Have you ever wondered which city has the most churches in the world? Well, the answer will not surprise you. Rome is the winner here, with more than 900 religious buildings. The silver medal goes to a city with 125 churches, which does not seem a lot next to the capital of Italy, but it is still a considerably high number. Of course, we are talking about Seville: the city with the most churches in Spain. The second city with the highest number of churches in the country might surprise you: Madrid, the capital of Spain, is home to no less than 84 churches.
However, only a few people can name more than five churches in Madrid. This is why we refer to them as unknown temples, because, even if some might seem quite popular, many people might have never heard of them. In fact, that is the case of most of them. This is why we will also be focusing on the beauty of the temples as well. These are the most beautiful unknown churches of Madrid.
In 2019, this basilica was voted as the most beautiful church in Madrid in an online contest where no less than 32 churches took part. Anybody who enters its central nave and witnesses its massive dome, which is 58 metres high and has a diameter of 33 metres, will perfectly understand why people place so much value on it.
It is, in fact, the largest dome in Spain and the fourth largest in the whole Europe, only after three Italian competitors (in San Pedro, the Pantheon, and another one in Florence). This dome also overcomes in size such impressive buildings as St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Apart from that, San Francisco El Grande stands out for its rich art collection, encompassing artworks by renowned painters like Goya or Zurbarán.
We will leave San Francisco El Grande behind, walking down the street of the same name until we reach the square of La Cebada. Next to the Metro station of La Latina, we will take the street of Toledo and head to the second church on the list: Colegiata de San Isidro. This time, we will be visiting a Baroque temple that acted as the main cathedral of Spain’s capital between 1885 and 1992. San Isidro, the patron saint of Madrid, is buried there.
We will not leave the street of Toledo yet. Instead, we will turn left in the street of La Colegiata. About 300 metres ahead, in the street of San Justo, we will see the façade of a peculiar church that reminds us of Roman temples. Said façade is the most outstanding element of the basilica of San Miguel. Indeed, its convex shape makes it one of the most remarkable buildings of the Spanish Baroque. Our first impression may be attributed to the architects who designed it, since they were Italian. Inside the church, the mural paintings decorating the apse are worth mentioning.
Further on, walking along such emblematic places as Calle Mayor, the square of Callao and Gran Vía, we will reach the church of San Antonio de los Alemanes in the street of La Puebla. In the 2019 contest we mentioned earlier, this church ranked second on the list of the most beautiful churches in Madrid. It has an ellipsoidal floor plant and beautiful frescoes everywhere. This is why many consider San Antonio de los Alemanes as the “Sistine Chapel” of Madrid.
It will only take us about seven minutes by foot to go from the church of San Antonio de los Alemanes to the Real Oratorio del Caballero de Gracia, the fifth stop on our route through the unknown churches of Madrid. In this particular case, we could say the church is hidden rather than unknown, not because one cannot see it at first sight, but because most citizens of Madrid regularly walk by it without noticing its presence. Moreover, this Neoclassical temple in Gran Vía, Madrid’s crowded city centre, seems a lot smaller than it actually is. If we walk inside, we will be able to admire the beautiful granite columns spreading along the nave, as well as its stunning vault.
The next church lies next to the Prado Museum. In fact, we can even spot the Gothic building from the Prado’s gardens, only a few metres away. A great staircase will lead us to the church of San Jerónimo el Real, also known as “Los Jerónimos”. It used to be one of the most important convents in Madrid, and it has hosted more than one oath ceremonies of the heirs to the Spanish Crown.
Paradoxically, the last unknown church we will visit in Madrid is the most popular one on the list: the church of San Manuel y San Benito. Its name might not ring a bell, but most people would recognise it if they saw it. San Manuel y San Benito can be seen from the Retiro Park, and this church of Neo- Byzantine style is incredibly beautiful both inside and out. It was designed by the architect Fernando Arbós y Tremanti in the early 20th century, and it served as a school and a church/convent of the Order of Saint Augustine.
Considering Madrid is home to 84 churches, we obviously left most of them out, like the churches of San Ginés, Santa Bárbara and San Antón. In addition, the diverse identity of Madrid always involves a wide variety of cultures, hence there are many non-Catholic churches there too. For instance, we have the Iglesia Evangélica Alemana de la Paz and the Catedral Ortodoxa Rusa Santa María Magdalena: a Lutheran church and an Orthodox one. Further away from Catholicism, there is the mosque of the M-30 road, Madrid’s synagogue and some Buddhist temples such as the one in the street of Luis de la Torre, in Usera. Visiting all these temples in Madrid will let us walk past many emblematic sites in Spain’s capital and explore its architecture through a different lens.
You can also read this article in the Feeling Madrid page of the Community of Madrid.
Located at the foot of the Sierra de las Garrigues,…
Holy Week is one of the most popular festivities in…
Everybody knows that Spain is full of beautiful towns and…
There are two main aspects one might take into account…