Santa María de Calatayud collegiate church, Calatayud

Pl. Sta. María, 5, 50300 Calatayud (Zaragoza)

CURRENT PROTECTION STATUS: Asset of Cultural Interest (ACI)


CATEGORY: Religious


CONSTRUCTION DATE: See the notes in the description. Cloister, tower and apse, c. mid-14th and early 15th century.

The top of the spire dates from the 18th century.
According to professor Gonzalo M. Borrás, the Mudejar constructive elements, which are the oldest and most monumental features of the Santa María de Calatayud collegiate church, stem from the patronage of Benedict XIII, Papa Luna. This means that master builder Mahoma Rami likely designed the building. The site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001.

Several original Mudejar elements of the Santa María de Calatayud collegiate church have survived to the present: the cloister (the oldest construction), apse and tower.

Mudejar-style cloisters, like fortified churches, have certain features in common. They can therefore be defined as a type of cloisters typically built from the mid-14th century to the end of the 15th century.

Regarding the cloister of the Santa María collegiate church (constructed prior to 1412), a hypothesis was proposed by German López Sampedro and later cited by Agustín Sanmiguel which states that “in the 10th or 11th century, during the Islamic era, as the city expanded a mosque was built and […] some time after 1120 this space was consecrated as a church until the new temple was completed in 1249, at which time it was converted into the cloister”.

This cloister is named in the Papal Bull issued by Benedict XIII in Peñíscola on September 27, 1413, which has been used to date the construction. The Bull mentions the founding, by Miguel Sánchez de Algaravi, of a professorship of Theology at the church of Santa María la Mayor de Calatayud in April 1412, thus referring to the professorship and schools of Theology as being authorized “infra septa claustri ecclesie vestre”, “in loco ad hoc idóneo”: within the cloister compound, an ideal place for this.

Shortly thereafter, Papa Luna also founded a Studium Generale in this cloister. To understand why a Studium Generale was founded in this particular Mudejar cloister, it is important to take a look at the figure of Papa Luna who, as seen in his biography, was an educated person with an interest in culture.

Benedict XIII’s drive to create a strong level of culture and people well-trained to promote culture was certainly the force behind the founding of this Studium Generale.

The founding bull from September 10, 1415 contains references, as noted by Ovidio Cuella, “praising the city of Calatayud for its natural and social conditions for placement of the Studium there, establishing the schools of canon and civil law, humanities and medicine, so that those who attend can earn master’s and doctoral diplomas”.

In addition, the cloister of Santa María de Calatayud was rendered even more unique by the existence of a library donated by Miguel Sánchez de Algaravi, to whom Benedict XIII had granted permission to receive a doctoral degree in Zaragoza. For this reason, he was prompted to set up the aforementioned professorship and to allocate this collection of books for the studies pursued there.

All this documentation has made it possible to create a precise chronology and to establish ties to the figure of Benedict XIII and even to his master builder Mahoma Rami.
The architect Mahoma Rami was a modern, young bricklayer with knowledge of European flamboyant Gothic decoration, which he employed occasionally in his work. Specifically, it can be seen here in the remodeling of the old cloister which, as indicated by Agustín Sanmiguel, “would entail partially tearing down the interior and replacing the original roof”. Another intervention in this regard was the tympanum over the entrance to the original Mudejar church, featuring decorative elements influenced by the flamboyant Gothic style, which would become a constant aspect in the work by this bricklayer.

There is a consistency in the design of Mudejar style cloisters. However, contrary to other cloisters, that of the Santa María collegiate church is twice as long as it is wide (22×44) and sits at a 30-degree angle in relation to the church.

Its square-shaped footprint has nine bays covered by a quadripartite rib vault along the main wings and five bays along the shorter sides where it is attached to the collegiate church. Each bay opens onto the cloister’s inner courtyard through large pointed arches that are the same height as the cloister vaults and were originally completely open.

It is attached to the Gospel side aisle of the Santa María de Calatayud collegiate church along one of the shorter sides, starting at the first bay of the east end of the nave.

The abutment system consists of large rectangular-section buttresses that transfer the thrust from the diagonal ribs of the vault, the bondstones separating each bay, and the supporting arches that act as props to the inner side of the courtyard.

The material used is brick (or rejola, a kind of baked brick). They are not usually left bare but rather plastered over and painted.

As regards the tower, it stands between the cloister and the apse, to which it is attached. This is an octagonal-plan tower with buttresses at the corners. The exterior is divided into five sections. Based on the decoration, two distinct construction periods can be seen: the first consisting of the first two sections, and the following three in the second period. Furthermore, this monumental tower is topped by an onion-shaped spire.

The exterior of the tower is completely decorated from the base to the spire sitting atop it, and the decorative motifs in the bottom part are similar to those of the apse to which it is attached.

This apse consists of two overlapping volumes from different construction periods. The lower volume has a polygonal footprint that probably has seven sides, but this cannot be precisely determined because it is partially concealed.

As there are no buttresses, a large decorative pattern covers all sides. The decoration is the same as that of the lowest volume of the tower. Firstly, there are blind windows that are merely decorative in nature. They have slightly pointed arches at the top that are more reminiscent of the eastern Islamic style than the Gothic pointed arch. The intrados is made of a row of molded brick pieces. There is also a pointed arch window made of molded brick pieces at the same height on each of the visible panels of the tower. Out of a total of four, only one is open to allow light into the Santo Cristo chapel that occupies the space under the semi-spherical dome.


Restoration, 20th to 21st century

A number of interventions and restorations have been carried out since the 1960s. Between 1986 and 2009 the Government of Aragon funded restoration work on the cloister, the interior and exterior of the church and the tower worth a total of 1,909,881 euros.

Projects and interventions

Projects and interventions, and the driving forces behind them, define the history of monumental buildings and how they are perceived.


Declaration, 19th to 21st century (1884-2002)

The Santa María collegiate church in Calatayud was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest under the Ministry of Public Works’ Royal Decree dated June 14, 1884, which was published in the Madrid Gazette of July 29, 1884.

The Official Gazette of Aragon dated April 15, 2002 published the Department of Culture and Tourism Order of March 22, 2002, whereby the original declaration of the Santa María collegiate church in Calatayud, in the province of Zaragoza, is supplemented pursuant to Transitional Provision One of Aragonese Cultural Heritage Act 3/1999, of March 10. On December 14, 2001, UNESCO expanded its declaration of the Mudejar art of Aragon as World Heritage, declaring it an asset that is unique, universal and irreplaceable for Humanity. One of the assets listed in this declaration is the Santa María de Calatayud collegiate church, considered one of the best examples of the Mudejar art of Aragon.


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Colegiata de Santa María de Calatayud

Pl. Sta. María, 5, 50300 Calatayud (Zaragoza)

Visit Calatayud

City Hall: 976 881 700

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