The Robinson Library >> Fine Arts >> Architecture >> Religious Architecture
Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Guadalupe

occupying most of the town of Guadalupe, this was the most important monastery in Spain for more than four centuries

aerial view of the monastery and town of Guadalupe
aerial view of the monastery and town of Guadalupe


Sometime around 714, a group of Christians were forced to flee from Seville ahead of Moorish invaders. Amongst their possessions was a black ebony statue of the Virgin Mary, which they hid in a cave near the River Guadalupe. The statue lay hidden until the end of the 13th century, when it was discovered by a Cáceres shepherd named Gil Cordero. Cordero built a chapel to house the statue, and that structure grew into the one seen today.

The chapel built by Cordero soon became a church, which was enlarged by command of King Alfonso XI in 1337. The king invoked the protection of Our Lady of Guadalupe for the battle of Salado in 1340 and, following his victory, declared the church a royal sanctuary, founding a secular priory there. Reverence for the statue of the Virgin Mary quickly became widespread, especially in the kingdoms of Castille and Portugal.

In 1389 the Order of Saint Jerome took over the sanctuary, and with it the pastoral care and secular overlordship of the village it still dominates. For 447 years under the Hieronyrnite Order the Monastery played a very influential role in the history of Spain, being associated by the crown with important events, notably by the Catholic Kings with the conquest of Granada and the discovery of America in 1492.

With the General Secularization of 1835, the Order of Saint Jerome passed responsibility for the sanctuary to the Archdiocese of Toledo, which handed it over to the Franciscan Order in 1908. The Royal Palace, built on the instructions of Queen Isabella in 1487-91, was demolished in 1856. Pope Pius XII conferred the title of Minor Papal Basilica on the main church in 1955. Declared a World Heritage Centre by UNESCO in 1993, tourists can only see the interior via a guided tour, which ends with a "presentation" of the Virgin Mary statue which "started it all."

public entrance
Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Guadalupe (public entrance)

Main Buildings

The main Gothic Church (Templo Major) has a notable facade with ornamented doors bearing finely wrought bronze plaques. The interior has three naves with fine ornamented vaulting, tombs and altars.

The Sacristy, built between 1638 and 1647, and exuberantly decorated, is best known for a series of paintings by Zurbarán on its walls. These austere representations of monks of the Hieronymite order and scenes from the life of St. Jerome are the artist's only significant paintings still in the setting they were made for.

The Chapel of Santa Catalina, constructed in the 15th century, links the Sacristy with the Reliquaries Chapel. It has an octagonal cupola lit by a lantern and contains outstanding 17th century tombs.

The Reliquaries Chapel is an octagonal-plan edifice built at the end of the16th century. The lower part houses many elaborate reliquaries and other works of art.

The Camarín de la Virgen, built between 1687 and 1696, is a small octagonal building situated behind the presbytery of the basilica. Its upper story contains the "Chamber of the Virgen" proper, which houses the famous statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, on a magnificently ornamented throne. The dark, mysterious wooden figure hides under a heavy veil and mantle of red and gold. Each September 8, the Virgin is brought down from the altarpiece and walked around the cloister in a procession with pilgrims following on their knees.

The Mudejar Cloister, built between 1389 and 1405, is situated to the north of the main church and is constructed in brick, in the Mudejar tradition, and painted in white and red. The small chapel in the center dates from 1405, and there is an impressive portal of 1520-24 in Plateresque style. The interior is decorated with paintings telling the history of the Virgin and the miracles she wrought. In one of the three museums spaced around it is a gallery that includes three paintings by El Greco (St Andrew, the Assumption, and St Peter), a sombre late Goya (Confession in Prison), a fine Ecce Homo by Pedro de Mena, a handful of monks by Francisco de Zurbarán and a beautiful little ivory crucifixion attributed to Michelangelo.

The Gothic cloister dates from 1531-33 and has galleries on three sides. As it belongs to the hospice of the monastery it does not contain any important works of art.

One of the descendants of Christopher Columbus, who himself had a special affection for the monastery, promoted the construction of the New Church in 1730-35, in modified Baroque style with three naves.


Queen Isabella
Pope Pius XII
Christopher Columbus

Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> Fine Arts >> Architecture >> Religious Architecture

This page was last updated on 06/15/2017.