The 5 ‘Sistine Chapels’ in Spain

Are there more Sistine Chapels in the world? Although today we are talking about the Spanish ‘Sistine Chapels’, but it’s obvious that there is only one Sistine Chapel. It’s in the Vatican, in the Apostolic Palace, and it is a unique wonder in the world. People who have travelled to the Pope’s official residence and have crossed the big corridors full of statues, fabrics, pictures, and maps to finally get to Michelangelo’s famous frescoes know this is an experience you only live once. And you should.

Besides the fact that there is only one Sistine Chapel, we would like to highlight that there are many places that are similar to it. In fact, there are a few buildings in Spain that people know as ‘Sistine Chapels’. Their great beauty and rich heritage are enough of a reason to visit all of them and deeply study them. The following tour allows you to analyse these wonders of Spanish architecture.

A tour through the Spanish Sistine Chapels

What should you know about the Sistine Chapel?

Before diving into the Spanish Sistine Chapels, you should know a little more about the original. The architecture of the one in the Apostolic Palace was designed by Baccio Pontelli. It’s a rectangle of 40.9 metres in length, 13.4 metres wide, and 20.7 metres high.

Vatican Sistine Chapel.

Vatican Sistine Chapel. | Shutterstock

Of course, the next artist we should mention is easy to guess: Michelangelo Buonarotti, also known as Michelangelo, was the most influential artist of the Italian Renaissance. He designed and created the impressive frescoes that cover the chapel’s fascinating vault. It was extremely hard for him to finish his work. This project presented two great difficulties, the first being the scaffold. Before painting the vault, it was strictly necessary to build the structure that would allow him to comfortably work. The next challenge was the technique: the fresco. This technique doesn’t allow any mistakes, and the time of execution is limited.

It took the artist around four years to complete the work entrusted to him by Pope Della Rovere. But the wait was worth it, and Rome and the whole world received one of the most iconic artworks in their whole history. The frescoes show pictures from the Old and New Testaments, The Creation of Adam being one of the most praised.

The ‘Sistine Chapels’ we are mentioning today were never supervised by a Pope nor painted by Michelangelo. However, they have some things in common with the one in the Vatican: they include religious pictures, and their ceilings are covered with frescoes or other artistic techniques.

Ermita de la Virgen del Ara, Badajoz’s hidden wonder

Let Badajoz be our starting point. Declared a Bien de Interés Cultural, the story of the Virgen del Ara ermitage begins in the best possible way: with a legend that dates back to the end of the Muslim conquest. It follows the princess Erminda, the daughter of a blind Taifa king, and how the Virgin Mary appeared to her.

Ermita de la Virgen del Ara.

Ermita de la Virgen del Ara. | Wikimedia

The Virgin Mary told her that if both she and her father converted to Christianity, he would get his sight back. They both agreed to do so, and the promise was fulfilled. The king built the hermitage in Her honour, something his followers didn’t like. This legend was transmitted from generation to generation until it ended up written on a Gothic table that dates back to the 14th century.

This beautiful building is composed of a single nave with a vault, a camarín, and a major chapel. Scenes from Genesis are displayed on the vault, just like in the Vatican Sistine Chapel, and join the paintings in the socle, creating a wonderful dream for every art lover. Fun fact: the choir’s vault is decorated with four feminine figures that picture the zodiac signs. The Virgen del Ara hermitage is probably the Spanish Sistine Chapel that resembles the original the most.

San Nicolás de Bari, the Valencian ‘Sistine Chapel’

San Nicolás de Bari.

San Nicolás de Bari. | Shutterstock

A work of art itself. The ‘Valencian Sistine Chapel’ per excellence. To visit the San Nicolás de Bari y San Pedro Mártir Church is to travel back in time and through art. Declared popularly as ‘Sistine Chapel’ by the art restorer Gianluigi Colalucci, who directed the last restoration of the Vatican Sistine Chapel, its interior design is absolutely stunning. Its frescoes date back to the 17th century, painted by Dionís Vidal, a Valencian Baroque artist.

Something you should know about this wonder is that it covers more than 1,900 square metres, so designing and painting it was harder than the work in the Vatican. If you visit the San Nicolás de Bari church, you should dive into its extremely decorated walls, vaults, and arches.

San Antonio de los Alemanes, Felipe V’s gem

Vault of San Antonio de los Alemanes.

Vault of San Antonio de los Alemanes. | Wikimedia

The San Antonio de los Alemanes church lies in the heart of Madrid. Although its façade might look like the other Christian churches, once you cross its door, you’ll find a true explosion of art. Built in the 17th century to help the Portuguese destitute people in the city, the temple soon caught Felipe V’s attention, who described it as a bright gem.

Its great dimensions allowed artists such as Francisco Rizzi and Luca Giordano to emerge as painters with big frescoes to decorate the vault and the monumental walls. The chosen religious scenes belonged to San Antonio de Padua’s life, but you will find portraits of kings and princes. An impressive beauty everyone should see.

Real Colegiata de San Isidoro, the ‘Roman Sistine Chapel’

Pantheon of the kings of León in San Isidoro.

Pantheon of the kings of León in San Isidoro. | Wikimedia

Considered one of the most important Roman works in Europe, the Real Colegiata de San Isidoro is a surprise from the very first sight. An impressive architectural gem located in León whose outside is carefully decorated and whose interior holds plenty of frescoes from one thousand years ago. Built in the 10th century, its vaults are covered with Roman paintings designed around the 12th century. The space includes a museum that studies León’s history and Roman art.

Santa María de Mediavilla, the ‘Mudéjar Sistine Chapel’

Roofing in Santa María de Mediavilla.

Roofing in Santa María de Mediavilla. | Wikimedia

The truth is that the Santa María de Mediavilla cathedral differs from the other ‘Sistine Chapels’ we have previously mentioned. The main difference is its roofing, since you won’t find any frescoes in it. Now, the roof of the central nave that deserves the name of the Vatican wonder presents a Spanish ceiling of Mudéjar style. The comparison with the Sistine Chapel arises from its representation of extremely detailed religious scenes, other historical motives, or fantastic creatures.

About the author