finely detailed reliefs placed on the face of buildings. The carvings and artwork on the front of this church are classic examples of the style.
When we enter the church itself through the Narthex we are in absolute awe. The stunning features of the Romanesque and Gothic styles are magnificent. The arches and the ceilings are incredibly beautiful. They take your breath away.
This is one of the smaller side chapels. Its features are the altar and tabernacle which are intricately carved in pure silver.
The Main Altar:
This is the ‘icon’ of the Madonna and Child, a national treasure of Spain which was sent to Hispaniola to be a featured icon in the new Basilica. It was the Basilica’s most valued artwork, it is the Madonna from the Chapel of the Virgin of Antigua it was stolen and spirited off to Spain in 1520. It was returned to Santo Domingo in the 1892.
The Alcazar de Colon in Santo Domingo. Columbus’ Home in Santo Domingo
Columbus after making three more voyages of exploration and spending some time as an administrator of the colonies in the Americas died in 1506.
He died in Spain in the town of Valladolid where he was immediately buried.
Shortly thereafter, his son Diego had his remains moved to the monastery at Seville.
However, Columbus’ final wishes were to be interred in Hispaniola so Diego started planning to complete a cathedral and have his father’s remains moved to the island. However, Diego died in 1526, before the cathedral could be finalized and was buried next to his father in Seville. In 1542, the Cathedral was finally finished and Diego’s widow arranged for both father and son to be moved there, where they remained for two centuries. The Spanish were ousted from the island in 1795 and took the remains of their beloved explorer with them to their Caribbean base in Havana, Cuba, leaving Diego’s remains on Hispaniola.
A century later a construction worker found a box with a short inscription, indicating it bore the remains of “Admiral Columbus”. However, both Christopher and Diego used the title “Admiral Columbus” while they were alive making the identification based on inscriptions tricky.
The question quickly arose as to who had which explorer. In 1898 after the Spanish-American War, the Spanish were routed from Cuba and returned to Spain, once again carrying the remains of their intrepid explorer, or so they thought.
The Dominican Republic and Spain both claim they possess the remains of the famous admiral and that the other nation has the lesser-loved son. Even DNA testing is inconclusive as to which nation is right, and the theory has been floated that Christopher Columbus’ remains may have been split up and may actually reside in both countries. To date, the controversy rages on and the location of the real grave of Christopher Columbus remains uncertain.
The remains purported to be of Christopher Columbus currently located in the Dominican Republic can be seen in The Columbus Lighthouse (Faro a Colón), in Santo Domingo. If these are the real admiral’s remains, then Faro a Colón is the grave of Christopher Columbus, as well as his mausoleum and a museum.
La Fortaleza Ozama is another historical monument that makes up the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo. It is named after the Ozama river which it looks over.
It was built from 1502 to 1508 by Fray Nicolas de Ovando, who was the governor of the island, and was built in order to protect the city from attacks by pirates and conquerors.
The Fortaleza Ozama in Spanish; Ozama Fortress in English is a sixteenth-century castle built by the Spanish at the entrance to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and overlooking the Ozama River. Named after the river, the castle, also referred to as “La Fortaleza” or “The Fortress”, is the oldest formal military construction of European origin in America. An impressive architectural structure of medieval style and design, the Tower of Homage (Spanish: Torre del Homenaje) stands in the center of the grounds.
The castle was designed to guard the entrance to the port of Santo Domingo and defend the city from seaborne enemies.
Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés (August 1478 – 1557) was a Spanish historian and writer. He is commonly known as “Oviedo” even though his family name is Fernández. He participated in the Spanish colonization of the Caribbean, and wrote a long chronicle of this project which is one of the few primary sources about it. He was born in Madrid of a noble Asturian lineage and educated in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. At thirteen, he became page to their son, the Infante John, Prince of Asturias. After the Prince’s death (October 4, 1497), Oviedo went to Italy, and there acted as secretary to Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba.
In 1514 he was appointed supervisor of gold smeltings at Santo Domingo, and on his return to Spain in 1523 was appointed historiographer of the Indies.
He paid five more visits to America before his death, which took place at Valladolid in 1557. At one point he was placed in charge of the Fortaleza Ozama, the famous fort in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where there is a large statue of him, a gift to that country from the King of Spain.
with special thanks to:
Rémi F. Proulx, PEng our intrepid reporter who has contributed two stories to Historic Philippines. The first story introduced us to The Basilica del Caido in Bogota, Colombia. Rémi, in his second story explores The Basilica Minore de Sta Maria which is also the Catédral Primate of the Americas in Sto Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Wikipedia the free on-line encyclopedia.