Explore the Cathedral – Map 30-43

Romanesque portal to the cloister

This magnificent Romanesque doorway carved in white marble dates from the late 12th century and connects the cloister with the cathedral interior. It comprises a set of archivolts with convex mouldings supported on jambs and framing the tympanum decorated with the Maiestas Domini surrounded by the mandorla, and the Tetramorph, or the zoomorphic portrayal of the Gospel writers Matthew (angel), Mark (lion) Luke (ox) and John (eagle).

The capital of the mullion shows scenes of the birth of Christ, the Three Kings before Herod and Herodias, and the Epiphany or Adoration of the Magi. The side capitals are decorated with animal and plant motifs, a scene of the Three Kings lying on the same bed being warned by the angel, and another with the empty tomb, the shroud, the soldiers and the three Marys in reference to the resurrection of Christ. The doorway is engraved with the Chi Rho, or emblem of Christ and the letters alpha and omega.

Cloister garden

The construction of the cloister was begun in the late 12th century and completed in the early 13th century. It was a place for reading, strolling and meditation, and it was also used for processions and was the point where the main communal canonical areas converged: the dormitory, chapter room, refectory, library…

The back of the walls on the north and east sides coincides with the angle of the façade of a Roman building dating from the first century A.D. The cloister has a quadrangular floorplan, rib vaults with simple moulding, and interesting keystones in the vault showing signs of the early Gothic style.

Each one of its four galleries is divided into six sections with two small pierced stonework oculi under a pointed supporting arch, and three semicircular arches on twinned columns with white marble capitals and imposts with a wide variety of biblical, legendary, hagiographic and moral themes

The Romanesque tradition can clearly be seen in the decorative carvings; in contrast the pierced stonework on the oculi and the frieze of polylobed arches around the outside of the upper perimeter of the cloister are clearly Islamic in origin. The whole ensemble encloses a garden, the hortus conclusus, whose plants and fountains evoke in the believer the lost earthly paradise.

Cyma and the "Procession of the Rats"

Hace muchos siglos, en el palacio de un noble de Tarragona, había muchas ratas y nadie conseguía matarlas. Un día, organizó un banquete y el Rey era el invitado más importante, pero aparecieron las ratas asustando a todos los invitados y comiéndose lo que había en la mesa. 

El noble, avergonzado, buscó el mejor gato de la provincia; sin embargo, el pobre no podía acabar con ellas porque se escondían en sus madrigueras, en las que el gato no cabía. Un día, el gato decidió hacerse el muerto y se tumbó en el suelo y con las patas hacia arriba.  

Al ver las ratas que el gato estaba muerto, decidieron llevarlo en procesión sobre una escalera de mano para enterrarlo. Entonces, el gato miró de reojo, vio que estaban todas las ratas, saltó y se las comió todas. El noble estaba tan contento, que le prometió al gato que haría esculpir su historia para que todo el mundo la conociera y así lo hizo. 

Sacristía Mayor

This 13th-century construction was originally used as a chapel, as can be seen by the coffering in the Treasure Room which was formerly part of the choir stalls, and the credence in the wall beside the door connecting with the central apse.

It was subsequently used as a sacristy, and the windows we see today were opened in the wall. Under the canopy on the headwall there is a splendid Baroque carving of the dying Christ on the Cross with a distinctive contrapposto. This 18th-century work is from the church of Sant Miquel del Pla in Tarragona.

On the east wall hang two halves of one of the tapestries from a series on the story of Joseph in Egypt as told in Genesis. It shows Joseph being sold to the Ismaelites by his brothers in Dothan in exchange for 20 silver pieces, and his subsequent exaltation in the Pharaoh’s court. It was donated by Archbishop Ferdinand of Aragon and produced in Brussels in the early 16th century.


Gothic doorway

The sacristy and the Treasure Room are separated by a wall and a Gothic doorway with an ogee lintel in front of a segmented arch supporting the former choir stall.

Once inside, note the outstanding Mudéjar Gothic coffering dating from the mid 14th century; the frame is polychrome with heraldic, geometric and figurative motifs. Here again we see the coat of arms of Bernat d’Albió, the builder canon, under whose orders it was built.

Silvery liturgy items

The most valuable items of the cathedral treasure disappeared during the Napoleonic invasion of 1811.

Corpus Christi chapel

Gothic picture gallery

This precinct was the former Chapter House. It has a quadrangular floor plan with a pointed barrel vault and was built at the beginning of the 13th century. In the year 1330, the bishop Guerau de Rocabertí ordered the demolition of the headwall and the construction of a chapel in the form of a polygonal apse dedicated to the worship of the Eucharist. Since then it has been called the Corpus Christi chapel. The polychrome relief of the keystone represents Christ in Majesty showing the Sacred Form.

On the occasion of this enlargement, its walls were decorated with the Annunciation and a series of images of saints and apostles carved in stone. They date from the first half of the 14th century and retain traces of polychromy as well as the repeated emblems of the founder.

Valuable examples of Catalan panel painting are exhibited here, with examples of French and English-influenced linear Gothic, passing through Italianism, continuing through International Gothic and reaching Flemish-influenced painting.

Ranaissance and baroque period

The modern period was a flourishing period for the history and art of the archdiocese of Tarragona. The Renaissance was introduced in the territory. The Church played a very important role in the promotion of new public works and in the creation of the University. It was the first place in Christendom where the Council of Trent was recognized and accepted. Many artistic creations of the second half of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries focused on themes such as the Immaculate Conception, the saints, the recognition and exaltation of the sacraments, among others. The rooms include a collection of locally produced paintings and Renaissance sculpture. From the Baroque period, some examples of painting and remarkable polychrome wood sculptures are exhibited. Also, from the contemporary period, the modernist monstrance by Bernardí Martorell, a disciple of Antonio Gaudí, is on display.

Chapter Room

EL Aula Capitular acoge, en la actualidad, las reuniones solemnes del Capítulo de la Catedral, integrado por el cuerpo de canónigos. En esta sala se exponen piezas tan relevantes como el tapiz denominado de las Potestades o de «La Buena Vida», del siglo XV, que es la pieza más importante de la gran colección de tapices de la Catedral. Ofrece una visión idealizada del orden público, jurídico y social. También el paño mortuorio de Pere Anton de Aragón, del siglo XVII, del monasterio de Poblet.

Chapel of Saint Raymond

This Gothic-style chapel was built in 1520 and financed by Canon Joan Poblet. The doorway is in the form of an ogee arch with convex moulding and pierced stonework on the intrados. The smaller first section of the vault is ribbed and the three large beautifully-carved polychrome keystones are decorated with the image of St. Catherine of Alexandria, the emblem of the founder, and St. John the Baptist. The headwall is segmented by means of radial spokes converging in half columns suspended on the wall.

The image of the patron saint by the sculptor Ramón Ferran from Reus was made in marmoline in 1989 by order of the Archbishop of Tarragona, Ramón Torrella y Cascante, who died in 2004. His tombstone can be seen on the flagstones beside that of the chapel’s founder.

Chapel of Saint Mary Magdalena

It was built in 1536 in the Plateresque style and is notable for its extravagant architecture and ornamentation. The intrados of the supporting arch and the side pilasters are profusely decorated with grotesque motifs a candelieri, which can also be seen on the cresting of the exquisitely worked grille. It is covered with a barrel vault adorned with coffering supported on a frieze of trygliphs and metopes with heraldic emblems.

The altarpiece features an oil painting showing sequences from the life of St. Mary Magdalene attributed to Francesc Olives, and thought to have been painted towards 1536.

Chapel of our Lady of Guidance

This Gothicstyle chapel was built by Canon Bertran de Montoliu and his brother Vice-Admiral Berenguer, as can be seen by the family crest adorning the central keystone of the rib vault.

It was built in around 1300 to house the enormous polychrome carving of the patron saint standing in the niche in the headwall. The image, one of the oldest in the cathedral, is known both from historic documents and in popular culture a La Grossa. Created between the 13th and 14th centuries using various species of pinewood strengthened with original tempera polychrome, and re-polychromed during the Baroque period. The altar stands on the tambour of a Roman column.

Francisco Plaza

The tallest man of his time

In front of the chapel of Our Lady of Guidance is the tomb of the military man and captain of horses Francisco Plaza, “the tallest man of his time”, as you can read on the gravestone. It measured more than 12 hands that would equal a total height of 2.34 m. He was born in Milan in 1597, possibly in a family from the Iberian peninsula, since there were many noblemen, civil servants or soldiers who during the sixteenth century went to try their luck in Italy and ended up establishing and founding a family.

At the age of fifteen he began his military career in which he served for thirty years in the thirds of Flanders and in Italy until, in 1634, he was transferred to Roussillon to form part of the army of Philip IV. According to the documentation preserved of this period, in 1637 he was in Caldes de Montbui and Badalona, where he and his soldiers were accused of committing excesses against the Catalan peasantry.

Fortress of Salses in Roussillon

In 1639 participates actively in the military offensive to recover the strength of Salses in Roussillon. He became a prisoner of the French, but in 1640 he was freed when exchanged for a French artillery lieutenant. It is during this year, with the outbreak of the peasant revolt of the Reapers, when he joins the army of the Marquis of Los Vélez, participating in the actions of repression against Catalonia. In 1641 he was badly wounded in the battle of Montjuïc, where Los Vélez was defeated by the Catalan-French army.

In his retreat, Francisco Plaza was quickly transferred to Tarragona, where he died on February 3 as a result of the wounds received in combat. He was buried in the Cathedral of Tarragona on February 5, having acquired the status of noble since he was knight of the order of Santiago. Thanks to the augmented reality technology we can see a recreation of Francisco Plaza and check his height.

Chapel of our Lady of the Cloister

It was built between the 16th and 17th centuries. After entering, you will see the tombs of Archbishop Antonio de Echanove y Zaldívar, who occupied the See in Tarragona between 1825 and 1854, and of Vicenç Falconer, doctor of the Cathedral Chapter who died in 1693. The alabaster and stone retable of St. Thecla was carved by Bernat y Josep Verderol in 1852. The chapel is dedicated to the worship of the image of the Virgin of the Cloister, a polychrome wood figure dating from the 13th or 14th centuries.

On the left you can see a painting on the theme of the Annunciation painted by the artist Miquel Fluixenc y Trill from Tarragona. The remaining paintings depict the Virgin appearing to St. Francis of Paola, and the Virgin appearing to St. Philip Neri, dating between the 17th and 18th centuries.

Chapel of the Holy Saviour

This Renaissance chapel was commissioned by Nicolau Albanell and his wife Ángela Trillo. The Chapter granted the licence for its construction in 1533 and it was blessed on 11 April 1535. It is a light and spacious structure that very closely follows the more elementary outlines of the Renaissance, as can be seen from the generous barrel vault adorned with coffering above a frieze of triglyphs and metopes.

The altar was built by the benefice Pere Mir in 1537. The high-relief retable in white stuccoed pinewood on the frontal depicts the baptism of Jesus. It was made by Vicenç Roig y Besora in around 1835, and replaces a previous one dedicated to St. Mary of La Esperanza originally installed in 1537.

Chapel of our Lady of Snows

This Gothic chapel was built in around 1414 by Pere de Vallfogona and Guillem de la Mota, and financed by Pere Poch, a citizen of Tarragona. Its outstanding features include its doorway with mouldings decorated with thistle leafs on the reverse, the smaller initial section with a rib vault and three historiated keystones depicting St. Thecla on the supporting arch, the Tau del Cabildo on the first vault, and the Virgin with the Christ Child on the second. Another highlight is the ornamented headwall with radial spokes flanked by crockets.

An oil painting by an anonymous artist of Our Lady of Snows –or “La Buena Nueva”– is revered in this chapel, and dates from between the 18th and 19th centuries. The wrought iron grille was made by the wrought- ironmonger Vidal Gassia from Tarragona.

Old canons' refectory

This room is located in the old quarters of the refectory of the community of canons in medieval times. It was built in the 12th century with a pointed barrel vault. Part of the Roman wall built in the 1st century A.D. according to the opus quadratum and isodome technique is preserved at the head. The perforations of the ashlars show that it was covered with marble, a common practice in the important monuments of the Empire. A cistern from the Visigothic period can also be seen in the room.

The collection of works of art on display consists of inscriptions, wood and polychrome stone sculpture, gold and silver work and textile samples from the 12th to 14th centuries, from the cathedral, parish churches, sanctuaries and hermitages of the archdiocese.