Holy Toledo! Part 1: Journey with the History Guru to England and Spain

Posted on Jan 30, 2012 in category


Spain’s fast train system is truly terrific. Toledo is 71 kilometres south of Madrid and we arrived at Toledo’s neo-Mudejar station after a 35 minutes journey. Pretty quick. The highly decorative station was opened in 1920.

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Toledo Station cost over 1 million peseta Local artisans decorated the vestibule (1920 photo)

Most people from the AVE fast train caught the tourist bus up to the top of Toledo. It dropped us near the Alcazar, a domineering, Renaissance-styled castle that now houses the city’s library and the National Army Museum. For a fascinating history of this often restored castle see the National Army Museum website

From this highest vantage point in Toledo, we looked down into the rabbit warren of narrow streets and soon realised that to find the Cathedral quickly a map of Toledo had biblical importance. A junky, trinket-overloaded tourist shop provided the font of knowledge. Looking all the time to the heavens for a glimpse of the cathedral’s grand spire and elevated street signs, we eventually arrived at the cathedral’s main portal entrance.

The cliché, ‘Holy Toledo!’ still seems appropriate to describe the awesome feeling when reaching the cathedral’s three portals’ pearly entrance gates. What a cathedral! This is the mother of all cathedrals – a WHOPPER of concentrated wealth! Replacing the Great Mosque of Toledo, the Cathedral was built between A.D.1226 and A.D.1593; therefore, it accumulated a multitude of architectural and decorative styles. Originally inspired by Chartres Cathedral’s Gothic architecture, Toledo’s Cathedral has a grand spire and a total of eight carved portals. Moreover, eighty-eight clustered pillars support the vaulted roof and there are in excess of twenty chapels that house former V.I.P. tombs.


Toledo’s carved stone bas-reliefs on one of its eight portals (entrances)


Catching an early AVE fast train to Toledo certainly reduced the waiting time on the Cathedral’s queue

Three particular aspects of the cathedral’s interior leave the visitor awestruck:

1. The ‘Coro’ or choir. Two huge gold-plated organs face each other and tower over two-tiered rows of carved walnut seats with 54 scenes of the siege of Granada.


One of the two awesome organs!


A ‘Siege of Granada’ seat in the ‘Coro’

2. The ‘Capilla Mayor’ or main altar stretches commandingly to the vaulted ceiling. Painted life-size figures as well as its omnipresent gilded wooden frame makes one feel instantly guilty of sin.


A sculptural summary of the New Testament

3. ‘El Transparente’ is a masterpiece. Located behind the main altar, ‘El Transparente’ is a mass of marble and alabaster sculpture culminating in a frescoed cupola with overhanging figures looking down on us poor sinners.

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Last Supper scenes, angels and the Holy Virgin to the rescue are the main themes

Two other interesting parts of the Cathedral are the ‘Sacristy’ with paintings by El Greco (the Greek), one of which upset the Inquisition landing him in the dungeon and, the ‘Chapter House’ with murals of every Toledan bishop. See: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/379/video


El Greco’s ‘The Spoliation’ in the Sacristy- people were positioned and painted above Christ – a no-no!


Toledan bishops’ mural list lives on

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Two less conspicuous pieces of Cathedral art: a medieval manuscript from the ‘Bible of Saint Luis’ (A.D. 1226-1234) on display in the Treasury (left) and a mural from one of the older chapels (right)

Now for the rest of Toledo - part 2.

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