“HOLY TOLEDO” – A VISIT TO THE CATHEDRAL OF TOLEDO, SPAIN

“Holy Toledo”  isn’t just an expression!  The historic walled city in central Spain known as Toledo is positively packed with religious sites.  The city is often compared to Jerusalem and its historical landscape has been called biblical.  That is because this very unique and richly diverse city was impacted over time by three different religions.  Like Jerusalem, Toledo is brimming with Muslim (more commonly called Moors in Spanish history), Jewish and Christian influences that all add up to a very unique mosaic of a city.  But, on our short day trip to Toledo, we only had time for the most magnificent religious site of them all, the Catedral de Toledo.

Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

The Cathedral is the centerpiece of Toledo, as it is located smack-dab in the center of the city.  It sits on top of the hill just below the Alcazar” or Fortress of Toledo. You can see its tall steeple there on the left.

#Toledo, #Spain, www.AfterOrangeCounty.com

One of the most outstanding buildings in the city, the Cathedral is considered one of the greatest Gothic structures in all of Europe.  It is also the second largest cathedral in Spain, after the one in Seville, but it is considered the most important church in Spain because of its history as the capital of the Catholic faith in Spain.

Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

Constructed on the site of a former Grand Mosque, the Catholic Cathedral of Toledo was built between the years 1226 and 1493 .  That is 267 years of construction!  The photo above shows the elaborately carved 15th century central portal known as the Puerta del Perdón (Portal of Forgiveness).  It is said that forgiveness of one’s sins is granted to those entering here.  Too bad these doors are now kept closed except for special occasions.  I could have used a cleansing.

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

The portal is flanked by many beautiful statues.  Don’t ask me to elaborate on who they are, as I don’t have a clue.

Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

The elaborate cathedral tower stands about 300 feet tall.  The birds seemed to be making their own pilgrimage to the cathedral as they soared overhead.

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

I was taken by the lovely ironwork that protects the beautiful windows of the cathedral…….

Iron Window Grate, #Toledo, Spain

……and the exquisite stained glass shields that I believe are lamps by night.  So, now let me take you inside the cathedral.

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

When you enter you will be simply blown away by the sparkling gold reliefs of what is called the “Retablo” in the Capilla Mayor,  (Main Chapel & High Altar)  just behind the main altar.  Considered to be a magnificent example of Gothic art, the huge altarpiece of gilded and painted larch wood (a very tough, durable and waterproof wood) stretches to the ceiling.

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

Overflowing with amazing detail, the altarpiece actually summarizes the entire New Testament with its intricately carved and life-sized painted wood sculptures.  It is a jaw-dropping example of artistry at its very finest.  It is said that the artisans used gold plundered from the Americas in the gilding process. Perhaps Hernán Cortés, after plundering the Aztecs, left some of his gold behind when he visited the cathedral?

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

One of the other outstanding features of the Cathedral is a mesmerising piece of 18th-century sculpture done in the “churrigueresco” style  (a highly ornamented and lavish Baroque style).  This altarpiece is carved from marble and alabaster and is known as “El Transparente.”  

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

Sitting just behind the main altar, El Transparente was overlooked for years because the cathedral was too poorly lit for it to be noticed.  This problem was eventually remedied by its sculptor Narcisco Tomé, who cut a skylight in the ceiling to give it proper illumination.  Another hole was cut into the back of the altarpiece itself to allow shafts of sunlight to strike it and at the same time allow people to see right through it.   So, persons looking at the altarpiece are seeing through it so-to-speak.

Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

Thus the name “El Transparente,”  meaning “The Transparent.”   Do you see the skylight there at the bottom of the photo above?  I believe the frescos painted in the dome and sculptures surrounding it depict angels opening up to the heavens.

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

Another “illuminating” thing in the Cathedral is its magnificent stained-glass piece known as the Rose Window.  This is the oldest of the more than 750 stained glass windows in the cathedral.

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

The beautiful Rose Window brings light to what is the the heart of the cathedral and its magnificent “Coro” or choir stalls. 

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

The choir’s free-standing altar features a 13th-century Romanesque stone figure of the Virgin Santa Maria la Blanca, the patron saint of the cathedral.

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

Virgin Blanca looks to me to be a very happy and kind virgin holding a young Jesus.

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

Legend has it that several centuries ago, the Virgin Mary came down from Heaven to pay a visit to Toledo.  Inside the cathedral is the stone believed to be the one Mary stood on as she delivered her message to Toledo.  Next to the stone is this mosaic tile which reads:

When the queen of the heavens put her feet on the ground,

She put them on this stone.

Kiss it for your consolation.

Touch the stone saying with total devotion:

“Revere this place on which the Holy Virgin put her feet.”

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

There is the very stone, encased inside its marble housing.

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

Locked behind iron bars.

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

Not kissable, but still in range of the touch of my son Austin’s fingers.  I am really hoping that the Virgin Mary worked her magic on him!

#Choir #Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

Nearby, the Choir houses two tiers of intricately carved walnut-wood stalls. The lower tier of  stalls depicts the Catholic defeat of Granada, Spain.  I wanted to sit right down there and sing an aria, but my husband said I’d embarrass him.

#The Treasury#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

This massive Gothic cathedral is brimming with art treasures.  There is even a room called “The Treasury” where one can see gold and silver treasures that are used for masses and processions.  The treasury is located in the chapel below the great tower and is protected by this beautiful iron gate.

#The Treasury #Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

I was astounded by this seemingly golden spiderweb that covers the vaulted ceiling of the Treasury.

#The Treasury #Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

The bejeweled “Crown of  the Virgin of the Sacrarium” from the 16th century is on display in the Treasury.  I wanted to take it home with me.

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

The centerpiece of the Treasure Room is this 500-pound, 10-foot high, 15th-century gilded Monstrance known as the “Custodia de Arfe” after its creator, Enrique de Arfe.  The Monstrance is made of solid silver and was gilded, allegedly, with solid gold brought back from the New World by Columbus.

#The Monstrance #Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

Every year the Monstrance is carried through the streets of Toledo during the Feast of Corpus Christi.  If you are Catholic, you might know that this is as what is known today as the “Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.”   It celebrates the institution of the Sacrament of Holy Communion at the Last Supper.

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

Besides treasures of the glittery kind, the Cathedral also houses a beautiful Sacristy which contains a gallery with paintings by such masters as El Greco, Rafael and Velázquez.  I didn’t get to visit Madrid’s Prado museum on this trip, so I was happy to get a chance to see a few works by these great Spanish painters. The lovely art gallery was crowned by a beautiful painted ceiling.

#El Greco #Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

There are two paintings on display here by Toledo’s most famous former resident, El Greco.  This is one of El Greco’s major works called “The Disrobing of Christ.”  Around the year 1577, El Greco, an outspoken and very flamboyant painter from the Greek island of Crete, journeyed to Spain to seek his fortune.  The Renaissance painter, desperate for commissions from the church, toiled over and created some of his most famous masterpieces here in Toledo.  Other  El Greco paintings are on display inside the Museo del Greco which we did not have time to visit.  Eventually, Spain would claim this Greek painter as one of its greatest artists.  Ironically, it has been said that Toledo, a Unesco World Heritage Site, has changed little since the day the Greek painter arrived.  You can visit El Greco’s burial site at the “Monastery Cisterciense de Santo Domingo de Silo,” a 16th century monastery containing more paintings by El Greco.

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

I was taken by what I believe to be another carving of the Virgin and child, both wearing crowns of gold.

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

There was also a magnificent display of Cardinal’s robes…….

Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

……and other fancy Cardinal garb.  Boy, those dudes sure dressed nicely!

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

A whole bunch of Cardinals are buried in the Cathedral of Toledo.  In fact, they can choose where in the floor of the cathedral they’d like to be laid upon their death.  Suspended between heaven and earth, their cardinal hats are then hung high above their grave site and left there until they rot away.  There is an impressive gallery in the Cathedral that houses huge oil painting portraits of all of the Toledo Cardinals going back at least 500 years.

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

There are more than 20 chapels throughout the cathedral, many of which house beautifully carved tombs.  Austin looks real impressed, doesn’t he?  I guess he was getting bored, like you probably are right now.

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

But I wasn’t bored!  I think they even buried some fine ladies here in this fine chapel.

#Cathedral of Toledo, Spain (Catedral de Toledo),#AfterOrangeCounty.com

Finally, stepping outside, we visited the Cathedral’s “cloisters”  where the walls were adorned with beautiful frescos……

Cloister & Gardens of the Cathedral of Toledo, Spain #AfterOrangeCounty.com

and the covered colonnades opened up to a lovely garden of orange trees.  It was finally time to leave and catch our train back to Madrid.  Bye Bye Holy Toledo.

Well, that’s it,  that’s all folks.  Have I bored you to tears??  Or are you ready to pack your bags for a visit to Toledo?

Thanks for dropping in!  Do please leave a comment below.  I’d love to hear from you!

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Comments

  • Christy K Robinson

    Lovely photos and text. I found your site in Google Images, while looking for royal effigies in Toledo Cathedral.

  • Thank you very much Christy. Glad you found me. I hope you’ll continue to follow my blog.

  • Mary

    After reading James A. Michener’s description of El Transparente in his monumental IBERIA I had to google it whence I providentially came upon your very lovely inspiring photos from the Toledo Cathedral. Thank you for posting them Celia. Now I can sleep with those heavenly images in mind and heart. Sincerely, Mary

  • Hi Mary. Yes, my Spanish father required me to read IBERIA before he took me to Spain the first time. I was only 11 and have enjoyed it many times since. I’m so happy you enjoyed my photos and blog post. I hope you get to visit Toledo one day yourself.

  • Lena

    I went to Toledo on a day trip from Madrid this summer during my Mediterranean bus tour. It was great seeing this cathedral again and especially all your photos of things that I missed because our time through the church was so quick. I didn’t see the cardinals’ robes, the carved tombs, the painting of El Greco the Disrobing of Christ, and the lovely cloisters. I had no idea there was such a nice outdoor area! Thank you for your very detailed photos and information! Sincerely, Lena 🙂

  • Hi Lena, it’s so nice to hear from you. Isn’t Toledo a special place? There is so much to see there that I understand why you didn’t have a lot of time to dedicate to the cathedral. You’ll just have to plan another trip, staying overnight next time. I recommend the Parador!

  • Marilyn Taleon

    thank you for the wonderful synopsis of the Cathedral of Toledo; I had the honor of visiting the place and was looking for some details to include along with my photos.

  • Thank you Marilyn, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. The cathedral truly is an amazing place, as is the whole of Spain, my favorite country in the world.