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Toledo Cathedral: The Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo

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Toledo Cathedral in Toledo, Spain, is an excellent example of a Spanish Gothic structures in Europe. The cathedral houses important masterpieces including a spectacular baroque high altar and paintings by El Greco.

TOLEDO CATHEDRAL: THE CATHEDRAL OF SAINT MARY OF TOLEDO

Toledo Cathedral in Toledo, Spain, is an excellent example of a Spanish Gothic structures in Europe. The cathedral houses important masterpieces including a spectacular baroque high altar and paintings by El Greco.

The Cathedral of Toledo stands on the site of the Great Muslim Mosque of Toledo, which itself had replaced a Visigothic church during the reign of King Recaredo. King San Fernando and the archbishops began building the new church in 1226. The fifteen chapels of the ambulatory were completed afterwards. Around the year 1300 the transept nave was completed, although construction continued on the church for the next two centuries. Built from 1226 to 1493, the long process is visible in the cathedral's variety of styles.

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Photo by Ramon Duran

Mainly during the 13th-century architecture of Toledo cathedral was inspired by the Gothic cathedrals of France such as Chartres Cathedral, but the crouch proportions give it a Spanish feel, as much as the wealth and angle of the furnishings and the location of the detailed choir in the center of the nave.

The exterior of the cathedral can be fully appreciated viewing at a distance, more likely at the high point of the Parador Nacional de Turismo. One can view the graceful scale of the cathedral with it grand spire and monolithic buttresses. The north tower built from 1380-1440 stands almost 300 feet high which contains the notable bell, Campana Gorda weighing 17 tons and cast in the year 1753. The south tower is capped with a Baroque dome and left incomplete.

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Photo by paradoxplace.com

The façade has three fine Gothic portals which date back from the early 15th century. The Puerta del Perdon – the central portal has a tympanum relief by Juan Aleman featuring the Virgin handling a vestment to San Ildefonso, the patron saint of Toledo. There are eight portals in total.

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Central West Portal - Photo by Derek DeVries

The cathedral's main entrance, finished in 1418, is divided into three grand doorways (from left to right): the Door of Judgment, the Door of Pardon and the Door of the Scribes.

The interior is a central nave with two aisles on both sides, divided by consecutive 88 clustered pillars defending the vaults. There are two beautiful rose windows on the north and south doors, including the magnificent 15th and 16th century stained glass windows throughout. A remarkable vast fresco of St Christopher is depicted at Puerto de los Leones right after the south door.

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The choir (coro) is seated at the heart of the cathedral with two grand tiers of curved walnut-wood stalls. The stalls in the lower tier were done by Rodrigo Aleman around 1495 depicting elaborate relief of scenes from Granada’s conquest. The coro contains abundant detailed sculptures. The upper tier on the south side was done by Alonso Berruguete and the north side by Philippe Vigarni in around 1543. It features Old Testament scenes and figures. The Transfiguration carved from a single block of alabaster was done by Berruguete.

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An impressive depiction of the Transfiguration, carved from a single block of alabaster by Alonso Berruguete in the 16th century.

A medieval misericord is featured on every choir stalls, carved with funny, pleasing comical scenes of joke from everyday life. Many are worn-out smoothly by centuries. The choir's free-standing altar features a 13th-century Romanesque stone figure of the Virgen Blanca, who wears a tolerant smile. The Plateresque grille that encloses the choir is said to be gold plated, but it was covered in iron to disguise its value.

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The Capilla Mayor is a huge altarpiece of gilded and painted larchwood (1497-1504) stretching to the ceiling. It is a magnificent example of Gothic art. It is flooded with complex detail and summarizes the New Testament with life-sized figures, culminating in a Calvary scene at the top.

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Courtesy of flickr.com

El Transparente is the most valued among the cathedral's many art treasures, right next behind the main altar. It was a wall of marble and florid baroque alabaster sculpture, it was overlooked for years because of its location and the cathedral was poorly lighted. Sculptor Narcisco Tomé cut a skylight in the ceiling and now light touches the high-rising angels, a Last Supper in alabaster, and a Virgin in ascension.

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Red hats hanging from the ceiling in front of El Transparente belonged to the cardinals who are buried in the tombs directly beneath. The cardinals of Toledo have the privilege of choosing anywhere in the cathedral to be buried, and their hats are hung above the tombs until they decompose.

There are more than 20 chapels throughout the cathedral, many of which house fine tombs. The richly decorated Capilla de Santiago, in the northeast corner of the ambulatory, contains the magnificent Gothic marble monuments of Condestable Álvaro de Luna and his wife (1488).

The famous 16th-century Capilla Mozárabe is down at the west end in the southern corner that contains works by Juan de Borgona. Mass is still held here using Mozarabic (Visigothic) liturgy at morning. The Church tried to ban the old ritual in 1086, but the people of Toledo were outraged and eventually the two courses were allowed to coexist.

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The 15th-century Gothic chapel Capilla Santiago (Chapel of St. James) in the east end of the cathedral houses the tombs of Don Alvaro de Luna (flanked by Knights of St. James) and his wife Doña Juana de Pimentel (flanked by Franciscan friars).

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The centerpiece of the Treasure Room

Upon entrance at the right is a beautifully carved plateresque doorway by Covarrubias, marking the entrance to the Treasury in the Capilla de San Juan. The centerpiece of the room is a 500-pound, 10-foot high, 15th-century gilded monstrance by Juan del Arfe, a silversmith of German descent. It is made of solid silver and was gilded 70 years later, allegedly with gold brought back from the New World by Columbus. It is still carried through the streets of Toledo during the feast of Corpus Christi.

At the Sacristy are display of arts like the Goya's Arrest of Christ on the Mount of Olives and El Greco's Twelve Apostles and Spoliation of Christ (El Espolio). The latter, one of El Greco's earliest works in Toledo, offended the Inquisition, which accused the artist of putting Christ on a lower level than some of the onlookers. El Greco was put into prison, where his career ended.

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Chapter House

The New Museums house more works of art, including El Greco's most important sculpture, a wooden group of San Ildefonso and the Virgin Mary. The Chapter House (Sala Capitular) contains 16th-century artesonado ceiling and portraits of all Spanish archbishops to the present day. The walls are covered in murals of biblical scenes, including the Passion and the Last Judgment.

On the north side of the cathedral is the cloister, begun in 1389. There are frescoes by Francisco Bayeu and Mariano Maella (1776) on the south and east sides. At the northeast corner of the cloisters is the Capilla de San Blas with Florentine murals finished in 1399. In a room at the upper cloister (claustro alto), entered from Calle Hombre de Palo, are the giant stones - huge figures some 20 feet high and clad in 18th century costume, which are carried in procession during fiestas.

Reference:

http://www.spain.info/en/conoce/monumentos/toledo/catedral_de_toledo.html

http://www.planetware.com/toledo/cathedral-e-cast-tolcat.htm

http://www.sacred-destinations.com/spain/toledo-cathedral

http://www.toledo-travelguide.com/tourist/attractions/toledo-cathedral.html

http://www.whatmadrid.com/toledo-cathedral.html

Image Source - Toledo Cathedral Gallery

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Ron Siojo
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