Parliament of Cantabria

Old San Rafael Hospital

The former Hospital of San Rafael, today the seat of the Cantabrian Parliament, is a building with two centuries of history behind it. Founded in 1791 at the request of the then bishop of the diocese Rafael Menéndez de Luarca, the Hospital of San Rafael replaced the Hospital of Misericordia.

In addition to being a hospital with 15 beds, the building had also been used as an asylum and barracks. The expenses of the new hospital, both for its construction, which took several years, and for the care of the patients, which began in the same year of 1791, were paid for by the Chapter of Santander Cathedral. The origin of the hospital is the Royal Provision granted to care for the poor sick of the city. The Bishopric commissioned the project and the direction of the work to José Alday, the municipal architect of the city of Santander.

Located in the upper part of the city, in the Calle Alta, which José María Pereda wrote about in his novel "Sotileza", the Hospital de San Rafael was a splendid building, functional for its time and located in search of fresh air from the bay. The main façade was of ashlar stone, with nine arches forming a colonnade (the remodelling has scrupulously respected the original).


In the first third of the 19th century, the activity of the Hospital of San Rafael became more intense. During the War of Independence, aid was provided to the wounded and those suffering from the yellow fever that ravaged the city in 1814, coinciding with the arrival in Santander of the allied troops fighting against the French.

Once the war was over and the Bourbon monarchy of Ferdinand VII was restored, the Hospital de San Rafael resumed its normal activity, with a maximum capacity of 200 beds and an average of 80-90 patients admitted to the centre. The fight against the cholera epidemics, which ravaged Europe throughout the 19th century and also affected Cantabria, and the explosion of the steamship Cabo Machichaco in November 1893, which caused 200 deaths, as many missing persons and hundreds of seriously injured people with terrible mutilations, were two important milestones in the history of the Hospital.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Hospital de San Rafael ceased to be solely a charity centre and began to accept private patients. A first floor was built, which increased the number of beds available.

The start of construction in 1928 of the new Valdecilla Hospital (forerunner of today's National University Hospital of the same name) made the San Rafael Hospital redundant. It closed its doors quietly, almost into oblivion.


The subsequent uses of the building were diverse and heterogeneous, especially from 1941 onwards. It was the headquarters of the Menéndez Pelayo International University, the School of Arts and Crafts, the Nautical School and the Conservatory; always between the risk of total ruin and its possible restoration. In 1962, the property was returned to the Provincial Council of Santander, which studied its restoration, but ruled it out due to the high cost. Abandoned and semi-ruined, only the exterior façades facing the Alta street , those of the courtyard and the interior walls defining the back of the porch-gallery were still standing when the Regional Assembly decided to restore it and convert it into the seat of the Cantabrian Parliament.

Since the constitution of the Cantabrian Parliament in February 1982, the policy of acquiring plastic funds (paintings and sculptures) as well as publishing publications, either on its own initiative or in collaboration with other institutions, has been a constant feature throughout the successive legislatures.

The Regional Assembly, now the Parliament of Cantabria, has increased its heritage with the acquisition of a careful selection of works of art, most of which are on display in the different rooms of the building that houses the regional Parliament.

Leading painters and sculptors hold exhibitions of their work in the Assembly Exhibition Hall (central courtyard of the building).