The construction of the first Episcopal seat, strictly speaking, commenced in 1535 by order of the bishop of Santo Domingo, Don Sebastian Ramirez de Funleal, and was concluded in 1544 during the time of bishop Juan Lopez de Zarate. It was a basilica of three naves, with stonewalls and columns, each cut from single stones. The monolithic columns of Mitla probably served to inspire the cathedral builders, given that this practice had disappeared centuries earlier in Europe. The roof was made from wooden beams and between 1553 and 1581 the damages caused to the beams by earthquakes were repaired. At that time the wing chapels must have existed, in which the altarpiece sculptor Andres de la Concha lived and worked between 1574 and 1594, unfortunately there are no traces of this paintings.
By occupying the Episcopal seat, the bishop Monterroso proposed to the chapter, that the naves be extended with two center to center extensions up to the end and the roofs be domed, which ignited a fiery controversy. The works were concluded around 1680, but the earthquakes of 1694 and 1714, the latter being one of the most severe to be registered in Oaxaca, gravely damaged the edifice. After various years of reconstruction, during the Christmas of 1730 the temple was finally opened and the consecration by the bishop Santiago y calderon did not occur until 1733.
Few changes were made until the second half of the 19th century but, in 1870, due to the then recent earthquakes remodeling was begun, gaining momentum as of 1887, when Monsignor Eulogio Gillow took charge of the Episcopal seat, promoted in 1891 to Archbishop. Architecturally, the principal layout of the cathedral of Oaxaca is the basilica of three naves with lateral chapels. Its crossed shaped plan is based on Roman architecture of covered market places and the first christian temples. However, there is a main interpretation regarding such plan, in that the cross is not found in the last third of the longitudinal axis perhaps due to the enlargement of the temple in the 17th century, together with the lack of apse.
Another peculiarity is the succession of three altars, choir stall and places of the parishioners down the lenght of the main nave: The altar of Pardon which precedes the main entrance of the temple, is associated with the popular nature of the rites carried out with in. This is not the case concerning the imposing choir stall and spacious presbytery where the main altar is found. The sequence ends with the back wall, where the altar of the kings was located and where the composition of the altar of the Holly spirit is found.
The frequency of the earthquakes in the region explains the prudent 16 meters height of the main nave, the 2 meters section of the pilasters made up of the Toscan order and the similar thickness of the walls and counter forts. Spherical vaults cover the main nave, the arms of the cross and the aisles. On a lower level, tunnel vaults cover the lateral chapels, which represent a constructive advantage: the dividing walls act as counter forts which support powerful lateral strain.
The appearance of the main facade of almost square proportions correspond to an elaborate baroque. Intensively elaborated panels on the doors with diverse carving in relief, recesses carved with the figures of saints in the intercolumniations, decorated columns, plinths, arches and stripes, all of which contribute to the formidable visual effect of the facade.
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