A year of anniversaries

The convergence of an incomparable natural setting and historical episodes of great importance explain why Covadonga is a place of special importance for Asturian and Spanish identity. A devotion and the performance of a pilgrimage are added to this which turn this spot into a place where spirituality -beyond everyone's belief- can be experienced in complete connection with the past and nature.

Its best manifestation is a natural cave, a scene of history, where an image of the Virgin which the Asturian society coronated in their hearts one hundred years ago is venerated. Therefore, in 2018, in the commemoration of the triple celebration, a Marian Jubilee Year will be celebrated that allows the jubilee to benefit and the pilgrims to profit from full indulgence.

Our Lady of Covadonga

One hundred years of a coronation

In 1918, Our Lady of Covadonga was coronated at the Royal Site

The connection between Covadonga and the Marian devotion is intimate, although it could be the Christianisation of a previous pagan worshipping of the waters or natural divinities, certainly from the medieval times the place has been clearly a site of devotion to the Virgin Mary.

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An ancient ceremony

The birth and development of the Marian devotion of Covadonga in the first medieval centuries is not well-known, although it is very probable that the tradition of the miracle intervention of the virgin in the Pelagian combat led to a first veneration to this "Virgin of Battles." In the 12th century, the first testimonies appeared that accredited the existence of a place of worship in Covadonga, which soon received the support of the Spanish kings and queens and, since Modernity, from the Spanish Monarchy, interested in strengthening its foundational landmark in this place in Asturias. Undoubtedly, this support resulted in an extension of the devotion and the increase of the pilgrimages, the vows and the promises, that have been incessant throughout history.

1918, an exceptional year

On 8 September 1918, the sanctuary experienced an exceptional event. On the 12th Centenary of the Battle of Covadonga, the image of the Santina with baby Jesus was canonically coronated. This is a liturgic ritual that signals the notion of the Virgin Mary as Queen of the Church. A favour that the bishop of Oviedo had requested for the occasion from the pope and that took place that day in Covadonga counting on the presence of the King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenia de Battemberg, as well as the cardinal Victoriano Guisasola Menéndez, several bishops and many devout Christians.

When the Virgin was in Paris

During the Spanish Civil War, the sanctuary was closed, the worship elements were removed and it was used as a hospital. At the request of Indalecio Prieto, the Provincial Committee of the Popular Front commissioned Faustino Goico-Aguirre, provincial delegate of Fine Art, to collect the image of the Virgen de Covadonga that had been jealously kept by some nuns and nurses who worked in the well-equipped hospital in the sanctuary and he moved it to Gijón, to the Ateneo Obrero. In September 1937, the image was moved to the Spanish embassy in Paris, along with other pieces of art. At the end of March 1939, when the war was about to end, the news broke of the Virgin's presence at the embassy. The new national government and the bishop from Oviedo organised her return to the Sanctuary where she arrived on 6 July 1939.

History of a centennial hymn

The centenary of 1918 and the canonical coronation of the virgin were the ideal time to compose a hymn that served as a musical identifying feature for the sanctuary and the Marian devotion, as well as remembrance of the historic facts of Covadonga, with undoubtable value for Asturias and for the whole of Europe. It was an initiative started by Don Fermín Canella, rector of the University of Oviedo and chronicler of Asturias, through which a composition competition was held and the entry by Sagastizábal was selected, with lyrics by Restituto del Valle. Thus, in September of 1918, "Bendita la Reina de Nuestras Montañas was played for the first time in the sanctuary, which has the cradle of Spain" for a throne and it has been heard so many times until today.

Holy Cavea

"Cova Dominica", the Cave of Our Lady

A cave with a lot of history

This etymology is clearly a testimony to the importance that the Marian devotion has in this place. Some legends speak of a prehistoric heritage in the time of Pelayo or founding by Alfonso I, but what is certain is that a monastic community in Covadonga has only been documented since the beginning of the 12th century.

However the true story went, this is a millennial devotion in a scene of exuberant nature where the formidable mountains, the thick woods, the powerful water and definitely the grand landscape compose an ensemble of infinite beauty apt for spiritual worship.

The hanging temple, the "Miracle of Covadonga"
Panoramic view of the Holy Cave

The first temple of which there is proof in Covadonga was located in the cave, built out of thin air. It was a small wooden structure -except for a stony chapel that housed the image- that, jutting out, was attached to the cave and supported on overhanging beams that seemed to dangle from the mountain. It was the so-called "Miracle of Covadonga", as it was thought that it had been built by angels for the glory of the Virgin. It was accessible through the Staircase of Promises which still exists today, that ascends to the cave, parallel to the old collegiate church.

The fire of 1777
Cave engraving before 1777

This complex constituted the Sanctuary of Covadonga which was visited and discovered by illustrious scholars and the Spanish Crown took it firmly under their direct protection from Felipe II onwards. However, on 17 October 1777, an accidental fire - possibly caused by the lamps in the chapel - reduced the temple to ashes, losing jewels, offerings, ornaments and the image of the Virgin itself. The wooden construction and its precipitous position made it impossible to fight the fire. On that day, a heritage site was completely lost, its remains retrieved from the river days later.

Ventura Rodríguez's failed project
Woodcut of the Collegiate Church in 1860

After the fire, the cannons went to the Crown to request funds that would enable its reconstruction. The Cámara de Castilla assigned the task of designing the new temple to the prestigious architect Ventura Rodríguez from the San Fernando Academy of Fine Art. In 1780, he proposed a majestic neoclassical basilica with two floors over the reservoir in front of the cave. Prominence was given to the monarchy, focusing the temple on Pelayo's mausoleum and keeping the Santina in the cave, visible through a large window. Although a first proposal was remunerated, the opposition of the cannons towards the design meant that they could only build and channel the reservoir under the cave and in 1796 the building work was permanently stopped.

The 19th century under the influence of Roberto Frassinelli
Frassinelli Alcove in 1906

A visit from the Dukes of Montpensier to the Sanctuary in 1857 and especially that of Queen Isabel II the following year triggered a push to revive the building work in Covadonga. Nicolás Cástor de Caunedo presented a historicist temple project to the Queen herself with a new monument to the Pelagian monarchy. But this project was not finished either, neither were other attempts by the Regional Monument Commission. It was not until the episcopate Sanz y Forés contracted Roberto Frassinelli that a renovation of the cave came into being in 1875: the arrangement of a carved wooden alcove with lavish decoration inspired by Asturian pre-Romanesque art, where the Virgin was placed, leaving the rest of the cave empty.

The Holy Cave today
Holy Cave

After the Spanish Civil War, the destruction caused to the cave led to the dismantling of the alcove and the construction of the surroundings that are visible in the cave today. A mission assigned to the architect Luis Menéndez Pidal sought to make the natural environment of the cave and its landscape the protagonist, together with the image of the Virgin. To this end, he built a small chapel following the patterns of the Asturian Pre-Romanesque style and sought out modest decoration that turned the cave into a real natural temple.

The Basilica of Covadonga
Crypt of Frassinelli
Inside the Basilica of Covadonga
Crypt of Frassinelli

The Basilica of Covadonga

On the day of the consecration of the Alcove of the cave in 1874, the bishop from Oviedo, Benito Sanz y Forés announced to the devout Christians his intention to bestow the Sanctuary with a monumental temple. Although it was still a few years before he was able to carry it out, he decided to build this "Covadonga cathedral" -as it was called for many years- in the cerro del Cueto, a small elevation in the centre of the valley in front of mount Auseva which offers a spectacular view of the Holy Cave and its natural surroundings.

Once again, it was Frassinelli who was chosen to design the building, continuing with the medieval revival initiated with the alcove, although this time, the chosen style was Neo-Romanesque. Frassinelli's project was not executed as planned and the final person in charge of the work was the architect Federico Aparici y Soriano. Thus, in 1877 the work started with the clearing of the cerro del Cueto. The King Alfonso XII was in charge of detonating the first of the blast holes.

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Surroundings of the Basilica of Covadonga
Pelayo Hotel
Favila Hostal

A place for rituals and pilgrimages

Covadonga is a universal place of reference for spirituality

Covadonga is much more than just the Holy Cave and the Basilica. The Sanctuary complex is supplemented with other constructions such as those already mentioned, Pelayo Hotel and Favila Hostal, among others. However, Covadonga is undoubtedly to a large extent the people who are there, those who live and go to the sanctuary or the pilgrims and visitors who approach the spot. They are the human landscape of Covadonga, as rich and fundamental as the remarkable spiritual and natural landscape in the Royal Site and its surroundings.

San Fernando Collegiate Church
San Fernando Collegiate cloister
Romanesque tombs

The San Fernando Collegiate Church is the oldest building in the Sanctuary, although it has not survived in its original form. At the bottom of the cave, on the level of the last flight of the Staircase of Promises, there was a first monastic building with a cloister that served as a residence for the abbot and cannons who from at least the 12th century were in charge of worship in the hanging temple. It was a very modest building and its age is testified by the Romanesque tombs that are preserved in the cloister of the Collegiate Church.

The passage of time made that first building deteriorate and become uninhabitable. It was the royal patronage which between the 16th and 17th centuries, bestowed on the religious community a new monastery. And thus, from this encouragement, the building that is visible today was derived, in a space apparently attached to the mountain: a rectangular structure with two floors around an interior patio and cloister, with a tower at one end and the chapel on the side next to the cave.

After the Spanish Civil War, a twin building was built with the Collegiate Church which was the Casa de Novenas and in the space between both, an ornamental fountain was erected inspired by the period of Carlos III.

Covadonga Church Choir

Music has always been one of the identifying traits of worship in Covadonga. Since the last century, music at the Royal Site has been personified by the Church Choir. It is a child choir that contributes to the liturgy and veneration of the Santina, bestowing the celebrations with a certain solemnity.

The group of child singers between 8 and 18 years who make up this Church Choir live in the Sanctuary during the school year. In their study, they combine their academic learning with a lot of music and choir practise under the direction of well-known musicians.

Over the past decades, many former choir singers have made music their professional career - conductors of orchestras, choirs, conservatoire teachers and instrumentalists-, and some of them as teachers of the next generations of the Church Choir.

Female religious orders

Although their presence can often go unnoticed, the Sanctuary of Covadonga owes a lot of its being to the nuns that are part of the permanent community around the Sanctuary. Currently, there are two female communities that live in Covadonga. Those who arrived most recently are the Hijas de Santa María del Corazón de Jesús, a congregation that since the end of 2014, has served the pilgrims that arrive at the Diocesan House of Spirituality located in front of the San Fernando Collegiate Church. On that year, they took over from the Esclavas del Corazón Inmaculado de María, who had performed the role since 1968.

Additionally, the Hermanas Carmelitas Mensajeras del Espíritu Santo, a community founded in Brazil in 1984, are in charge of the choir boys.

Finally, the presence of the devoted lay sisters belonging to the Teresian Association should be mentioned, who live in Covadonga and work every day on the care and maintenance of the clothing of the Santina and the liturgy.

Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II

Throughout History, many pilgrims have visited Covadonga. Most of them are anonymous walkers who have arrived at this point, but others have left their name and even the tale of their journey. Among them, a few names should be highlighted like Queen Isabel II, who in 1858 attended the Sanctuary in the company of her children Alfonso and Mª Isabel, who received confirmation in the Cave from the royal chaplain, San Antonio María Claret, founder of the Claretians.

Although not on a pilgrimage, but living in Covadonga as a canon, Pedro Poveda dedicated himself in the Sanctuary to the study of teaching issues at the beginning of the 20th century and here, his project of founding the Teresian Institution was realised. Decades later, in 1954, the cardinal Angelo Roncalli, future Pope John XXIII, made a pilgrimage to Covadonga. Admiring the beauty of the landscape, the then patriarch of Venice qualified Covadonga as "nature's smile." Also prayed to the Virgin in Covadonga, St. José María Escrivá de Balaguer, St. Manuel González, Práxedes Fernández and Pope John Paul II, during his visit in 1989.

The Pilgrimage Routes

The ways to Covadonga

Many people throughout history have directed their footsteps in order to show their devotion before the Virgin in Covadonga or simply to enjoy the spirituality and nature that can be experienced there. The walking of these travellers, most of them anonymous, has marked routes and paths on the map that lead from different places to the Sanctuary and Picos de Europa.

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Pilgrimage Route (Oviedo-Covadonga)

Pilgrimage Route

Oviedo - Covadonga.
Andariega Route (Gijón-Covadonga)

Andariega Route

Gijón - Covadonga.
The Reconquista route (Sotres-Covadonga)

The Reconquista route

Sotres - Covadonga.
Oriente Route (Llanes-Covadonga)

Oriente Route

Llanes - Covadonga.

A feeling called Covadonga

Covadonga is a unique universe in the fullest sense of the word. A world of curious stories and limitless emotions that touch the heart of the visitor and many of these stories have the Virgin as the protagonist. A visit to Covadonga brings a plethora of possibilities into the traveller's reach, to immerse themselves wholly in a unique place that is beyond geography and maps and that often evokes a noble and deep-rooted feeling.

Novena to Covadonga

Our Lady of Covadonga has incited since time immemorial a passionate and exhilarating devotion that expresses itself in different ways such as the promises - very visible in the famous Staircase of promises that ascends to the Holy Cave-, or the Novena - a period of nine days of worship, prayers and procession that end each year on 8 September, the Celebration of Our Lady of Covadonga and Asturias Day-, and that reunite thousands of faithful Christians and visitors.

In particular, due to the devout passion that the Santina awakens, it is common to find images of her throughout Asturias in churches and chapels, as well as other civic spaces and even in homes. Beyond Asturias, Our Lady of Covadonga has always been a key symbol of Asturian identity.

This identifying emotion called Covadonga has caught on strongly in all the Asturian communities outside of the Principality and in a very visible way in Asturian Centres throughout the world: in Spain, in other European countries, in America, Asia, Australia etc.

Covadonga is definitely a symbolic and spiritual expression of ‘Asturianity'.

Our Lady of Covadonga and her cloaks

La Santina, "small and good-looking" as is fondly said of her by many, is dressed in a cloak and this is how she is seen regularly by the pilgrims and visitors. Our Lady of Covadonga has more than fifty cloaks, donated by different public figures and institutions throughout the centuries — the oldest fully conserved one is the one donated by Isabel II—. Changed frequently, they offer the pilgrim an image of great colour and stylistic variety of Our Lady and the baby.

On her head is a crown adorned with pearls around the edges and diamonds embedded with a dove representing the Holy Spirit, work of the priest and goldsmith from Lena, Félix Granda Buylla. And on the baby's head is another small crown, this one imperial, with crosses and fleur-de-lis on precious stones. They are the crowns offered by devout Asturians in 1918. The golden rose in her hand completes the image, an offering from the Teresian Association, which replaces the palm or baton that she could have had previously, judging from the preserved imprints.

The Siete Caños fountain and the well

The silence that reigns inside the cave is interrupted by the natural spectacle that occurs underneath it: the waterfall or "jet" of the river Mestas that flows resoundingly from the stone into the reservoir popularly known as "the well", the channeling of which was the only work that the Ventura Rodríguez project achieved. Frequently, the pilgrims and visitors make an offering to the Santina in the form of coins, throwing them into the well.

Under the cave, on the left-hand side path of this reservoir, the Siete Caños Fountain or the Marriage Fountain can be found, as the Asturian tale recounts "Our Lady of Covadonga has a very clear fountain. Any girl who drinks from it will be married within a year.".

The Campanona

Covadonga is a place with prodigious stories, and one of these stories is that of the Campanona which is located in the immediate surroundings of the Holy Cave, in a high-up, peaceful place with splendid views over the esplanade of the Basilica.

The Campanona, as it is popularly known, measures three metres in height and weighs five thousand kilos and it has a romantic story: it was cast in La Felguera (Langreo) at the end of the 19th century by the Asturian Metallurgical Company, owned by the Austrian engineer Arnaldo de Sizzo, Earl of Sizzo-Noris. Taken to the World Exposition in Paris in 1900, it received first prize in its category. After some time had passed - around the decade of the 1950s - the bell was donated to the Sanctuary of Covadonga.

The Campanona is a true work of art. The inscriptions sculpted by the Italian Francesco Saverio Sortini on the iron are simply spectacular, surprising, a whole universe of classical stories, Christian as well as pagan.

Constant cultural activity in Covadonga during the Jubilee Year

2018 is an exceptional year in history and in the everyday life of the Royal Site of Covadonga. On the occasion of the Centenary of the Coronation of Our Lady of Covadonga and baby Jesus, and the celebration of the Marian Jubilee Year, there will be intense, constant pastoral activity in Covadonga.

Sanctuary of Covadonga

Sanctuary of Covadonga

All the cultural and spiritual activity in the Sanctuary of Covadonga on the occasion of the Centenary of Our Lady of Covadonga and the Marian Jubilee Year.

Marian Jubilee Year - Covadonga 2018

Marian Jubilee Year - Covadonga 2018

Everything you need to know to experience the Marian Jubilee Year which is being celebrated in Covadonga between 8 September 2017 and 8 September 2018.

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  • Cangas de Onís City CouncilCangas de Onís City Council
  • Regional Government of the Principality of AsturiasRegional Government of the Principality of Asturias
  • Asturias Natural ParadiseAsturias Natural Paradise
  • Marian Jubilee YearMarian Jubilee Year
  • Picos de Europa National ParkPicos de Europa National Park
  • LiberbankLiberbank
  • Fundación EDPFundación EDP