I am going to highlight this forgotten and ignored church-chapel, perhaps, by many of us. We call it a church and not a chapel (as many authors call it) because this small temple was undoubtedly the first Cathedral of Tarragona.
When San Olegario reconquered our city from the power of the Arabs, he must have sought, first of all, to build a temple where the ceremonies of worship were celebrated, and this temple was the one that occupies us, whose cover, as can be judged by the photograph of this writing, it is a beautiful example of Romanesque art. Tradition has wanted to give this church, like that of Saint Paul, an exaggerated antiquity, supposing that it was built at the time of Saint Paul’s preaching and on the occasion of his coming to Tarragona (another day we can comment on this church). But that antiquity cannot be admitted, because the temple is, evidently, from the first half of the 12th century, that is, after the year 1118, when Saint Olegario reconquered Tarragona.
The facade is made up of a semicircular arched door, although it seems to have a lintel with a simple tympanum, this door being inscribed in a large quadrilateral formed by two thin columns and a frieze. The door and the quadrangle resemble a triumphal arch, like the Bará arch. A narrow window opens over the frieze, also ending in a half point, the ends of the façade are two somewhat advanced buttresses or buttresses, the one on the right with a column and on them rest the ends of the triangular pediment on which the façade ends.
The complex, although rough and neglected, is very elegant, and it certainly seduces because it has all the characteristics of Romanesque architecture in its purest form. Primitively this temple must have been covered by a wooden frame, as was customary in small churches, whose lack of robustness did not allow a half-barrel vault to be built. Maybe he could have had this vault; but in the 14th century the vault or the wooden frame disappeared to build the current roof that is ogival in taste, like that of the chapel of San Pablo. Then the church was widened, giving it the shape of a T, although only the right arm was built, because the left one ran into a huge unevenness in the land that annulled the building.
Being this church the “primitive Tarragona Cathedral”, the first religious festivals were celebrated in it, the first archbishops were consecrated in it, and there those famous councils met that gave the church of Tarragona its first constitutions D. Bernardo Tort, successor of San Olegario, thus it was arranged in the constitution that it promulgated in 1154 creating the Metropolitan Cabildo. «In the church of Santa Tecla, he said: the solemn offices will be celebrated on Sundays and other festivals of the year, as well as the councils and the consecrations of the prelates».
Greater honor cannot be given for such a small church. It was carrying out that venerable mission for nearly a century, until the year 1230 when the cult was transferred to the Cathedral. Then it was relegated to the category of “cemetery chapel” that was located next to the apse of the Basilica, and this explains the countless tombs and tombstones that exist inside this small church, to the point of looking like a funerary museum. For the chapel of the cemetery it became insufficient, because on the occasion of an epidemic that devastated the city in 1348, such was the number of beneficiaries and coadjutors of the parishes that succumbed to the plague, that the walls and pavement of the church were not enough. chapel to place the tombstones, it was necessary to embed them in the outer wall of the apse of the Cathedral and widen the cemetery around the chapel, occupying land where today the Pontifical Seminary, the Convent-Colegio de la Enseñanza and most of the Vilamitjana street.
At the beginning of the 19th century, when the modern cemetery with its chapel was enabled, the church of Santa Tecla was closed to worship, which was called ‘La Vieja’ and is converted today, as I mentioned before, into a true Museum (abandoned) because in addition of numerous sarcophagi and tombstones that decorate its pavements and walls, the Cabildo has gathered there many artistic remains, already coming from old altarpieces of the Cathedral, already discovered in adjoining land and belonging to paganism, such as some sarcophagi and funerary cippos that were discovered in 1894, when the lands of the old Santa Tecla cemetery were lowered, to beautify them and close them with an iron fence.
I will not finish my review without stating that in this chapel rest the mortal remains of one of the most eminent archbishops of Tarragona, D. Bernardo de Olivella, to whom we owe the construction of the grandiose façade of the Cathedral and the lateral naves. On the left wall, entering, under a pointed arch, is a sarcophagus; it is a humble urn, as much as that memorable prelate was, without an adornment, without a legend that recalls his name; and, nevertheless, that virtuous man who died poor because he gave everything for the cathedral, was Governor General of Aragon in the times of D. Jaime ‘El Conquistador’, he was also advisor to D. Pedro III ‘El Grande’ and crowned by his hand to many distinguished kings.
With this ‘brushstroke’ on one of the buildings of incalculable historical value that we have in our beloved Tarragona. I simply intend to awaken whoever it may concern on this occasion to the Archbishopric of Tarragona, the adequacy of the aforementioned church-chapel of “La Vieja” Santa Tecla. As we have been able to verify, our city has much more to see than what we are seeing, both at the church-municipal council level. Consequently, it is time to wake up to reality; make and offer our city an even more harmonic ensemble to be visited.
With the firm confidence that the clock of the will, they will set it, we will set it, to wake up at the right time and start working harder.