Primada Cathedral

Since 1088 the main church of Toledo has been recognised as the primate cathedral over all others within the kingdom. It was therefore necessary for it to have a worthy see, once the direct danger of Muslim invasions had receded after the Christian victory at Navas de Tolosa in 1212. It occupies a place that appears always to have been sacred, it being on the site of the relocated main mosque, the Visigoth cathedral replacing it, possibly built on top of an earlier one.

The construction of the current building began in 1226, the archbishop being Jiménez de Rada and during the reign of Fernando III “the Saint”. The names of the earliest architects are known: Martín, responsible for the French gothic style plans and his successor, Petrus Petri. The temple base is a Latin cross, called a hall, because of being included in the rectangular plan. The elevation marks the cross, creating a vertical triangular shape since the central nave and the transept are much wider and higher than the side naves, the exterior naves being the lowest.

It is very interesting to climb one of the towers in Toledo where you can get an aerial view of the roofs of the cathedral forming a perfect cross surrounded by aerial flying buttresses marked by slender pinnacles. Only this way, or from the vantage points in the valley can the majestic nature and complexity of this outstanding building be appreciated, hidden away in a hollow in the middle of the city.

The oldest door of the temple is that of the North transept, inspired by the corresponding door of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, given the high influence that the French gothic style has on these entrances. The mullion with Virgin and Child introduces the theme of scenes from the life of Christ, sculpted on its tympanum. It is a type of catechism in stone for believers in the XIII Century. It should be read in order, starting from the lower left end, from the Assumption to the Final Judgement and the Death of the Virgin on the upper part.

Its present stone dome is from the beginning of the XVII Century, covering the Corpus Christi chapel, built on the orders of cardinal Cisneros on the recovery of the Mozarabic Rite, replaced by Catholic rites, coinciding with the Christian conquest of Toledo, 1085.

The tower, ninety metres high, was completed with a final octagonal body, finished with the slate alcuzon and three crowns designed by the master Hanequin of Brussels in the XV Century.

The main facade has three entrance doors, that of the “Pardon” or “Kings” in the centre, that of the “Palms” or “Hell” next to the tower and that of the “Scribes” or “Judgement” by the Mozarabic Chapel. There are another two, these being the aforementioned door at the North transept, called “the Fair”, “the Sandal Maker”, the “Lost Child” or the “Clock”, this installed on the orders of cardinal Lorenzana, at the end of the XVIII Century to mark canonical hours, hence it has only one hand. And, finally the Door of the Lions at the South transept, combining gothic and baroque sculptures, all of the highest quality.

Up to this point, orthodox gothic design is followed. However, Toledo Cathedral has more entrances, two that lead to the cloister, that of “the Presentation” and that of “Santa Catalina” and the last, unique because of its location in the South wall, the neo-classical “Flat Door”, the only one that does not have steps. This modest "service entrance" that gave access to stonemasons and sculptures for the temple for centuries, became a noble porch for the passing of the famous Monstrance, when the Corpus Christi procession makes its majestic departure. It is currently the entrance door for visitors. The cloister can be entered through the Mollete Door and there are another five auxiliary doors in the walls of the structures added to the temple.

The wide range of sculptures in every part have doctrinal and didactic roles, as well as artistic ones. The exterior choir shows many scenes from the Old Testament and the Large Dome from the New Testament.

The collection of paintings is also important, above all the excellent collection kept in the Sacristy that contains Christ Stripped of his Garments and the Apostolate by Greco, paintings by Caravaggio, Titian, Van Dyck, Goya, Morales, Rubens, Bassano and many more. Juan de Borgoña and Lucas Giordano should also be mentioned separately, since their most outstanding paintings are the frescoes that decorate the walls of the Chapter House and the ceiling of the Sacristy respectively.

Another type of art that is very noticeable is the gold and silver work. The cathedral’s treasure is exhibited in the chapel below the tower, including the imposing Monstrance by Enrique de Arfe, composed of numerous pieces fitted together in a gothic filigree style of gold-plated silver. This is the precious case for the real Monstrance of the Sacred Way, being made of solid gold, belonging to the Catholic Monarchs. Once a year it is paraded through the streets of the city for the exaltation of faith during the secular procession of Corpus Christi.

The “San Juan de los Reyes” Monastery The church was built to hold the “dynastic mausoleum” of queen Isabel the Catholic, dedicated to saint John the Evangelist, of whom the queen was a devout admirer. The use of the building dictated its type of simulated bier, surrounded by pinnacles in the form of wax candles.

The sanctuary and transept of the church were planned and erected by Juan Guas, the first person to hold the post of Royal Architect. The Franciscan cord runs along the entire facade, it being the order that occupies the building. The sanctuary is polygonal with buttresses crowned with needles or pinnacles, decorated with royal arms and life-sized heralds, showing the Catholic Monarchs shield shining among their clothing. The cimborio above the transept is octagonal, crowned by cresting and decorated with more gothic pinnacles. Above the side door there is an outstanding Stations of the Cross, showing the Virgin and Saint John, but not Christ. He is symbolised by the pelican placed on the cross, in accordance with the medieval belief that the bird was able to feed its young with its own blood, this being a type of precursor of the Eucharist.

The church has a hall floor with a spacious transept to hold future burial tombs. The sanctuary is polygonal making a tapestry of sculpture of Mudejar style. It is covered with a vault of eight-pointed stars and is supported by tubes. In the transept in the nave, the epigraphic decoration can also be seen, also from the Mudejar tradition, these signs alluding to the conquest of Granada. The entrance was planned for the end of the base of the church and the high choir, leading from the nave to the main altar, following the growth in illumination in the spaces. The repeated royal coats of arms in the main chapel were created before 1492, since the pomegranate fruit does not appear, which was a symbol of the then conquered kingdom. All of the decoration is repetitive and intended to underline the magnificence of the monarchs. Isabel is symbolised by sheaves of arrows that represent the union of forces and by the letter “Y” of her name, in the spelling of the time.

Fernando is symbolised by the letter “F” and by a yoke with the motto "tanto monta" (it is all the same), which alludes to the myth of the Gordian knot, cut by Alexander the Great when faced with the impossibility of untying it. It is a justification for the means used to obtain the desired ends. Here it indicates the primacy of the reason of the State above other considerations, as considered by Machiavelli. It is no accident that the symbols of each of the consorts begin with the initial of the name of the other.

Another key space is the square, two-tiered cloister, one of the masterpieces of late gothic art within the Hispanic-Flemish aesthetic, which combines gothic and Mudejar elements, something very typical of Juan Guas. The length of its sides with five spans is exactly half that of the nave of the church. The lower cloister is covered with a German style ribbed vault, without which the ribs would join in the centre, therefore without a key.

The upper cloister shows a wooden coffered ceiling with typical Mudejar tracery. The columns, arches, and pilasters are covered in animal and vegetable motifs, many of them also holding a symbolic meaning. Among them are human figures, separate or together in scenes, such as a boy stabbing an eagle, a monkey horseman riding a dog playing the flute, another sitting on a toilet, and many more, typical of the range of gothic taste. However, some may come from the Restoration in the XIX Century. Throughout the cloister there are sculptures of biblical figures on pedestals and under canopies. The steps that lead to the upper cloister show Renaissance motifs, a half orange vault, masks, pilgrims’ badges, caissons, and examples of the work of Alonso de Covarrubias.

The chains hanging on the exterior walls of the church are especially noteworthy. They refer to the prisoners freed during the long Granada campaign and were hung in 1494, as a votive offering and a symbol of the triumph of Christian faith. They complete the planned decoration of the building well.

In the end, the monarchs changed their opinion after the conquest of Granada and their final resting place is in the new cathedral of that city.

The convent was practically destroyed during the War of Independence and was only rebuilt in part, the second cloister disappearing, in accordance with the historical criteria of the XIX Century, leaving no distinction between the old and the restored, the gargoyles of the cloister being the best example of this.

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