The Cámara Santa – The Cathedral’s Holy Chamber
Accessed through a passage on the southern side of the Cathedral, the Pre-Romanesque Cámara Santa dates from the 9th century. It was originally King Alfonso’s private chapel, and today houses some of the most important relics in Asturias. In 1998, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.
Three treasures stand out in the collection of the Cámara Santa. The Cross of the Angels is the symbol of Oviedo, a Greek-style cross crafted by two angels in the guise of pilgrims, or so the legend goes. The cross suffered massive damage during the Miner’s Strike of 1934, and was stolen from the Cámara Santa in 1977. The robbers took it apart, meaning to sell the individual pieces, though the cross was mostly recovered.
More well known is the Victory Cross, which features on the Asturian flag. The wooden cross is covered in gold and ornamented with precious jewels. It was given to the Cathedral in the 10th century, and legend maintains that this was the cross carried by Pelayo during the history-altering Battle of Covadonga, when a rag-tag group of Christians defeated an overwhelming Moorish army at the beginning of the Reconquista.
Another treasure of the Cámara Santa is the Agate Casket, a beautifully ornate golden box from the 10th century. Like always, the legend about the box’s origin is far more colorful than the likely truth. Many moons ago, a great Moorish king arrived on the shores of Asturias bearing the Agate Casket, insisting on handing it to the priest of Luarca. After he departed, the Asturian villagers watched in terror as a pack of wolves emerged from the woods and surrounded them. But rather than attack, the wolves simply knelt in front of the casket and howled. SUCH IS THE POWER OF THE AGATE CASKET!!
The Cámara Santa is cool, for both its age and architecture. Above the entrance door, float the disembodied heads of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, surely the room’s weirdest feature. The sacred items on display may be more interesting to Asturians who grew up with the legends than to clueless foreigners, but the chamber is still worth the price of entry.