It is not that the Saint Philip Neri Church is impressive from the artistic point of view. Of course, it is: it is a Baroque temple with an oval interior, it has a dome-shaped ceiling which lets the light in from above and gives the space an extraordinary beauty. Also, the Immaculate Conception painting by the famous Spanish painter Murillo presides over the main altarpiece.
So, we couldn’t say that the aesthetic beauty of the place is not worth it. But it turns out that here, above all, something of enormous historical significance happened. Something that made Saint Philip’s church a building in Cádiz as emblematic as La Bastille, or what is left of it, could be for Paris.
It is not that the city was short of history. For thousands of years, all sorts of things had arrived at its beaches: from the Phoenicians with their commercial projects, to the small pieces left over from the defeated Spanish fleet that came from Trafalgar. But this and the others would be eclipsed by the proclamation, the nineteen of March 1812, of one of the first constitutions in Europe.
It turns out that, in that battlefield that Spain was, invaded by Bonaparte’s army, the Parliament had to act as they could. And when it was decided to move to Cádiz for security reasons, the church of Saint Philip Neri was chosen to host the debates, for its oval shape and its absence of pillars.
The deputies started to arrive in the city, some mocking the French blockade by land and others avoiding the Napoleonic canons by sea. The fact is that they arrived, and the Spanish Parliament gathered here, in this oratory, to discuss what would end up being the first constitution of the country.
The first meeting was held on February 24, 1811, and there were hundreds more after that, all of them with an audience in the stands that whistled, applauded or rebuked the honourable Members without anyone being thrown out into the street. It’s clear those were different times.
And so, the Constitution was proclaimed in 1812, even though the Parliament had to endure the French bombings, together with, now and again, some outbreaks of yellow fever. They still had to wait a bit to be able to return to Madrid. But of all these things, you will be much better informed in the Court Museum, for sure. Located next to the church. Don’t you even think about missing it!