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Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Guadalupe

The origin of the monastery date back to the 13th century when the cowhand Gil Cordero found a Romanesque statue of the Virgin. The Virgin was named after the nearby Guadalupe river, and a little hermitage was built on the site of Cordero's discovery. After Alfonso XI's victory in the battle of Salado in 1340, things began to move fast. The monarch ordered a monastery built in thanksgiving for his triumph and entrusted his endowment to the Hironymite Order. With its royal patronage, Guadalupe's influence grew quickly, and with the discovery of America, the Virgin and the Monastery grew even more important: Columbus named one of the first Indians he discovered Guadalupe and he insisted that the first Indians to be converted to Christianity be baptized at the monastery. The Virgin was soon established as an inspirational figure for the entire Hispanic world. The monastery was abandoned inn 1835 when church lands were disentailed.

In 1908 the Franciscan Order restored it and became its new occupant. What you have today, apart from the shrine itself, is a museum of priceless historical and artistic treasures. The Franciscan monks, acting as informative guides, take visitors around. The church is a notable Gothic structure, built in the late 14th century and early 15th century on the site of a previous Mudéjar church, vestiges of which remain in the apse. In the 18th century, Baroque features were added. A magnificent grille, by Friar Francisco de Salamanca and Juan de Avila from the 16th century, encloses the chancel. The 17th century classicist altarpiece was sculpted by Giraldo de Merlo with the assistance of Jorge Manuel Teotocópuli, a son of El Greco. The paintings are attributed to Carducci and Eugenio Cajés. The revered 12th century Virgin of Guadalupe, richly carved in dark holm oak, stands in the central niche. Between the church and the square stands the 15th century Chapel of Santa Ana, containing the tombs of the Velasco family, which were sculpted in 1467 by the Spanish-Flemish artist Anequín Egas. There is a bronze baptismal font, cast by Juan Francés in 1402 beneath the front tower.

The fascade of the Sanctuary is a prime example of Spanish Gothic-Mudéjar. The golden colour of the delicately-worked tracery contrasts with the rough features of the tower and walls. The embossed bronze door are from the 15th century. On the northern side of the church you will find a Mudéjar cloister from the late 14th century and early 15th century. The curious pavilion in the centre, built by Friar Juan de Sevilla inn 1405, and the alabaster tomb in one corner of the galley, sculpted by Egas Cueman around 1460 in memory of Friar Gonzalo de Illescas, are both exceptional pieces. The cloister beyond was built in the early 16th century in an elegant flamboyant Gothic style. The other adjacent buildings today provide hotel accommodation run by the Franciscans. The 17th century sacristy, classical in style with Baroque decoration, houses one of the world's finest collections of religious paintings by Zurbarán, and there are also other important works of art. The paintings of Luca Giordano, in their lush setting of jasper, marble, gilded stucco and precious woods, adorn the Niche of the Virgin. The niche, from the 18th century, is the ante-chamber to the Virgin's throne through which the pilgrims entered to pray in front of the image. One of the treasures in the Capilla de las Reliquias (Chapel of Relics) is the 15th century enameled ark.

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