Across Andalucia: Buildings of Faith – The Director’s Cut

My original travel journals were split across August Phoenix Hats and a few other websites. February 2021 marked the 12th anniversary of the beginning of my travels. To celebrate, I’m reissuing my journals as Director’s Cuts, with the complete text as well as larger and additional photos. 

My travels have taken me from Venice to Florence, Genoa, and Istanbul. In 2012 it brought me to Andalucia, in search of the remnants of medieval Spain when it was under Moorish rule. This segent covers some of the architecture in Toledo.

I will always remember Toledo as the city where churches, synagogues and mosques have such similar architecture that you might not realize which house of faith you are in without a guidebook.

Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo, or the Cathedral of Santa Isabel (also called the Holy Church Cathedral), is a central landmark in Toledo. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, construction started in 1227 over the foundation of a 6th century Visigoth church, which itself had been built over a mosque. It houses floor to ceiling works carved from the most beautiful marble I had yet seen. The cathedral was not finished until the 16th century

I thought Florence was the home of brilliant sculpture until I visited this cathedral. This place was crazy with carving. The light source is natural light, streaming through a “transparente’, a hole cut in the ceiling during the 17th century ‘to let a sunbeam brighten Mass.’ I was also taken by the cardinal’s hats that hung above their respective crypts, and the details of the bishops miters.

Of equal workmanship were the wooden pews, which appear to be of mahogany, and depict the defeat of Granada in 1492. The castles depicted in these carvings are stylized, but the clothing, armor and weaponry are so accurate that historians study the panels to learn the evolution of weaponry of the period. It is also thought to be the largest carved choir in all of Europe.

The Chapel of St. Blaise, with its lapis-blue ceilings and murals, was stunning. The halos of the saints, done in gold leaf, were in remarkable condition for frescoes dating back to 1397. It was also the first cathedral I had visited that had electronic votive candles.

The Cloister of St. John the Kings was begun in 1389 by Rodrigo Alonzo under the direction of Archbishop Don Pedro Tenorio. It was finished in 1425. This cloister would be among the finest example of Spanish-Arabesque Gothic architecture I would see on this trip, and would eventually inspire a hat.

Finely wrought archways surround a courtyard filled with orange trees covered with bird netting. The ceilings of the walkways surrounding the gardens are done in marquetry, and I spy a pair of stone lions passant on one of the overhead arches. I take a myriad of photos of the floor tiles, a feature I would become fixated on throughout this trip.

The Synagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca was built by Muslim architects in the early 13th century, and converted to a church in 1492. I was surprised to see Islamic script carved around the doorway. Its ceiling reminds me of the ‘upside down ships’ hull” from a church I saw in Alaska, and the interior is filled with arches like those I had seen in pictures of the Mezquita in Cordoba.  

The Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz, Toledo’s oldest mosque, dates back to the turn of the 11th century, it’s keyhole arches facing Mecca. It too, was converted to a church in 1187. 

Next stop … Cordoba….

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