Our Lady of Guadalupe: Queen of Hispanidad in a fascinating museum
A famous sanctuary with a long tradition behind it, this corner of Extremadura shines with its mysticism. Its heritage contains superb examples of sacred art, especially on an architectural level. Likewise, its surroundings complete the artistic offer. Discover the history and the best things to see in Guadalupe.
Plan your stay in Guadalupe
Enjoying everything there is to see in Guadalupe requires a day. The great landmark of the place is the Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Guadalupe. Nearby there are some very interesting trips that complete the visit. For example, heading north you can reach the village of Castañar de Ibor and its extraordinary Cueva del Castañar. It is important to remember that there are a limited number of visits per day, so you should book in advance. Not far away, the Monfragüe National Park offers its natural beauty. Another option is to head west to Trujillo. Further away, but accessible, is the always remarkable Cáceres.
Before tackling what to see in Guadalupe, it is worth knowing a little about its history. Thus, there is an important heritage of rock shelters decorated with schematic paintings. Later on, several Celtiberian castros would be developed. Finally, there are several Roman and Islamic remains scattered.
The legal foundation of the town is usually associated with the establishment of the sanctuary. In the 6th century Pope Gregory the Great commissioned Isidore of Seville to send a figure of the Virgin Mary to his brother San Leandro, Archbishop of Seville. In the course of the journey between Rome and Seville, the expedition had problems on the high seas. Nevertheless, they managed to arrive safe and sound. The image was enthroned in the main church, where it remained until the Muslim conquest of the Andalusian city.
Then, in the year 714, a group of clergymen fled to the north. They took with them the image of the virgin and some relics of saints so that they would not fall into the hands of the Moors. They were forced to hide them next to the Guadalupe River, the “river of wolves”. Such a treasure remained there until the Marian apparition to the shepherd Gil Cordero during the reign of Alfonso XI of Castile, towards the end of the 13th century.
Becoming the most important religious centre
It was not until 1340 that Guadalupe became one of the most important religious centers of the time. Thanks to the privileges granted by King Alfonso XI after the victory in the Battle of Salado, Pope Benedict XII published a bull to promote the restoration of the temple and monastery complex. The territories of the Sanctuary of Guadalupe were segregated from the municipalities of Talavera and Trujillo. This marked the foundation of a new town. This would remain under the tutelage of Talavera de la Reina until some time later.
Ruled by Hieronymus monks, the Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe reached its golden age in the 15th century. The growing support of the monarchs of Castile promoted its establishment as one of the most important places of worship in the Iberian Peninsula. As the ecclesiastical town gained importance, La Puebla was formed. It was a secular urban centre in which servants and peasants who depended on the monastery settled. These were accompanied by craftsmen, merchants and other popular classes.
Guadalupe diversified its activity thanks to the growth of La Puebla. Beyond religion, it soon became a cultural and scientific centre. The last area shone especially after the foundation of the School of Medicine and the College of Medicine and Surgery. As a sign of its relevance and fame, it is worth mentioning that this centre welcomed the most prestigious doctors of the time. Likewise, the first dissection authorized by the Pope in Spain took place there. On the other hand, the Grammar School and its exceptional library increased even more the prestige of Guadalupe. The institution was formed by copyists, miniaturists and bookbinders.
In any case, the fundamental moment for the development of the sanctuary and the Puebla de Guadalupe was the conquest of America. The cult and devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe was extended throughout the new Continent by the hand of the conquerors from Extremadura. The enormous influence of the monastery remained alive until the French invasion and the disentailments of the 19th century. After losing a large part of its accumulated wealth, the place was deprived of monastic activity. However, La Puebla de Guadalupe founded the Constitutional Town Hall in 1820, integrated in 1834 in the Judicial Party of Logrosán.
Since then, the Shrine of Guadalupe has become a secular parish of the Archdiocese of Toledo. Later, in 1879, it was declared a National Monument. On the other hand, the Virgin of Guadalupe was named patron saint of Extremadura in 1907. Then, in 1908, the Franciscan order took over the care of the worship and the facilities of the monastery.
In 1843, Guadalupe had approximately 3,835 inhabitants. For comparison, in 1960 it had 4,000 inhabitants. From then on, the town suffered the consequences of emigration. Today, with a diminished population, Guadalupe is still a renowned centre of learning. Similarly, the town and its monastery represent an important tourist centre, which has clearly benefited from the 1993 Unesco declaration. In it, the sanctuary was placed on the list of World Heritage Monuments. At the same time, its historic centre is a Property of Cultural Interest.
Visiting Guadalupe is a special experience. Between the Barrio de Arriba and the Barrio de Abajo, Puebla kindly opens its cobblestone streets, its iron and wood balconies, its half-timbered and interlocking buildings. Some parts of the town still show that attractive weathering patina. Good examples of this are the Plaza Mayor, the Tres Chorros, the Alamillo, the La Pasión or the Seville square. The strong point of its heritage are the buildings that have been preserved since the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries.
Beyond the unique beauty of the historic centre and the imposing monasteries, what you see in Guadalupe extends to its surroundings. Thus, they still show that attractive patina that gives time as the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de la Cruz del Humilladero, Santa Catalina and San Blas. Finally, the river bank is embellished with ponds and mills, which feed the fertile fields that surround La Puebla. Guadalupe is also the centre of the Villuercas region, a beautiful and rugged natural environment.
The Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe
Of all the things to see in Guadalupe, the Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe stands out. The visit to the interior must be made with a specialized guide, with the exception of the church. The entrance to the enclosure is located in a square created to enhance the effect produced by the view of the main facade. Introduced by a staircase, the façade rises between two asymmetrical towers. This part of the church is in the Gothic style (14th and 15th centuries), although the whole looks Mudejar.
After crossing two doors of considerable size, made of bronze and carved by Paolo of Cologne, one enters an interior organized in three naves covered by intensely decorated vaults. The transept of this temple is crowned by a dome designed by Larra Churriguera (eighteenth century). The Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles are combined thanks to the work carried out throughout history.
Inside the main church, the Chapel of Santa Ana houses two admirable works of art. The first one is the fountain carved in bronze and jasper by Juan Francés (1402). The second is the Flemish tomb of the Constables of Velasco (1460). Both are elements to see in Guadeloupe in an inexcusable way. In its rich patrimony, it is also worth mentioning the Renaissance grille of the Main Chapel (16th century) and its altarpiece by Giraldo de Merlo (1609). The unique tabernacle, a Mannerist desk that Philip II gave to the monastery, is also noteworthy. On both sides of the altar are the tombs of Enrique IV and his mother María de Aragón.
Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe
The rooms of the Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe are the most interesting part of the visit. To see them it is necessary to buy the ticket for the guided tour in the religious souvenir shop. The first stop is the Mudejar Cloister (14th and 15th centuries), known for being one of the most interesting sets of its style. It is the central axis around which the different rooms of the building were built and distributed. In the centre of the courtyard there is a curious Gothic-Mudejar temple (1405) which sheltered a fountain. Besides, several canvases decorate the walls showing the miracles of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
One of the rooms located around the cloister is the old refectory, which has been converted into an embroidery museum. It shows delicate works from the workshop of the monastery. Within the space occupied by the bookstore, which on the ground floor houses the Chapter House, is the Museum of Miniated Books. Also notable is the Museum of Painting and Sculpture. Its collection includes three canvases by El Greco, a Goya and small panels by Francisco de Zurbarán.
Walking through long corridors and aged stairs you reach the choir loft, whose original walnut stalls feature sculptures by Alejandro Carnicero (1743). Following the visit, the Sacristy of the 18th century is reached, which is characterised by its organisation around a large rectangular nave covered with a barrel vault, profusely decorated. Eight monastic paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán from 1638 onwards are exhibited there. For its part, the Chapel of San Jerónimo holds three other paintings representing scenes from the life of the saint.
Small Chapel of the Virgin in the Monastery
Continuing with the tour of the great monument that can be seen in Guadalupe, the Reliquary and the Treasure are reached. Before entering the Small Chapel of the Virgin, located behind the presbytery, a Franciscan monk will appear who will invite visitors to venerate the image of the Virgin closely and perform the ritual of praying the Hail Mary.
The Small Chapel was built at the end of the 17th century on top of the old Royal Pantheon. Thus, it is a baroque work characterized by the abundance of colors and its original square plant, with four added exedras. The room also features the sculptures of the Eight Strong Women of the Bible. However, the focus is on the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. It is a small Gothic sculpture from the end of the 12th century, carved in dark wood and richly decorated.
A fascinating architecture
The last of the outstanding spaces within the enclosure of the Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe is the Hospedería Real. It was built as a residence for the Catholic Monarchs. Although it was demolished in 1856 by a municipal initiative, the Gothic cloister remains.
At the foot of the monastery, Puebla de Guadalupe is full of popular architecture. Walking through its streets it is inevitable to discover historical places. For example, the fountain in the square in front of the monastery. It is said that the first Indians brought from America were baptized there.
The historical center of La Puebla keeps relevant elements to see in Guadalupe. From the Grammar School or Colegio de Infantes it is worth mentioning its Mudejar cloister. Also of interest are the Renaissance house of Gregorio López (sixteenth century), the Hospital de San Juan Bautista, or the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de la Cruz del Humilladero (fifteenth century), in the Mudéjar Gothic style. Not to be forgotten is the Church of the Holy Trinity, a beautiful example of 18th century Baroque. The medieval arches and the old Jewish quarter are also worth mentioning. However, the most famous corner for its unique atmosphere is the Plaza de los Tres Caños.