The name of Platerías given to the south transept entrance of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is generally considered to refer to the silversmiths whose stalls proliferated on the square below, selling trinkets to pilgrims. The basilica was an integral part of the urban topography of the town of Compostela and the two arms of its transepts connected the pilgrimage with the city as though it were a street.
Accordingly, there have been suggestions that the name Plateriás derives from the Latin word “platea”, meaning a public way and which by the medieval period had come to indicate a location where judicial ceremonies were performed. This was indeed the function of the space immediately in front of the south transept doors.
At the end of the eleventh century large scale sculptural ensembles began to be introduced over the doorways of Romanesque churches. In a practice long abandoned since the end of Antiquity, such images placed within the hemicycle formed between the lintel and arch over a doorway and known as a tympanum were now being revived.
Controversy still exists with regard to the dating of these first large Romanesque programmes. Saint Sernin de Toulouse begun in 1070 at the eastern end, did not feature a carved portal relief at the south transept entrance. However by the time construction reached a second portal further west along the nave, a large scale relief was included. The tympanum of the Ascension of the Porte de Miegeville is a brilliantly accomplished work of sculpture and architecture with a fully realised iconographic programme. It is generally considered to have been created in the first half of the first decade of the twelfth century.
In contrast, the double reliefs of the Puerta de las Plateriás believed to date from 1101, seem far less successful. It may be that the deficiencies of the tympana are due to poor planning and craft and that the technical problems of fitting sculpted stone slabs into the inherently problematic area afforded by a tympanum had not been fully considered. The result is a seemingly confused arrangement of differing styles and materials lacking any obvious coherent thematic significance.
Furthermore, the apparent confusion of the sculptural arrangements cannot be ascribed to the depredations of long centuries, since the description provided in the Pilgrim’s Guide is remarkably true to what remains to this day.
This is because major revisions had already been effected within the first decade of the initial work.
Biblio: Santiago de Compostela in the time of Diego Gelmirez, Barbara Abou-El-Haj, Gesta XXXVI/2 1997
Reading Romanesque Sculpture: The Iconography and Reception of the South Portal Sculpture at Santiago de Compostela, Karen Rose Mathews, Gesta XXXIX/1 2000
The Romanesque Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela: A Reassessment, Christabel Watson, BAR International Series 1979-2009
The Codex Calixtinus as an Art-Historical Source, S Moralejo in John Williams / Alison Stones The Codex Calixtinus and the Shrine of St. James 1992
Manuel Castiñeiras: Didacus Gelmirez, Patron of the arts. Compostela’s long journey: From the periphery to the centre of Romanesque art. Compostela and Europe : the story of Diego Gelmírez.Milano : Skira, c2010.
Topographie Sacrée, Liturgie Pascale et Reliques dans les grands centres de pèlerinage: Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, Saint-Isidore-de-Léon et Saint-Étienne-de-Ribas-de-Sil, Manuel Antonio Castiñeiras González, Les Cahiers de Saint-Michel de Cuxa, XXXIV, 2003
The Basilica in Compostela and the way of Saint James, John Williams, Compostela and Europe : the story of Diego Gelmírez.Milano : Skira, c2010.