Thematically, the portal reliefs of the south transept entrance of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela follow directly from those of the Porta Francigena. Each of its two doorways has a stone carved tympanum relief sculpture, one of the Temptation of the Lord and the other of the Instruments of the Passion.
The original design for the twin reliefs at the Puerta de las Plateriás were for relatively small lunettes. However this plan was immediately revised and each lunette was enlarged into a more substantial tympanum. In the process the coherence of the iconographic programme was affected detrimentally.
The original reliefs were carried out by the same sculptor or workshop responsible for the capitals in the church and cloister at Conques. The same hand has been attributed to several capitals in the eastern end of the cathedral at Compostela and subsequently, to the celebrated Last Judgment tympanum at Conques abbey.
On the left hand tympanum the theme of these initial carved reliefs was of the Instruments of the Passion. These featured the Coronation of the Crown of Thorns, the Scourge, the Nails of the Crucifixion and the Pillar of the Flagellation. The Cross itself is included, borne significantly not by Christ but by Simon the Cyrenean, since the subject was not the Passion but its Instruments. These scenes were to be surmounted by the Adoration of the Magi.
This programme, although still recognizable, was never realized in its original form when the decision was taken to amplify the spaces over the doorways. Additional reliefs were required for the enlarged space and some elements were repositioned. This is the case with the Adoration of the Magi, which was moved from an intended position towards the right in order to accommodate the new reliefs which were carved by the same sculptor responsible for the Porta Francigena.
An angel bearing a nailed crown was placed to the right of the Virgin and on the first register, the Instruments of the Passion now included additional reliefs of the Arrest of Christ and the Curing of the Blind Man. Above the Three Magi, a horizontal angel with star admonished Mary and Joseph to avoid Herod’s men.
The Plateriás entrance led directly to the chapel of Saint John the Baptist, inside the southern transept, which functioned as the cathedral’s baptistery and the theme of baptism was intentionally invoked in the tympanum’s sculptures by the Instruments of the Passion, an allusion to the blood of Christ washing the sins of humanity.
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