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Oratory of La Santa Cueva
Address: Calle Rosario, 10
The most important sight in Cadiz is the Oratory of La Santa Cueva (the Holy Cave). The outside of the building is not impressive and does not give a hint of what is inside the building. There is a small nominal fee to see it. Everyday there is a different volunteer guide (free) who explains everything. If one is lucky, one will get Jose Manuel Rabina, a retired colonel in the Spanish Navy. He gives the most splendid explanation of what is found in the building.
In the early 18th century, a fraternity of men met every Thursday to meditate on the Passion of Christ. In 1730 the fraternity moved to the Rosario parish church for their meetings. In 1756 they found a cave underground, which they cleaned up and where they continued their religious meetings. The group was then called the Brotherhood of the Santa Cueva. In 1771 the Jesuit priest called Jose Saenz de Santamaria started conducting the meetings. Father Santamaria was born in Veracruz, Mexico, and was the second child of the Marquis of Valde-Iñigo, a very rich man who made his fortune in business and trade. Father Santamaria decided to enlarge the cave and reform the attached Rosario church, with his own money. He hired the architect Torcuato Cayon, who had worked on the Cathedral. After Cayon died, his disciple Torcuato Benjumeda finished the work in 1783 and the place was called the Oratory of La Santa Cueva.
It so happened that the Marquis died and left his fortune to his first born, who also died soon after that. The fortune then passed to Father Santamaria! By this time, the fortune was one of the largest in Spain! Father Santamaria then decided to build the upper chapel, which was finished in 1796.
The lower chapel, where the cave was, is called the penitential chapel. There is little furniture and everything is plain. The altar has a sculpture of Christ crucified, and He is surrounded by the Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist, and Mary Magdalene, Mary Cleofas, and Mary Salome. The mood in this chapel is very solemn. However one can hear the beautiful music of Haydn coming from above.
The upper chapel is called the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament. This chapel is very luxurious and beautiful, and is a jewel. There are eight large Ionic columns made of jasper, in a room with the shape of an ellipse. The altar is made of silver and jasper, with a beautiful design. The floor of the chapel has a marvelous design in marble of different colors. The most important thing is that towards the ceiling, there are five lunettes with paintings, and three of them were painted by Goya. On two walls there are huge stucco reliefs that show scenes in the lives of saints.
Father Santamaria commissioned the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn to compose the music for the oratory. Haydn composed the work called "The Last Seven Words of Our Savior on the Cross", which is now played in Cadiz during Holy Week. The cities of Berlin and Vienna wrongfully claimed credit for commissioning the work in the past! This oratory is now considered the most beautiful neoclassic work in Cadiz.