The Gothic Cathedral located in the old town at the centre of Valencia is known as “Saint Mary's Cathedral”, “The Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady of Valencia” or just as "Valencia Cathedral".
Built on the site that was previously a Roman temple, a Visigoth cathedral and an 8th century Mosque, it was several decades after the Christian conquest of the city (1238), before the cathedral was constructed, between 1252 and 1482. Construction is in the Gothic style, although it contains elements of early Romanesque, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical.
Originally the cathedral was dedicated to the Holy Saviour but was rededicated to the Blessed Virgin by James I (the Conqueror) who was King of Valencia (1238 – 1276). He would carry an image of the Virgin, which is now displayed in the sacristy.
Built with three naves, originally these would have only reached to the choir of the present building. Three of the four sections of the naves and transepts were built in the first part of the 14th century which was when the crossing was completed and the construction of the crossing tower (cimbori or eight-sided dome) was also constructed.
The old chapter house, was constructed between 1356 -1369, with a beautiful vault with star motifs, depicting an image of heaven with the 12 apostles and the coronation of the Virgin Mary. This is now the Chapel of the Holy Grail, where since 1916 the Holy Chalice has been displayed. The chalice was given to the cathedral by King Alfons el Magnànim in 1436. Made from brown agate and dating back to the 1st century BC, it is believed by some to be the Holy Grail. Standing about 6" tall and 3" wide it sits on a gold base adorned with two emeralds. This was created for it in the Middle Ages and is a major attraction. However, a number of other chalices exist, which also lay claim to being the chalice of Christ. The Holy Grail is said to be the cup of the Last Supper and, at the Crucifixion, was used to receive blood from the wound in Christ's side.
Although the authenticity of the Chalice has never been confirmed by the Vatican, it was used by Pope John Paul II during his visit in 1982 when he ordained some 150 priests. It was also used by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 to consecrate the wine during the celebration of Mass.
The cathedral has a number of chapels, one of which is dedicated to Saint Vincent Martyr, the Patron Saint of Valencia. Saint Vincent Martyr was a Deacon under Saint Valerious, Bishop of Saragossa during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian (284 - 305). Both were arrested and imprisoned, but whilst Saint Valerious was exiled, Saint Vincent Martyr was tortured and died from his injuries in 304. His left arm is preserved in a reliquary in his Chapel.
The Cathedral also contains a museum consisting of a number of rooms displaying other sacred relics and religious works of art from the 14th through the 18th Centuries, including a collection of medieval panels, vestments and two paintings by Goya. It also houses the statues that previously adorned the Apostle door.
Over the years - during times of war - a number of the artefacts have been looted or destroyed. This included a silver altarpiece which in 1813 was melted down in order to pay the troops who fought against Napoleon.
The octagonal Bell Tower, which is known as "Micalet" or "La Miguelete" named after its largest bell called Miguel, was constructed between 1381–1425. Originally this was separate from the main building but in 1459 the nave was extended joining the Tower with the Chapter House and the rest of the cathedral. This also resulted in the construction of the main entrance. In 1674 work began on the construction of the main chapel. The Bell Tower is accessible to visitors who are able to climb the 207 steps to the top of the tower, which allows access to the bells and good views across the city.
During the Renaissance (15th-16th centuries), little work was done on the main structure, although work was carried out on the decorations in the Resurrection chapel and on one of the high altars.
The façade of the main entrance was added at the beginning of the 18th century and restoration started in 1774, which converted the pointed Gothic arches to rounded arches. It also covered the Gothic columns with Corinthian pillars. The intention of the work was to give the building a neoclassical appearance. The work affected both structural and decorative features with elements being removed and others being concealed with stucco.
The Main Entrance is located to the right of the belfry and behind la Porta dels Ferros, the Door of Iron, the construction of which was begun in 1703, although this was interrupted by the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1715). The gate was damaged during the demolition of adjacent buildings in the 20th century to create the Plaza where the cathedral stands, when the work caused the doors to distort.
The other door on this side of the building is the Door of the Apostles. The statues which adorn the Apostle's doorway are copies, the originals of which are now in the museum. This was the main entrance to the Mosque and has a 14th century rose window positioned above it. This side of the building also contains the Galleries, a semi-circular triple arcaded wall of walkways in the Renaissance style which was built in the 16th century.
In 1931 the Spanish government declared the building a historic and artistic landmark. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) it sustained some damage, which included decorative elements and the Organs, which were never rebuilt.
In 1940 the choir was dismantled and moved from its position in the centre of the cathedral to the bottom of the High Altar.
In the 1970s, a building attached to the chapels was demolished, as were a number of the neoclassical features to give the cathedral back its previous Gothic appearance.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.