Convent of Las Descalzas Reales

Madrid, Spain

The Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, literally the 'Monastery of the Royal Barefooted', resides in the former palace of Emperor Charles V and Empress Isabel of Portugal. Their daughter, Joanna of Austria, founded this convent of nuns of the Poor Clare order in 1559. Throughout the remainder of the 16th century and into the 17th century, the convent attracted young widowed or spinster noblewomen. Each woman brought with her a dowry. The riches quickly piled up, and the convent became one of the richest convents in all of Europe. Tomás Luis de Victoria, Spain's finest Renaissance composer, worked at the convent from 1587 to the end of his life in 1611.

The demographics of the convent slowly changed over time, and by the 20th century, all of the sisters were in poverty. The convent maintained the riches of its past, but it was forbidden to auction any of the items off or spend any of the money it received from the dowries. The state intervened when it saw that the sisters were poor, and the pope granted a special dispensation to open the convent as a museum in 1960.

Museum

While in the past, the treasures of the monastery were not visible, today the monastery houses only a few nuns, and the site is a well-visited national monument. The noblewomen's dowries were often invested into relics and their bejeweled exhibition pieces. Among the many relics on display are putatively pieces from Christ's cross and the bones of Saint Sebastian. Among the priceless art masterpieces are Titian's Caesar's Money, tapestries woven to designs by Rubens, and works by Hans de Beken and Brueghel the Elder.

The museum collection also includes such rarities as portraits of royal children of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth from the late 16th century, referring to Polish–Spanish relations that inspired Calderón's La vida es sueño. Portraits of the son and daughter of King Sigismund of Poland were painted by Martin Kober in 1596 and were sent as a gift to King Philip III of Spain.

The Church

The original architect of the church was Antonio Sillero. The facade was designed by Juan Bautista de Toledo in 1559; who also helped in the roofing of the church. Parts of the altar, choir, and sacristy, were designed by Juan Gómez de Mora in 1612. Gaspar Becerra in 1562 completed the main retablo of the altar, which was considered his master work. Unfortunately, this retablo was destroyed by fire in 1862, along with many of the paintings and frescoes by Juan Pantoja de la Cruz.

In 1863 the altar was replaced by one commissioned in 1716 by Philip V of Spain to commemorate the beatification of the French Jesuit John Francis Regis, including canvases by Michel-Ange Houasse. It has a sculpted relief of the Apotheosis of Juan Francisco Régis, by Camillo Rusconi. The lateral panels were sculpted by Jose Bellver. The recumbent statue of the Jesuit was sculpted by Agostino Cornacchini. A chapel contains the marble statue of Joanna of Austria at prayer, by either Pompeo Leoni or Crescenci.

References:

Comments

Your name



Details

Founded: 1559
Category: Religious sites in Spain

Rating

4.3/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Cristina Giordano (2 years ago)
Surely a place to visit if you stay several days in Madrid, the tapestry are magnificent if you think how old are them and the work needed to be done. However not recommended if you're in a hurry because, at least in the weekend, you need to be long ahead the suggested time to be on the top of the queue and be sure you're among the first 20. They only received groups of 20 people at the time, with break of 30 minutes or so. Also, better to check the English tour in advance because most of them are in Spanish. I went there on a Friday afternoon, arrived at 3 pm for the 4 pm tour (in Spanish) and the queue behind me was very long!
Joscelyn Blumenthal (2 years ago)
Another real gem in Madrid; definitely see this monastery if you’re an art lover. Unique and well worth a visit. Buy a ticket early on weekends
Love Light (2 years ago)
There are wonderful collections in such a small space as compared to larger museums. If you are in area, this is a must see. Definitely recommend! However you can not just walk on your own. Must be in an hour guided tour which is given only in Spanish or French...
Peter Hunt (3 years ago)
The place itself is wonderful, with some the finest tapestries I have ever seen. Some excellent paintings, some rather average. N.B. Can only go in on guided tour, and the day I went they only were in Spanish, so I got a bit bored. Also not allowed to sit down even though there are wooden benches, too precious for paying visitors bottoms! But the tapestries are worth these hardships!!
Olga Martynova (3 years ago)
I would recommend this visit only to people deeply interested in religion. Rooms are dark, air is thick and warm, no toilets, no benches for older people. Only guided visits, Sundays all 7 guided groups were only in Spanish. Totally agree to people saying that 1 hour for a tour is too long. Come early and buy a ticket for a tour later that day. On a Sunday around 11am we did not have to wait in line, purchased the tickets for the tour at 12:45.
Powered by Google

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Pembroke Castle

Pembroke Castle is a Norman castle, founded in 1093. It survived many changes of ownership and is now the largest privately owned castle in Wales. It was the birthplace of Henry Tudor (later Henry VII of England) in 1457.

Pembroke Castle stands on a site that has been occupied at least since the Roman period. Roger de Montgomerie, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury founded the first castle here in the 11th century. Although only made from earth and wood, Pembroke Castle resisted several Welsh attacks and sieges over the next 30 years. The castle was established at the heart of the Norman-controlled lands of southwest Wales.

When William Rufus died, Arnulf de Montgomery joined his elder brother, Robert of Bellême, in rebellion against Henry I, William's brother and successor as king; when the rebellion failed, he was forced to forfeit all his British lands and titles. Henry appointed his castellan, but when the chosen ally turned out to be incompetent, the King reappointed Gerald in 1102. By 1138 King Stephen had given Pembroke Castle to Gilbert de Clare who used it as an important base in the Norman invasion of Ireland.

In August 1189 Richard I arranged the marriage of Isabel, de Clare's granddaughter, to William Marshal who received both the castle and the title, Earl of Pembroke. He had the castle rebuilt in stone and established the great keep at the same time. Marshal was succeeded in turn by each of his five sons. His third son, Gilbert Marshal, was responsible for enlarging and further strengthening the castle between 1234 and 1241.

Later de Valence family held Pembroke for 70 years. During this time, the town was fortified with defensive walls, three main gates and a postern. Pembroke Castle became de Valence's military base for fighting the Welsh princes during the conquest of North Wales by Edward I between 1277 and 1295.

Pembroke Castle then reverted to the crown. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the castle was a place of peace until the outbreak of the English Civil War. Although most of South Wales sided with the King, Pembroke declared for Parliament. It was besieged by Royalist troops but was saved after Parliamentary reinforcements arrived by sea from nearby Milford Haven. Parliamentary forces then went on to capture the Royalist castles of Tenby, Haverfordwest and Carew.

In 1648, at the beginning of the Second Civil War, Pembroke's commander Colonel John Poyer led a Royalist uprising. Oliver Cromwell came to Pembroke on 24 May 1648 and took the castle after a seven-week siege. Its three leaders were found guilty of treason and Cromwell ordered the castle to be destroyed. Townspeople were even encouraged to disassemble the fortress and re-use its stone for their purposes.

The castle was then abandoned and allowed to decay. It remained in ruins until 1880, when a three-year restoration project was undertaken. Nothing further was done until 1928, when Major-General Sir Ivor Philipps acquired the castle and began an extensive restoration of the castle's walls, gatehouses, and towers. After his death, a trust was set up for the castle, jointly managed by the Philipps family and Pembroke town council.

Architecture

The castle is sited on a strategic rocky promontory by the Milford Haven Waterway. The first fortification on the site was a Norman motte-and-bailey. It had earthen ramparts and a timber palisade.

In 1189, Pembroke Castle was acquired by William Marshal. He soon became Lord Marshal of England, and set about turning the earth and wood fort into an impressive Norman stone castle. The inner ward, which was constructed first, contains the huge round keep with its domed roof. Its original first-floor entrance was through an external stairwell. Inside, a spiral staircase connected its four stories. The keep's domed roof also has several putlog holes that supported a wooden fighting-platform. If the castle was attacked, the hoarding allowed defenders to go out beyond the keep's massive walls above the heads of the attackers.

The inner ward's curtain wall had a large horseshoe-shaped gateway. But only a thin wall was required along the promontory. This section of the wall has a small observation turret and a square stone platform. Domestic buildings including William Marshal's Great Hall and private apartments were within the inner ward. The 13th century keep is 23 metres tall with walls up to 6 metres thick at its base.

In the late 13th century, additional buildings were added to the inner ward, including a new Great Hall. A 55-step spiral staircase was also created that led down to a large limestone cave, known as Wogan Cavern, beneath the castle. The cave, which was created by natural water erosion, was fortified with a wall, a barred gateway and arrowslits. It may have served as a boathouse or a sallyport to the river where cargo or people could have been transferred.

The outer ward was defended by a large twin-towered gatehouse, a barbican and several round towers. The outer wall is 5 metres thick in places and constructed from Siltstone ashlar.

Although Pembroke Castle is a Norman-style enclosure castle with great keep, it can be more accurately described as a linear fortification because, like the later 13th-century castles at Caernarfon and Conwy, it was built on a rocky promontory surrounded by water. This meant that attacking forces could only assault on a narrow front. Architecturally, Pembroke's thickest walls and towers are all concentrated on its landward side facing the town, with Pembroke River providing a natural defense around the rest of its perimeter.