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The Royal Monastery of San Jeronimo

Granada, in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, is a city that offers residents and tourists a wide range of attractions, including beaches, skiing, natural landscapes, and, above all, monuments. Granada is not a city that can be visited in a single day, as most tour operators suggest; it is a city to walk around calmly and get lost in many of its wonderful corners. Unquestionably, its claim to fame is the Alhambra, a group of palaces constructed to serve as the emir and court of the Nasrid dominion.
But now I’m going to tell you about the Royal Monastery of San Jerónimo, a monastery with a troubled past but also a priceless gem that has been overlooked. Its Jerónima Order nuns have done a lot of loving work to preserve the beauty that is hidden behind its walls.

Today, only 11 nuns live in the convent, of which 6 are from India and the rest from Spain. The Mother Superior comes from Kerala (India). Her name is Maria Jose, but her real name is Lilam, and at 36 years old she carries the burden of the monastery on her back, which she shares with other nuns aged 96, 92, and 80. The youngest is a novice at 24 years old. The Community of Jerónimas Nuns are cloistered and can only be seen at mass, where you can hear them sing. They also provide food to those in need. Many of the restoration projects have been completed with their own money and what they earn from the visits.

The Royal Monastery of San Jeronimo
Photo credit: Ester Guglietta

History of the Monastery

The Monastery was founded by the Catholic Monarchs in the town of Santa Fe (14 kilometres from Granada), under the patronage of Santa Catalina Mártir, where the monarchs had established the camp that allowed the siege of Granada in 1492. It was the city’s first royal foundation in honour of the Confessor of the Kings, Fray Hernando de Talavera, who became the city’s first Archbishop. Shortly after, the monastery was relocated to the capital and renamed La Concepción de Nuestra Seora, first settling in an Arab house with a garden called Nublo.

Its construction, known as the Almorava, began in 1496. (which today is occupied by the Hospital of San Juan de Dios). In 1504, it was decided to build a new structure in a nearby place called Dar Aben Murdi as a result of a plague epidemic and to improve the foundation. In 1521, the monks were able to move to live there. Work on the church would not begin until 1513. In 1523, the daughter of the Catholic Monarchs, Doña Juana and her son Carlos V, granted to Doña María de Manrique, Duchess of Sessa and Terranova, the foundation of a patronage for her and her successors, which granted the concession of the main chapel of the church as a family pantheon, and undertook to provide the church with sufficient assets for its completion.

Church and Monastery of San Jeronimo
Photo credit: Ester Guglietta

The construction completed in 1543

The cost of its construction was prohibitively expensive for the Kings. The Duchess was thus able to meet the need to dignify a space to honour her late husband, the Great Captain. The construction was completed in 1543. It was the city’s first Renaissance monument; it is thought that the works were directed by Jacobo Florentino, and that after his death in 1526, Diego de Siloé directed the works in 1528. Martn Daz de Navarrete built the monastery’s access portal in 1594, and the tower was completed in 1565.

The riches contributed by the Catholic Monarchs as the city’s great families were looted by the crowd one day before the French troops arrived in Granada, after the monks had left the monastery, and the French troops continued the looting and destined the building to be used as a barracks. The church was used as a barn; the bars were melted down to make bullets; the sacristy was destroyed for wood; and the Great Captain’s tomb was desecrated. After the withdrawal of the French, the Spanish troops would also use the monastery as a barracks and some of its rooms as a prison.

Photo credit: Ester Guglietta

The Monastery repaired in 1900

During the Spanish Conquest (end of the 18th century), a portion of the monastery and the riding school were auctioned off, expelling the monks on August 18, 1835. The Great Captain’s remains, as well as those of his family who were in private hands, were definitely returned to their original burial site.

The monastery showed obvious signs of ruin. It was partially repaired in 1900, and characters such as Francisco de Paula Valladar raised funds for its restoration in 1913 through newspapers and magazines. But it took three more years for the General Directorate of Fine Arts to grant a significant sum of money to undertake the work, although it was insufficient. However, the problems persisted, as a fire in 1927 destroyed the wooden ceilings of the small cloister as well as the Mudejar framework of the staircase.

The structure was used by the military until it was designated a national monument in 1931. The restoration work took many years, and the final phase was funded by the Jerónima Order, who gave the building to the nuns. In 1977, Sister Cristina de la Cruz Arteaga, the owner of Carmen de los Mártires at the time, reached an agreement with Mayor Manuel Sola for its sale for 12,000,000 pesetas and the transfer of the Monastery of San Jerónimo, with the nuns able to move in.

Photo credit: Ester Guglietta

The Monastery of San Jeronimo

Today, the monastery consists of two cloisters; a sacristy; a chapter house; a refectory; a room “de profundis”, a chapel of the Towers, and a chapel for the nuns.

The most beautiful entrance is through Calle Rector López Argüeta, which was also the old entrance to the monastery and church and is formed by a semicircular arch. A short paved path with cypresses on both sides leads to the church’s façade, a work by the master Siloé, a three-body structure. The lower body was created in 1590 by Martn Daz de Navarrete and Pedro de Orea; the second body introduces the shield of the Catholic Monarchs crowned by the eagle of Saint John the Evangelist, and the third body has a window that allows light to enter the choir. The entrance to the monastery forms an angle with the church’s entrance door, and its cover was made in 1593 by Martn Daz de Navarrete.

Once we cross the door of the monastery, we find the porter’s lodge from which we access the cloister, initially built in the late Gothic style. The cloister is divided into two bodies of galleries, each with nine arches. The cloister patio is planted with orange trees, myrtle trees, and jasmine. Going counterclockwise through the lower gallery of the cloister, the first door we find is the chapel where the nuns perform their services. The next thing we see is a staircase formed by three semicircular arches that leads to the second cloister, which was built in 1520 and is a mix of Gothic, Renaissance, and Mudejar elements.

The refectory was originally intended to be the monks’ dining room, complete with a small pulpit from which they read the sacred scriptures during lunch. A copy of the Immaculate Conception, an original painting by Alonso Cano, is the greatest painting in this room.

Photo credit: Ester Guglietta

Designed in the Gothic style and completed in the Renaissance style

The Sacristy, one of the rooms that has undergone numerous restorations since it was completely destroyed by the French and later occupied by the military, had most of its works of art looted, with the exception of a Martin de Medina fresco of the Assumption. The majority of the artworks on display today are from the Santa Paula Convent.

The church was designed in the Gothic style and was completed in the Renaissance style. Its light magically envelops everything, reflecting its paintings and sculptures, which are among the best examples of the Spanish Renaissance. It was designed with a Latin cross plan. On each side of the nave, there are chapels in which Jacobo Florentino worked. The temple was decorated with brightly coloured fresco paintings by Juan de Medina, Martin de Pineda, and other anonymous artists. Archangels represent the round pillars, and angels represent the vaults.

Walking towards the altar from the church entrance, we have the Virgen de Belén chapel, San Miguel Arcángel chapel, and Conde de las Infantas chapel on our right, and the Ecce Homo and Dolorosa chapels, Christ tied to the column, Saint Pius V, and Virgin of Solitude chapels on our left.

Photo credit: Ester Guglietta

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In the monumental main altarpiece, Juan de Aragón, Diego de Pesquera, Lázaro de Velasco, Juan Bautista Vázquez, Pablo de Roja, Diego de Navas, etc. worked successively. The altarpiece consists of four bodies raised on a basement decorated with reliefs of various saints, on which rests the first body of the Doric order with fluted columns, in the centre of which is a Virgin with the Child in her arms from the convent of Santa Paula from the 16th century, and at her sides two figures corresponding to the apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

The second body is of the Ionic style, with columns decorated in its lower part, where the image of the Immaculate Conception with Saint Joachim and Saint Anne stands out in the centre. The third body is of the Corinthian order and depicts Saint Jerome in the desert in the central box. Number four, of composite order, has the image of the Crucified in the centre, the Virgin and Saint John on the sides, the heraldry of the Great Captain on the left side, and the Duchess on the right.

The transept is resolved by four large semicircular arches that support the octagonal dome vault, three of which have barrel vaults. Four round skylights flanked by satyrs and bearded men appear in the drum, and the coats of arms of Granada, the crown, and the heraldic emblem of the Great Captain appear in the stained glass windows. On the vault are high-reliefs depicting antiquity’s heroes and heroines, as well as scenes from the Bible. Siloé created the ornamental design.
The tomb of the Great Captain is at the foot of the chancel steps.

Photo credit: Ester Guglietta


I could write a lot more about this wonderful gem; I don’t know how many times I’ve visited it, but it’s one of those places that I never mind returning to and giving it the attention it deserves. Unfortunately, it does not receive the attention it deserves, and as I mentioned earlier, Granada is not a city that can be seen or visited in a single day.

In short, if you want to know more about the author’s trips, click on Viajando por Asia.

However, if you want to know more about the culture of any country, look at our Blog.

Author: Ester Guglietta from Viajando por Asia.

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