plan your visit
Reyes Católicos, 17. Toledo
(+34) 925 223 802
Tickets and bracelets are sold at the monument ticket office.
Open from monday to sunday.*
MARCH 1 TO OCTOBER 15
10:00 - 18:45 **
OCTOBER 16 TO FEBRUARY 28
10:00 - 17:45 **
General: 2’80 €
Reduced: 2’40 € *
Free: 0 € **
TOURIST BRACELET: 9€
ACCESS TO THE 7 MONUMENTS
* January 1 and December 25 closed.
December 24 and 31 closed at 13:00.
** The ticket window closes 20 min. before.
* Accredited school groups. +20 people groups.
** Under the age of 11. Accredited religious. People in wheelchairs. Residents in Toledo.
SAINT JOHN OF THE KINGS VISITORS OPINION
Very, very interesting and beautiful! You gate with ease in history,cheap to visited,see life in the monastery!worth seeing him attractive! I recommend!!
“Excellent and Atmospheric”
An atmospheric museum that houses some great artwork and boasts architecture to match. Well worth a day trip to Toledo to investigate.
While the exterior and interior are impressive the cloister is the real attraction. I found the interior dark and gloomy. But the cloister is bright and alive. The ceiling of the cloister's hallways is covered with beautifully hand carved wood. Don't forget your camera.
A building for devotion and commemoration
San Juan de los Reyes Monastery was commissioned by the Catholic Monarchs in the town of Toledo, to honour the victory in Battle of Toro in 1476. This battle put an end to the War of the Succession in favour of Princess Isabel, sister of late King Enrique IV and wife of Fernando. They were fighting against the supporters of Juana, daughter of the king’s illegitimate marriage, who was also Isabel's niece and goddaughter. Isabel defended her own right to the throne because she believed it was legitimate and good for Castilla.
A century later, the Order’s chronicler, Brother Pedro Salazar tells us that the monarchs also built the monastery ‘because the prince was born, whom they named don Juan', and that the Queen tried to build a collegiate church 'for her own burial'. At first the architecture and decoration were designed for the monarchs’ tombs. The crossing is heavily decorated, which leads us to think that this was the area that was built for the monarchs' tombs, years before conquering Granada, which is where they were buried in the end. However, decades after that, she stated clearly in her will that she wanted to be buried in San Francisco de la Alhambra Church, in Granada, ‘the town I love more than my own life’, as she put it. Today the Catholic Monarchs rest in the Royal Chapel in Granada, next to the cathedral. Their grandson Carlos V moved them there, as well as his parents’ bodies, Juana of Castilla and Felipe el Hermoso.
Ysabel, Catholic queen
The Pope Alexander VI gave Isabel and her husband the title of Catholic Monarchs because they zealously promoted Catholicism. The Queen was always a good Christian in her political and personal life. She always sought justice for her subjects, ‘big and small alike’; she protected the American Indians: ‘do not let any persons be hurt or have their possessions taken away from them'; and she boldly dealt with death of her only son Prince Juan, of her dearest eldest daughter Isabel, and her grandson Miguel, heir of Castilla, Portugal and Aragon. Her Christian faith determined the condition of her subjects, and this led her to make the difficult decision of restricting residence permits for non-Christian subjects in her kingdoms, as well as setting up the Holy Office Court to correct any deviations of Christianity.
Isabel was a spiritual woman and was devoted to Jesus Christ: ‘I owe him my everything – all spiritual and material blessings that I, his unworthy servant, have received.' She gave money to the poor – this was found out later – and she also gave a different and priceless tithe to God: her time. She spent over two hours a day praying.
Devotion to the blessed St John
The Queen was always especially devoted to St John the Evangelist: ‘Because I have been very devoted to St John the Apostle and Evangelist and to the Franciscan Order of Observance, and I still am, I have decided to build a house and monastery in the very noble and very loyal town of Toledo.’ I, the Queen.
In 1479 the monastery was called ‘San Juan de Portalatyna’, in honour of St John the Evangelist – according to the legend, he suffered martyrdom under Domitian by being immersed in a vat of boiling oil in front of the Latin Gate in Rome. The Queen requested for and was granted a special jubilee for St John's Day ante Portam Latinam. Afterwards the monastery was named 'De los Santos Juanes'. Later on it was called ‘San Juan de la Reina’ because it had been the Queen who had promoted that day. In the end the monastery was called '’San Juan de los Reyes’.
A home for Franciscans
The collegiate church was not built in the end, probably because there was already a cathedral in the town. As they were very devoted to the Franciscan Order, they decided to give the monastery to the observant Franciscan monks who had been in San Antonio de la Bastida’s Convent for fifty-seven years. There were monks living there already when Cisneros came to power in 1486. Fifteen years later, they commissioned the restoration of the other Franciscan monastery in the town, and the non-observant monastic monks who lived there were sent to the other monastery. The old building, located underneath the Palace was given to St Beatriz de Silva for the Order of Concepción or Conceptionists, which she had just founded.
Isabel and Fernando of Castille
Building the church and the cloister
The construction works started in 1477 with the architect Juan Guas. Ten years later the chancel, nave and vaults were finished. That is why the pomegranate does not appear in the large shields on the crossing because it was added after the kingdom of Granada ('pomegranate') was conquered in 1492. Traveller Jerónimo Münzer tells us that the construction works were virtually finished by 1496. They hired Juan Guas again to finish the cloister – this time they paid him on a fixed piece rate – but he died and Enrique Egas took his place. Juan Guas died and Enrique Egas replaced him. There are funds for the cloister during the first decades of the sixteenth century. Treasurer Ruy López’s accounts show that they spared no money on this construction. These accounts show that the amount of money spent on the monastery was similar to the money that was spent on the war of Granada. Documents show that they spent about 200,000 ducats. The large amount and variety of documents that are kept confirm that the Queen was directly involved in the project.
Avatars of history
A fire during the French invasion in 1808 destroyed the original altarpiece, the important library and community building that had another plateresque cloister. After the seizure of church property in the nineteenth century, when the monks were expelled, the church was turned into San Martín de Tours Parish Church. The ruins of the old temple were knocked down and the cloister was given to the Monument Commission to set up a museum. In 1954 the building was given back to the Franciscans and in 1977 church life was restored in San Juan de los Reyes.
A Breton architect
The monastery is built on the plots of land belonging to the houses of knights Pedro Núñez de Toledo, alderman of Madrid, and Francisco Núñez. Juan Guas, from Brittany, was the architect who was chosen for the job. He arrived in Toledo when he was very young, probably with Hannequin of Brussels’ team, after more than twenty years' experience in the cathedral. He had also taken part in the design and construction of Belmonte Castle, Ávila Cathedral and Manzanares el Real Castle, among others.
Spanish-Flemish Gothic style
The style they chose for the building was Spanish-Flemish Gothic, or the Gothic of the Catholic Monarchs, a fusion of Flamboyant Gothic from Flanders, France and Germany, with stone ribs that create open and covered spaces. The ribs are Mudejar, a style that was developed in Castilla and was inspired by the Moors, with extravagant decorations on plaster and wood.
Covered with a decorative tapestry
The single nave, 'hall church', with side chapels between the buttresses is surprisingly wide and spacious. The spans are covered by very complex cross vaults, with no diagonal ribs – they form a right angle around the central keystone. The crossing does not protrude at ground level, but it is very high. It is covered by a star vault supported by pendentives. As the monarchs’ tombs were going to be kept here, the place is covered with many kinds of decorations, as a great tapestry with repetitive images of saints and the coat of arms of Spain, a heraldic display that strengthens the image of the dynasty. The chancel is a pentagon and it is decorated with an altarpiece from the old Santa Cruz Hospital.
A show of light
The space was initially designed to be bright, with a blend of coloured lights, but it was not the same without the stained glass windows and with the large windows of the crossing boarded up. Light flooded the nave gradually from the darkness of the choir to the brightness of the crossing. The symbolism is clear – from the darkness of death and through the nave, the faithful arrive in the presence of God by taking communion.
A funeral catafalque
On the outside, the rectangular building is surrounded by vertical pinnacles to look like a catafalque surrounded by funeral torches. The original entrance was at the end of the nave, behind some stairs that go up the slope towards San Martín Bridge. These stairs were found during the latest restoration in 2007. The polygonal apse at the front and the powerful white stone figures of pages carrying the kingdom’s arms have recovered their splendour after this restoration.
SAINT JOHN OF THE KINGS
Hight cloister "Tanto Monta"
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Santa Cruz altarpiece
The current altarpiece comes from Santa Cruz Hospital. Today it is displayed in the Fine Arts Museum, which was promoted by Cardinal Mendoza at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The sculptor was Felipe Bigarny and the painter was Francisco de Comontes, both from the mid-sixteenth century, which means they lived while the monastery was being built. It depicts scenes from the Passion, Anastasis – when Jesus went down to Hell – and the Resurrection, as well as two original scenes from Santa Cruz Legend, which was made popular in the thirteenth century by the Dominican monk Santiago de Vorágine in Golden Legend: St Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, witnessed the invention or discovery of the Cross in Jerusalem, which had been hidden by the Jews in a deep well. The second scene shows the miracle of the Cross, compared to the thieves’ crosses. The Cross of Christ is able to resurrect a dead person who was being taken to the tomb. The scene happens next to the Anastasis Rotunda, a circular building where you can find Golgotha and the Tomb of Jesus, which is discovered by pilgrims and travellers.
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Interior and large windows of cruise
The yoke, the arrows and the 'Tanto monta'
St John the Evangelist's eagle with a halo is holding a coat of arms, under two lions facing each other, which is a symbol of royalty. The lion and castle symbolise the kingdom of Castilla and the bars symbolise the kingdom of Aragon, which also owns the kingdom of Sicily, which is represented by the eagles with crowns. Underneath are the symbols of the yoke and the arrows. Isabel chose the arrows to symbolise the union of kingdoms, and because the F (for ‘flecha’, ‘arrow’) was the initial of her husband's name. Fernando, knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece, chose the yoke as a symbol of combined efforts, and because the Y was the initial of his wife's name. You can find the ‘Y’ and the ‘F’ on the slender and majestic stands on the pillars, which undoubtedly were places saved for the monarchs. The ‘Tanto monta’ currency that would go with their emblem was proposed by the great Latinist Antonio de Lebrija, which refers to Alexander the Great when he arrived in Gordión, where a yoke with a complicated knot symbolised the promise to conquer the East. Alexander cuts the knot with his sword and exclaims: ‘tanto monta’, which means, ‘it makes no difference’. This currency shows that the king and queen ruled on equal terms in each of their kingdoms.
The cloister: Paradise on earth
The cloister has a garden that symbolises paradise on earth, which is full of species to depict the Garden of Eden. Today you can find myrtles, cypresses, orange trees, pomegranate trees and other kinds of trees that fill the air with their scent and give attractive colours to the stone. It is divided in four parts that symbolise the four parts of the earth, and in the centre there is a well that recalls the hortus conclusus or enclosed garden, an allegory of Mary's virginity: ‘A garden enclosed, is my sister, my spouse, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits, fragrant henna with spikenard, spikenard and saffron, with all the chief spices.' (Song of Solomon 4.12 – 14).
The ground floor is covered with German cross vaults, where the ribs do not cross in the centre. There is an array of figures of saints, the most venerated ones in Castilla in the late fifteenth century, which shows deep catechism: St John the Evangelist holding the chalice, Mary Magdalene with her jar of ointment, St Catherine of Alexandria with the wheel and sword, St Anthony of Padua holding baby Jesus in his arms… Between them there are ribbons with plant motifs – the typical thick thistle leaf – and animal motifs. The Renaissance steps, designed by Covarrubias, take us to the top floor where four halls start with mixed line arches and continue with nineteenth-century wooden ceilings.
Amazing Neo-Gothic restoration
At the end of the nineteenth century, the State Government commissioned architect Arturo Mélida to restore the building completely. Mélida, who was an architect, a painter, a sculptor and a designer, also designed the Art School that would be built on the plot of land where the second cloister used to be. He admired the monument, so he carried out a subjective Neo-Gothic restoration project, with traces of historicist Romanticism.
If you walk down the halls you can see the beautiful stone details, and there are also many surprising humorous animal representations: dragons, apes, fantastic birds, by sculptor Cecilio Béjar, who also restored the images of saints in the lower cloister until 1967. The gargoyles are especially ingenious – they are unique pieces of work, full of fantasy.
SAINT JOHN OF THE KINGS
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