The ´Santa Cueva de Covadonga´ (or Covadonga´s Saints Cave) is a Catholic sanctuary the region of Asturias in the north of Spain. It is a cave located in the foothills of Mount Auseva or the Picos de Europa (known as Europe´s Peaks). Here we can find the Virgin Covadonga, also affectionately known by the Asturians as “La Santina”, the dear saint.
The name Covadonga means “Lady of the Cave”, originally derived from Latin expression Cova Dominica and then transformed until reaching its current state: Covadonga.
Shortly prior to entering the Saint´s Cave tunnel, up to our right we can observe a bell. This bell has a purely decorative function and weighs in at 5000 Kg, measuring 3 meters high in total. The bell was donated to the Sanctuary by a Swiss Count (Sizzo-Noris) along with D. Luis González Herrero. It was designed by Xaviero Sortini and awarded the first prize at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900 thanks to its beautiful adorned images of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Upon entering the cave, we get an immediate sense of the great respect and devotion with which people are worshipping, lighting candles in prayer, and asking for the Virgin´s Holy intervention so that Christ, our Light, can illuminate our lives and cast out the darkness.
The dear saint (La Santina) is an image of Mary deeply loved by all Asturians, whether it be due to historical reasons, deep rooted tradition, or personal religious experience. It is strongly connected to the people of the area and is undoubtedly one of the clearest, most powerful religious symbols in the whole of Asturias.
The depiction that we can see today is made from 16th Century oak. It measures 71,4 cm in height, including the base, with a width of 46 cm, and depth of 21. The Current Child was added in 1704, featured on the left-hand side of the Mother.
As regards her clothing it is worth noting the mantle which adorns Our Lady all the way from her shoulders down to her feet and falling at an angle on the back towards the base of the pedestal. The colours of the mantle change according to the liturgical times.
The most common mantle is a reddish purple, featuring a gold border. A doublet, long-sleeved shirt fitted at the waist, and skirt with simple print of floral motifs completes it.
Just below the Saint´s Cave is the 7 tubes fountain which takes the shape of a glass from which seven small jets stream out. It is known as the Sacramental Spring.
In popular folklore the fountain is also known as the “spring of marriage”, as an old Asturian legend says: “The Virgin of Covadonga has a very clear spring and the girl from whom it drinks will be married within a year “.
The first king of the rising Asturian kingdom and winner of the battle of Covadonga over the Berbers based in Gijón, Don Pelayo, founded the first capital of Asturias in Cangas de Onís at the beginning of the 8th century. He simultaneously sought to dedicate a place to the permanent worship of the Virgin, to whom he attributed the help received in winning his epic battles. He chose this cave which had already been used for various Celtic rituals in both ancient times and preceding the Romans´ arrival.
Subsequently, King Alfonso I and his wife Dña. Hermelinda who were the successors to Don Pelayo´s throne, ordered a church and Benedictine monastery to be built.
Within the cave we can see D. Pelayo´s sepulcher on the right, just before the image of the Virgin. Slightly harder to spot is D. Alfonso I and his wife Hermelinda´s sepulcher which is a little more hidden. Hermelinda was the daughter of D. Pelayo.
The Basilica of Royal Saint Mary of Covadonga sits just a few meters from the cave of the Dear Saint. It was the combined driving forces of the Archbishop of Oviedo, D. Benito Sanz y Florés, who led the construction of this great monumental temple which restored Covadonga´s previous splendor. Its construction began in 1877 and the temple was then officially blessed and fully inaugurated on September 7th 1901. The architectural plans were commissioned to Roberto Frassinelli, however the project was culminated by his successor Federico Aparici.
The basilica is a Neo-Romanesque style, made of Rosaceous and marble extracted from the very same mountains of Covadonga. It contains a central nave and three graduated apses, a transept and two tall towers on the western façade with a triple open arc portico.
Once inside, several artworks stand out, such as a painting by Luis de Madrazo representing the “Proclamation of King Pelayo”, another by Vicente Carducho depicting “the Annunciation” and finally a beautiful image of Our Lady made by Catalan sculptor Juan Samsó.
Behind the altar visitors can also see Miranda´s work in a replica of the Victory Cross, to the right they can find the Saint Pedro Povedo Chapel, to the left the Blessed Sacrament Sacrament and up to one side the organ, inaugurated in 2001.
The Covadonga Basilica´s crypt is a very special place of worship, which has some fascinating stories behind it, just like so many other places in the ´Real Sitio´. (The Royal Place)
The crypt´s works were overseen by Roberto Frassinelli, the famous “German of Corao”. Indian Asturias has a perceptible presence and influence in Covadonga with evidence of this in the crypt´s marble altar, donated by Antonio Monasterio, an Asturian resident in Cuba.
The altar features an ivory Virgin which awards a unique and cosmopolitan air to a crypt that has already got some remarkable images surrounding it, whose natural light sneaks through a stained-glass window, and who also houses a large confessional.
Lastly, we cannot forget to mention the visitors´ museum which is vital to teach people about the Sanctuary´s rich history, taking them from legendary battlefields in which Don Pelayo (Founder of the Monarchy) initiated the Reconquest, to all the various transformations the Sanctuary has undergone throughout its history.
The Covadonga Virginal image reminds and inspires us to live out all she represents within the history of Jesus´s salvation and that of his disciples of yesterday and today.
The image is deeply rooted in Asturian, Spanish and international pilgrims who visit this place every year in their thousands.
Above all else it is most tangible in those emigrants who, after a long time of separation from their birthplace, are drawn back to Covadonga, their Mother´s home. When they return they feel duty-bound to visit this sacred place, her image unites all children of Asturias more than any other known symbol or religious order.