Huelva City - Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de la Cinta

Columbus visited the chapel before setting sail to the New World.
Columbus visited the chapel before setting sail to the New World.
Information

Opening Hours Mon to Sat: 9 am - 1.30 pm & 4 pm - 7 pm
Sun: 9.30 am - 1.30 pm & 4 pm - 7 pm
Mass Tues to Sat: 6.30 pm
Sun & Holidays: 12 & 6.30 pm

This whitewashed 15th-century chapel is famous for its associations with Christopher Columbus. Positioned on El Conquero hill, about 3 km north of the city centre, it commands a wonderful view of the Odiel wetlands. Like most sanctuaries and hermitages, it was originally built outside the town centre and used to be surrounded by fields and open countryside, which are now colonized by the apartment blocks of the Conquero residential district. It has been declared a Site of Cultural Interest.

Inside the chapel is an image of Huelva's patron saint, the Virgen de la Cinta, which was revered by Columbus and his sailors. Columbus visited the chapel before setting sail to the New World and prayed to the virgin, promising to visit again on his successful return. His visit is depicted in the blue-and-white tiled illustrations, designed by artist Daniel Zuloaga in 1920, which line the walls of the chapel's interior. One picture shows how the Catholics hid an image of the Virgin during the Saracen invasion, which wasn't discovered again until 1400.

The architectural style of the original chapel was Gothic-Mudéjar, but the chapel has undergone many transformations. The portico next to the chapel probably dates from the 17th century. In the 18th century another floor was added to accommodate pilgrim visitors.

The interior of the chapel has Mudéjar features, such as the artesanado timber ceiling. The magnificent gilded "retablo" (altarpiece) dominates the chapel and contains a painting of the virgin; the date of the painting and artist are unknown. The virgin is cradling her child - who is holding a golden cinta - with her right arm and holding a pomegranate - a fertility symbol - with her left hand. Her importance to seafarers is shown by a tiled decoration of Columbus's ship to the right of the retablo and some more recent additions of two life rings in front.

Inside the Church

To the left of the retablo is an impressive processional image of the virgin, the so-called "Virgen Chiquita". This image is a reproduction of that seen in the altarpiece painting and is used for the annual Virgen de la Cinta pilgrimage on 8 September, when the virgin is carried from the sanctuary to the Cathedral. After a month there she is returned to the sanctuary.

The Virgen Chiquita dates from the first pilgrimage, held in 1759. The Hermandad de la Virgen de la Cinta, the brotherhood dedicated to the Virgen that was established in the 15th century, maintains the image and is in charge of carrying it during the pilgrimage.

Outside is a restored attractive patio with orange trees. On its western flank is a wall belfry, which dates from the 1950s, replacing a much older version.

Admission is free. Bus number 6 runs from the Plaza de las Monjas in the centre.