The Cathedral of Granada was begun in 1529 by the Catholic kings, but remained unfinished. It has a great facade, with three doors, ornamented by statues and bas-reliefs; and is formed by five naves, divided by twenty immense pilasters composed of a group of slender pillars. The chapels contain paintings of Boccanegra, pieces of sculpture by Torrigiani, tombs and precious ornaments. The most beautiful of all is the principal chapel, upheld by twenty Corinthian columns, divided into two rows, on the first of which rise colossal statues of the twelve apostles, and on the second an entablature covered with garlands and heads of cherubims. Above runs a row of lovely stained glass windows, representing the Passion, and from the frieze which crowns them spring ten bold arches that form the roof of the chapel. In the arches supporting the columns are six great paintings of Alonzo Cane, which have the reputation of being his most beautiful and complete work.
When I had made the tour of the chapels and was preparing to leave, I was suddenly seized with the idea that something still remained to be seen. The Catholic kings must, of course, have been buried at Granada, where they fought the last great chivalrous war of the medieval ages, and where they commissioned Christopher Columbus to arm the ships that took him to the New World ! I ran rather than walked to the royal chapel, preceded by a limping guide; an old priest opened the door of the sacristy, and before allowing me to enter and see the tombs, he led me to a species of glass cabinet filled with precious objects, and said: “You know that Isabella the Catholic, in order to furnish Christopher Columbus with the money for the arming of his ships, and not knowing where to find any, as the coffers of state were empty, put her jewels in pawn.” “Yes; well?” I asked impatiently, and foreseeing the answer, felt my heart beating rapidly. “Well,” replied the sacristan, “this is the box in which the queen placed her jewels when sending them to pawn!” Saying which, he opened the door, took out the box, and handed it to me.
Let strong men say what they choose; for my part, these things make me tremble and weep. I have touched the box which contained the treasures by means of which Columbus was enabled to discover America ! Every time that I repeat these words, my blood is stirred within me, and I add : “I have touched it with this hand,” and I look at my hand. That cabinet also contains the sword of King Ferdinand, the crown and scepter of Isabella, a missal and several other ornaments of these two sovereigns.
We entered the chapel, between the altar and a great iron railing which separates it from the remaining space, in front of two large marble mausoleums, ornamented with statues and bas-reliefs of great value. On one of them are stretched the statues of Ferdinand and Isabella, drest in their royal robes, with crown, sword, and scepter. On the other are the statues of two other princes of Spain. Around the statues are lions, angels, coats of arms, and various ornaments, which present a regally austere and magnificent aspect.
The sacristan lighted a torch, and, pointing to a kind of trap-door situated in the pavement which separates the two mausoleums, begged me to raise it, so that we could go down below. The guide assisted me, we opened the trap, the sacristan descended, and I followed him down a narrow staircase to a little subterranean room, in which were five lead caskets, each one marked with two initials surmounted by a crown. The sacristan lowered the torch, and, touching them one by one, said to me in a slow and solemn voice:
“Here reposes the great Queen Isabella the Catholic. Here reposes the great King Ferdinand V. Here reposes the King Philip I. Here reposes Queen Joanna the mad. Here reposes Dona Maria, her daughter, who died at the age of nine years. God have them all in his holy keeping.”
Then planting his torch in the ground, he crossed his arms and closed his eyes, as if to give me time for my meditations.