Valira Torrent - bulletin of the Andorran Philatelic Study Circle. Issue 38, pp4-5 (November 1993).

Copyright notice

Urgel CathedraI

by W.D.Bent

Andorran philatelists will be well aware of the wealth of churches, religious items, altar screens and the like, that feature on both the French and Spanish issues over the years. Readers of the Valira Torrent will also be aware of the regular series of details and stories attached to those issues. However, there is one notable exception, and that shows the only eccliastical building situated outside Andorran boundaries. I refer of course to the Spanish Post Office issue of of the 14th October 1975, to mark the 1,100 th Anniversary of the Consecration of Seo de Urgel Cathedral. The illustration is of the Cathedral and the Consecration text The stamps were printed by photogravure in sheets of 80, perforated 14, with a face value of 7pta. 300,000 stamps were printed by the Fabrica Nacional de Moneda y Timbre in Madrid.

Urgel Cathedral

The connection between Andorra and Seo de Urgel is obvious but the Cathedral and its history is well worth some research. As one travels south from Andorra into Spain), following the banks of the Valira river along the C1145 road, the town of Seo de Urgel (La Seu d'Urgell in Catalan) is reached where the road joins the C1313 (left for Barcelona, right for Lerida and Central Spain). Seo is some 8km from the border and is a smallish town. It has many old and beautiful houses, stately stone buildings and pleasant small arcades. Just beyond the town, the Valira joins the river Segre, then continues south to eventually join the Ebro and on to the Mediterranean.

Seo means Cathedral, the See of Urgel, Seat of the Bishop, and on the edge of the town one finds the Cathedral of Santa Maria, with fine views along the river and beyond to the Sierra del Cadi. The Cathedral is certainly not large by Spanish standards, but it is a most unique and interesting building - "well worth a detour to visit" according to the Michelin Guide. The building has seen many changes in its history. A church of Santa Maria was first consecrated in the 9th century. At the beginning of the 11th century there were three churches in the town which was very much smaller than at present. Various changes occured and the building was re-consecrated in 1041. It was totally rebuilt in the 12th century. In 1175, the Italian architect Raimonde Lombardo was engaged to finish the building, and the end product appeared more Italian than the usual Catalan Romanesque style. In the 18th century the Cathedral was again partially rebuilt in baroque style, but in 1918 a further restoration was carried out in the original Romanesque.

Seo de Urgel has endured many troubles since the time of the Visigoths, but there was a Bishop and a Cathedral until the 7th century when the area was overwhelmed by the forces of Islam. However, the Moors were eventually evicted and the Consecration made in the 9th century. The town was destroyed in 1195 by Ramon Roger, Count of Foix, but the Cathedral and its Bishops weathered the storm.

The early history can be traced by research through the unique records which are held in the diocesan museum situated in the Cathedral. These records include the following: the actual Document of Consecration; a manuscript dated circa 1000 AD which is a commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed One of Liebana (a total of some ninety three folios, all beautifully illustrated); a manuscript, dated 938, with the dialogues of St Gregory; a papal bull of Pope Sylvester II that defines and confirms all the rights and possessions of the Dioceses of Urgel - "Beware all, the Bishop of Urgel, his rights, lands and properties are untouchable". Other important items include the valuable Beatus manuscripts, 11th century Codex, 12th and 13th century retables, and many gold and precious items.

One of the most prominent early Bishops was St Ermengol. He defended and considerably extended his see, and began the building of the present Cathedral which was eventually finished at the end of 1175.

The Cathedral is built on a Basilican ground plan, with a central barrel vaulted Nave and two groin vaulted side aisles - these leading to a long transept, ended in square towers with five apses and a dome over the crossing point. The main apse contains three very fine windows. The main facade has three entrance doors leading to the Nave and side aisles. The upper part of the facade has three friezes of geometric motifs, three windows, and there is a frieze of animals and men over the main portal. There is a two-storey bell tower with both double and triple arched windows, together with a door on the south side, dating from the 12th century. This door leads to the attractive cloisters, three sides of which are the original dating from 1175, and the matching fourth side from 1603, and there are fifty decorated pillars surrounding the open square.

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Updated 16th September 1998