San Benito el Real church was erected at the site of the old Royal Alcázar of Valladolid and designed originally in Gothic style; although the façade, with its gate-tower shape, was designed in 1569 in a Renaissance-influenced style by Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón. Originally, the towers flanking the entrance were considerably taller, but these were shortened in the 19th century due to concerns about their structural integrity.
The church was built using stone from 1499 to 1515, following plans of Juan de Arandia and García de Olave. It is organized by three naves, which end in three polygonal apses without a crossing. The aisles are tall, with minimal height difference with the center nave, creating a space that suggests a single church-hall, more common in the first half of the 16th century.
The interior is lit through large oculi, that open in the wall of the lateral nave of the side of the Epistle and in the apses. Originally, there were also some holes in the central nave, but these were covered when the roofs were raised around 1580. The high choir covers the three naves of the church.
The exterior of the building has thick walls of limestone (extracted from quarries near Valladolid, like Villanubla, Zaratán or Campaspero) and large windows that illuminate the spacious interior. The side facades are articulated by buttresses that counteract the thrust of the vaults with terceletes with which it is covered on the inside. The pillars that divide the naves are baquetonates. The sections at the head of the church have decorated capitals and cornices, which are absent elsewhere. This may be due to the search for a cheaper budget as the work proceeded from the head, according to the medieval custom.
As the Benedictines had much power and this was their main house in Castile, the church held artworks of high quality. These included the altarpiece and the choir stalls, in the central nave.
The choir stalls (1528) were sculpted by Andres de Nájera, with low and high chairs. The stalls were used for the annual meetings of the Benedictine abbots of the Castilian monasteries, which took place in this church. The backs of high chairs depict the saints to whom the Spanish Benedictine houses were dedicated, allowing each abbot to find their seat. The style of the stalls is Plateresque. The style to the Roman from Italy had only recently arrived in Spain. Some decorations are based on paintings in Rome's Domus Aurea; the images of saints depart from prior Gothic models.
In 1571 an iron grille was erected, covering the three naves and dividing the church into two parts: the front for common people, and the apse for the monks. The fence is by Tomás Celma and is of high quality.
After the Ecclesiastical Confiscation of Mendizábal in 1835, the monastery became a fort and barracks, and the church was deconsecrated. It was stripped of its works of art, though the choir stalls were kept, and the altarpiece transferred to the Museo Nacional de Escultura in the Colegio de San Gregorio, Valladolid. The fence however remains and has not suffered damage. From the mid-19th-century many people called for the church's reopening, which occurred in 1892, under the Venerable Third Order of the Carmel's administration. Since 1897 it is the Order of the Barefoot Carmelite which takes care of the church. In 1922 was installed a Baroque altarpiece to replace the former, from a church of the town of Portillo, Castile and León.
Adjacent to the church is the monastic building with three cloisters; one of them them known as Patio Herreriano, now a museum of contemporary art, and a Mannerist main facade designed by Juan Ribero de Rada.
At present, the prior of the convent is Juan Jesús Sánchez Sánchez, from Convento de Padres Carmelitas in Medina del Campo.References:
The original Cochem Castle, perched prominently on a hill above the Moselle River, served to collect tolls from passing ships. Modern research dates its origins to around 1100. Before its destruction by the French in 1689, the castle had a long and fascinating history. It changed hands numerous times and, like most castles, also changed its form over the centuries.
In 1151 King Konrad III ended a dispute over who should inherit Cochem Castle by laying siege to it and taking possession of it himself. That same year it became an official Imperial Castle (Reichsburg) subject to imperial authority. In 1282 it was Habsburg King Rudolf’s turn, when he conquered the Reichsburg Cochem and took it over. But just 12 years later, in 1294, the newest owner, King Adolf of Nassau pawned the castle, the town of Cochem and the surrounding region in order to finance his coronation. Adolf’s successor, Albrecht I, was unable to redeem the pledge and was forced to grant the castle to the archbishop in nearby Trier and the Electorate of Trier, which then administered the Reichsburg continuously, except for a brief interruption when Trier’s Archbishop Balduin of Luxembourg had to pawn the castle to a countess. But he got it back a year later.
The Electorate of Trier and its nobility became wealthy and powerful in large part due to the income from Cochem Castle and the rights to shipping tolls on the Moselle. Not until 1419 did the castle and its tolls come under the administration of civil bailiffs (Amtsmänner). While under the control of the bishops and electors in Trier from the 14th to the 16th century, the castle was expanded several times.
In 1688 the French invaded the Rhine and Moselle regions of the Palatinate, which included Cochem and its castle. French troops conquered the Reichsburg and then laid waste not only to the castle but also to Cochem and most of the other surrounding towns in a scorched-earth campaign. Between that time and the Congress of Vienna, the Palatinate and Cochem went back and forth between France and Prussia. In 1815 the western Palatinate and Cochem finally became part of Prussia once and for all.
Louis Jacques Ravené (1823-1879) did not live to see the completion of his renovated castle, but it was completed by his son Louis Auguste Ravené (1866-1944). Louis Auguste was only two years old when construction work at the old ruins above Cochem began in 1868, but most of the new castle took shape from 1874 to 1877, based on designs by Berlin architects. After the death of his father in 1879, Louis Auguste supervised the final stages of construction, mostly involving work on the castle’s interior. The castle was finally completed in 1890. Louis Auguste, like his father, a lover of art, filled the castle with an extensive art collection, most of which was lost during the Second World War.
In 1942, during the Nazi years, Ravené was forced to sell the family castle to the Prussian Ministry of Justice, which turned it into a law school run by the Nazi government. Following the end of the war, the castle became the property of the new state of Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate). In 1978 the city of Cochem bought the castle for 664,000 marks.