Gibraltar Cathedral of Saint Mary the Crowned

Rock Of Gibraltar aerial view

This cathedral was built by the Spanish in 1462 on the site of the old mosque of Gibraltar. The old mosque was much larger than the current building and included a typical court with moorish pillars and arches. The Cathedral’s small courtyard is all that remains of the mosque’s court. The Royal Arms of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella can still be seen engraved on a slab which was moved from the north gate to the courtyard where it can be seen today. The building was heavily damaged during the Great Siege and in 1810 the Cathedral was rebuilt. In 1931 the Church was restored and the current grand facade was erected to replace the poorer one built back in 1810.

The Cathedral is built on the site of what used to be a Mosque. Tradition says that the Mosque was built circa 1333 by Abdul Hassan, the self-styled King of Gibraltar. On 20 August 1462 (St. Bernards Day) the Moors surrendered Gibraltar to the Duke of Medina Sidonia, who took the title Marquis of Gibraltar. The Medina Sidonias consecrated the mosque as a church. In 1502, Queen Isabella asked that Gibraltar be incorporated into the Crown of Castile. The third Duke of Medina Sidonia agreed. Queen Isabella ordered the rebuilding of the church, in the Gothic style, with a high dock and bell tower. The Church at that time extended to the opposite side of what is now Main Street. During the Great Siege, it suffered tremendous damage. Much of the original church was destroyed during the Great Siege of 1779 -1783, and despite attempts to rebuild it, scant progress was made. In 1790, Governor Boyd’s offered help for the reconstruction, provided the facade was placed further back, in order to straighten Main Street, the offer was accepted. The church has therefore been rebuilt or extensively altered on a number of occasions. Today, it presents a curious blend of British and Spanish architecture.

THE BELL-TOWER

The base of the bell-tower is probably part of the original rebuilding carried out after the Great Siege of 1779-1783. It was added to in 1874, when the present cap was added, and again in 1886, 1906 and 1932. The bells are of particular interest;

The North Bell – This is the oldest bell, and was cast on 9 February 1308. It bears an inscription in Latin which reads “May the voice of my pealing be the terror of demons”. It weighs one ton.

The South Bell – This bell was cast in 1576, and weighs 3/4 ton. Its inscription reads “Jesus, Saviour of Mankind”.

The East Bell – Cast in 1616, this is the smallest bell. It weighs 1/2 ton. The inscription reads, “Ave Maria – Canon Francis, born in Poras”. The bell was either-commissioned by Canon Francis or hung in his time.

The West Bell – This is the largest bell, weighing 1.5 tons. It was cast circa 1660. Its inscription records that Mendoza was the church’s parish priest at the time.

THE PATIO

This is a fragment of the original Patio de los Naranjos, or Courtyard of the Orange Trees. On the east side of the patio, set into the wall, is the much-worn coat-of-arms of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain (early 16th century). Queen Isabella endowed the original rebuilding of the church. The wrought-iron lantern next to the Arms is also of Spanish origin.

The archway forming the entrance to the chapel just off the patio, is part of the original Spanish church, and was known first as the Pina Chapel (after the knight who endowed it) and then as the Capilla de Hierro (The Wrought-Iron Chapel). The height of the arch gives an impression of the height of the original Spanish church. The Capilla de Hierro was reduced to its present size by Bishop Scandella.

CHAPEL OF OUR LADY OF LOURDES

This was the work of Bishop Canilla in 1885. The altar was carved by Tomagnini of Carrara in Italy in 1899. The motif on the front of the altar is the Episcopal seal of Mgr Gonzalo Canilla, who lies buried before the altar in a crypt where only Bishops are now buried, but until the 1800 ‘s, any person who died in Gibraltar had the right to be buried under the floor of the Cathedral.

THE CATHEDRAL INTERIOR

THE HIGH ALTAR

The beautiful altar in Italian marble was originally bound for South America. When the ship carrying this cargo sank in the harbour, the Arengo family salvaged it and donated it to the Cathedral.

The East window is modern, and represents St. Mary the Crowned. The original window bay was smaller, and it was enlarged during the 1931 alterations to the Cathedral. It previously had a large sloping sill. Note the picturesque decorations. round the windows.

There are statues of the four evangelists on the altar. At the base of each is a glass frame, containing relics of the saints. They date back to the Spanish period.

There are various memorial stones on the floor of the sanctuary. Before the High Altar are the memorials to Bishop Fitzgerald (centre), Bishop Healy (right) and Bishop Rapallo (left). Behind the High Altar are simple marble slabs bearing the names of Fr Romero de Figueroa (centre), Andres de Suazo Sanabria (right) and Francisco Mendoza (left). Fr Romero was parish priest when Britain took possession of the Rock in 1704.

Bishop Fitzgerald, in the 1931 alterations, removed the altar and reredos from where they previously stood, with the columns embedded into the wall, and redesigned the sanctuary. The altar table that the Bishop placed in front of the graceful columns is now at the end of the church, where it was moved when the changes in the liturgy required that the altar stand in the centre of the sanctuary.

THE NAVE

This is much narrower than that of the original church, dates from the time of the reconstruction after the Great Siege. The centre bay of the nave was reconstructed by the Elders, before the army stepped in. It is matched in style by the bay immediately to its south. The four corner stones of the vaulting again represent the evangelists. They belonged. probably, to the original Spanish church. During the 1931 reconstruction, they were placed in their present positions. When the arch to the west of this bay was rebuilt after the Siege, stones from the original church were used. However, perhaps in the interest of economy, it was decided that the height should be lower than that of the former church.

THE ORGAN

The present organ was rebuilt in 1979, at the instigation of Bishop Rapallo. This rebuilding was not the first. The original organ was apparently built by Henry Bevington, an English organ builder who constructed many fine organs in the Mediterranean. Some of the original 1850 pipes still remain, and are in good working order.

The present site of the organ loft was chosen in 1932, when Bishop Fitzgerald substantially altered the Cathedral, and transferred the organ (rebuilt in 1927 by public subscription) from the East End above the High Altar to its present position. On transfer, the organ was greatly enlarged by Don Pedro Guillermin. There were further overhauls to the organ in 1951 and 1960 – the latter of which did more harm than good. This necessitated a further major rebuilding in 1979, when the organ was electrified, a new console was installed and a new electromagnetic coupling action. On 26 May 1979, an inaugural organ recital was given to celebrate the end of the work.

ALTAR OF ST. MARY THE CROWNED (to the left of High Altar)

The beautiful vaulting above this altar, the high altar and that of the Blessed Sacrament, to the south of the High Altar, are the only major part of the Spanish Church to have survived the ravages of the Great Siege. The ceilings are Spanish, and belong to the extension added to the Spanish Church about 1550. The arch on the west side of this bay, opposite the altar shows the width of the original north aisle, and indicates the grace of the original Spanish Church.

The beautiful image of St. Mary the Crowned in not the original statue, after which the church is named, this is in the sacristy. There is also a plaque commemorating the death in Gibraltar in 1943 of General Sikorski and above, Icon of Our Lady of Chestochowa Patroness of Poland, presented by Polish exiles.

THE ALTAR OF ST. JOSEPH (on left wall adjacent to Altar of St. Mary the Crowned)

This is the site of the Arengo Altar. The Arengo family were extremely wealthy and donated a magnificent altar to St. Mary the Crowned. It stood here until 1931, when it was transferred to the sanctuary and became the High Altar. The two plaques on the wall recall members of the Arengo family: the father, to the right, and his son – who predeceased him – to the left. The family was of Genoese origin.

The present altar was erected in memory of Joseph Gaggero. This is marked by a tablet to the left of the altar. The tabernacle for the altar is inset into the wall to the right of the door which leads into the Sacristy. The original baptismal font was positioned to the left of the altar, in the space now occupied by the Bishop’s confessional. It was recently replaced by a new, smaller font which stands in front of the altar of St. Mary the Crowned. Look up. The ceiling above this Altar was built by the army, when they rebuilt the church after the destruction of the Great Siege. This is the only ceiling they built which was not a barrel vault. On the east side of the ceiling, there is a tablet bearing the date 1787, the date of completion of this part of the roof.

ALTAR OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT (to the right of the High Altar)

Here stood the altar of Francisco Mendoza. The present marble altar matches that of St. Mary the Crowned in the North Aisle. Of note is the marble tablet on the floor honouring Mgr. Narciso Pallares, who was murdered in the Cathedral by a madman on 4 February 1885. Two other memorial tablets deserve mention: that of Ana Segura of 1874 in the south-west corner, for its beauty; that of John Gavino in the south wall, because he was a great philanthropist.

The silver sanctuary lamp before the Blessed Sacrament is exceptionally beautiful.

The stained glass in the window is modern, and replaced that destroyed in the Bedenham Explosion of 1951.

The following Altars on the left wall are in order, working backwards from the ALTAR OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT

ALTAR OF OUR LADY OF CARMEL

This Altar was sponsored by Dame Gloria Mackintosh in 1938.

ALTAR OF ST. ANTONY

ALTAR OF ST. BERNARD

St. Bernard is joint patron saint of Gibraltar. It was on his feast day (20 August) that Gibraltar was captured in 1462 by the Spaniards from the Moors, and was therefore converted to Christianity.

TABLEAU REPRESENTING CHRIST ON THE CROSS (to the left upon entering Cathedral)

The beautiful tableau against the North wall represents Christ on the Cross, flanked by Our Lady and St. John. The altar stone was originally the High Altar.

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