Covadonga, Spain – The village of Kings

Located on the northern Spanish coast, Asturias is one of the Spanish autonomous communities that lie to the west of Cantabria. Officially known as the Principality of Asturias, the area is well known for its mountains (the Picos de Europa). The mountains also set the culture apart from the rest of Spain. For example individual villages are famous for their different kinds of cheese and the region is a cider producing one; the rest of Spain does not produce cider, generally preferring wine, beer or related products.

One of the subdivisions of Asturias is the municipality of Cangas de Onís, which contains the parish of Covadonga. This parish named after the town of the same name hosts a large basilica known as the Basílica de Santa María la Real de Covadonga.

Covadonga is a religion-heavy town and has three famous sites: the Basilica and the Santa Cueva (holy cave) with the attached Monastery of Saint Peter.

Basílica de Santa María la Real de Covadonga

While the current Basilica is only a couple of centuries-old, it has been a site of religious worship for over a thousand years. A church constructed in 740 out of wood received its dedication to the Virgin Mary, St John the Baptist and St Andrew. It was “the Temple of Miracles” (Templo de Milagro) and stood until 1777. A fire ripped through at this time, destroying it. 1877 to 1901 saw the construction of the current Basilica as a minor basilica.

The modern basilica draws many tourists every year. It overlooks the rest of the town with the exception of the Santa Cueva, which is around the same altitude. In my opinion the inside of the basilica was nothing worth visiting; it was very dark and stank of incense. I found the smell was very overwhelming; it was less impressive than other basilicas over similar calibre I have visited in the past.

My recommendation is to use the time you would have spent wandering around the inside to walk around the entire building looking at the views that it offers of the surrounding areas, which are worth it.

Here are some more photos of the Santuari:

Santa Cueva de Covadonga

The reason there is human life around this area is due entirely to Santa Cueva de Covadonga. The word ‘Covadonga’ comes from ‘Cova de onnica’, which translates as the ‘fountain of the cave’. The legend goes that a man to rule Asturias (Don Pelayo, 698-737) was pursuing a criminal who took refuge in this cave. Here, the king met a hermit who said that the criminal was now under the protection of the Virgin Mary of the Cave, who would also protect the king in the future during his time of need.

The first structure built within the cave was during the reign of Alfonso I (739-757). It commemorated the victory of the Battle of Covadonga between Don Pelayo’s forces and the Arabs. There are three altars: one for the Virgin Mary, one for St John the Baptist and one for St Andrew. Additionally, a chapel was built for the Virgin Mary, which survived in 1777. In 1777 the same fire that destroyed the cathedral also claimed the chapel in the cave. The wooden statue of the Virgin Mary also went in the process. A 16th-century statue donated by the Cathedral in Oviedo in 1778 replaced it; the chapel was rebuilt in the neo-romantic style. There was a scandal when this statue disappeared in 1939; it appeared in the Spanish embassy in France. The Nationalist government brought it back post haste.

Underneath this cave, which sits partially submerged in the rock face, flows (at least when there is no drought) a waterfall that empties into a river, which itself runs through a garden connected to the royal family (as the heir to the thrown as known as the Prince/Princess of Asturias). Unfortunately, during our visit at the height of summer, the waterfall was non-existent.

My recommendation: as someone who is an atheist, I usually visit religious sites for their beauty/aesthetics. While the cave itself has a certain natural beauty, the new statue was especially disappointing, made even more so being the central attraction to the cave. The group of people that I was with (some more religious than others) did find it impressive thought the site to lack both quality and gravitas. Part of it may be due to some tourists who were disrespectful of the situation and the atmosphere that the site should have had. If I could go back in time, I would recommend seeing the cave from the Basilica and from the bottom of the waterfall. In fact, I didn’t take any pictures while in the cave. I was very disappointed by the experience.

Visiting Covadonga

Overall recommendation: while Covadonga is a nice town to view. It also has some wonderful vantage points for viewing the surrounding valley. The inside of several of the sites were a disappointment. My recommendation would be to see these from the outside rather than going inside. This is especially true if you have seen other basilicas and chapels. One of my positive experiences from the town of Covadonga was one of the local bar/cafés near the basilica. This was where I first had Asturian cider.

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