San Juan de los Reyes

The place chosen by the Catholic Monarchs to be buried.
A unique example of Castilian Gothic architecture

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10:00 – 18:25 *

10:00 – 17:45 *

Open from Monday to Sunday.*

*The ticket offices will close 20 minutes before closing time.
* 1 January and 25 December closed.
* 24 and 31 December until 13:00


Its majesty
will leave no one indifferent

Many consider it to be one of the most beautiful Gothic temples in Spain. It was conceived as the burial place of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, its majesty leaves no one indifferent.

To walk inside its walls is to soak up the history of Spain and discover the dedication of the monarchs to San Juan.

Monastic life in San Juan de los Reyes is one of its hallmarks. The silence and tranquillity that can be breathed in all its rooms make you to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

The cloister of the monastery of San Juan de los Reyes is unique in the city. Its two floors, its abundant vegetation, its coffered ceilings… everything makes you feel in heaven.

San Juan de los Reyes

The Foundation

A votive and memorial building

The monastery of San Juan de los Reyes was ordered to be built by the Catholic Monarchs in the city of Toledo, in an act of gratitude for the victory in the battle of Toro in 1476. The war for the succession to the throne was definitively settled in favour of Princess Isabella, sister of the late King Henry IV, who was already married to Ferdinand, against the supporters of Juana, the daughter of the king’s illegitimate marriage, his niece and goddaughter by baptism. Isabella defended her right to the throne to the end as a matter of legitimacy and convenience for Castile.

The chronicler of the Order, Fray Pedro Salazar, tells us a century later that the kings founded the temple “also because the Prince, whom they called Don Juan, was born”, and that the queen tried to build a collegiate church “for his burial”. From the decorative richness concentrated in the transept, we can deduce that this space was intended to receive the tombs of the monarchs, years before the conquest of Granada. Nevertheless, in her will, dictated decades later, the order to be buried in the church of San Francisco de la Alhambra in Granada, “the city that I love more than my life”, appears as words by the queen. Today, the remains of the Catholic Monarchs rest in the Royal Chapel of Granada, next to the cathedral where they were transferred by her grandson Charles V, together with those of her parents Joanna of Castile and Philip the Handsome.

Isabella, a Catholic queen

She and her husband were awarded the title of Catholic King and Queen by Pope Alexander VI due to their defence and fervour for the Catholic religion. Throughout her life, both politically and personally, the Queen demonstrated behaviour based on the Christian faith, seeking justice for her subjects “both small and great”; protecting the Indians of America “not allowing them to receive any injury to their persons or property”; and bravely facing the death of her only son Prince John, her beloved daughter Isabella -her first-born daughter- and her grandson Michael, heir to Castile, Aragon and Portugal. The defence of this same faith, a determining factor in the condition of her subjects, forced her to take the difficult decision to put an end to the permission of non-Christian subjects to reside in her kingdoms, as well as to correct deviations from this same faith, by means of the Tribunal of the Holy Office.

Elizabeth was a spiritual woman, united to Jesus Christ: “to whom I acknowledge that I owe all, for the many and innumerable spiritual and material benefits that I, his unworthy servant, have received”. In addition to her many alms, which has been subsequently known, she gave a different and very valuable tithe to God: her time, dedicating more than two hours daily to prayer.

The devotion of the Blessed Lord St. John

Saint John the Evangelist was the saint whom the Queen always had as a special advocate: “Because I have had and have a very singular devotion to the blessed Lord Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist and to the Order of the Observance of Saint Francis, I have decided to make and build a house and monastery in the very noble and very loyal city of Toledo”. I, the Queen.

In 1479, the monastery was given the name “St. John of Portalatyna”, a particular invocation of St. John the Evangelist who, according to legend, was martyred by Domitian order in a vat of boiling oil in front of the Latin Gate in Rome. The queen requested and obtained from the pope a special jubilee for the day of Saint John before Portam Latinam. It was later renamed Saint John’s Day. Eventually, as it was an enterprise promoted by the queen, it was renamed San Juan de la Reina. Finally, the monastery went down in history as San Juan de los Reyes.

A house for the Franciscans

The idea of the Collegiate Church must have been discarded due to the presence of the Cathedral in the city. Being very devoted to the Order of Saint Francis, they decided to donate the monastery to the observant Franciscan friars who had been in the convent of San Antonio de la Bastida for 57 years. When Cisneros arrived in 1486, some of the friars were already living there. Fifteen years later, they ordered the reform of the other Franciscan monastery in the city, of cloistered monks, or non-observant monks, and joined those of this monastery. Their old building under the Alcázar was given to Saint Beatriz de Silva for her newly founded order of the Conception or Conceptionists.

The Building

The construction work on the church and cloister

The works began under the architect Juan Guas in 1477. Ten years later, the main chapel, the main nave of the church and the vaults were finished, which is why the pomegranate added after the conquest of this kingdom in 1492 does not appear on the large coats of arms of the transept. The traveller Jerónimo Münzer reported in 1496 that the work was practically finished. Juan Guas had again been hired, this time on a piecework basis, to finish the work on the cloister, but he died and had to be replaced by Enrique Egas. The payments for the work on the cloister continued in the first decades of the 16th century. No means were spared, as can be seen in the accounts of the treasurer Ruy López, in which the largest sums of money destined for the war of Granada appear together with those of this monastery. The testimonies speak of more than 200,000 ducats. The rich documentation that has been preserved confirms the queen’s direct intervention.

Vicissitudes of history

A fire during the French invasion of 1808 destroyed the original altarpiece, the important library and the community building which contained a second cloister with Plateresque decoration. After the confiscations of the 19th century, which deprived the church of its assets, the friars were exclaustrated, the church was converted into the parish church of Saint Martin of Tours, whose original church was demolished as ruinous, and the cloister was ceded to the Monuments Commission for the installation of a museum. In 1954 the Franciscan community returned and in 1977 the parish life of San Juan de los Reyes was restored.

Art in
San Juan de los Reyes


An architect

It was built on the plot of land belonging to the houses of the knights Pedro Núñez de Toledo, alderman of Madrid, and Francisco Núñez. The architect chosen, Juan Guas, who came from Brittany and arrived in Toledo at a very young age probably with the team of Hanequín de Bruselas after more than twenty years of experience in the Cathedral, as well as having been involved in the design and construction of the castle of Belmonte, the cathedral of Ávila and the castle of Manzanares el Real, among others, gave the plans.

The Hispano-Flemish Gothic style

The chosen style is Gothic, of the type described as Hispano-Flemish or of the reign of the Catholic Monarchs, a union of the Flamboyant Gothic style from Flanders, France and Germany, with domination of spaces and roofs based on complex stone ribbed vaults, and the Mudejar style developed in Castile, of Muslim inspiration, with a love of decorative luxury on plaster and wood.

Covered with a decorative tapestry

Its single-nave plan, hallenkirche, or hall plan- with side chapels between the buttresses- is striking for its width and spaciousness. Its bays are covered by very complex ribbed vaults without diagonal ribs but at right angles around the central keystone. The transept does not protrude in plan, although it stands out in height. It is covered with a star-shaped vault supported by trumpets. As the place that was to be used for tombs, it is richly decorated in the manner of a large tapestry with images of saints and the coat of arms of Spain, in a heraldic display that reinforces the image of the dynasty. The pentagonal main chapel is decorated with an altarpiece from the former Hospital de la Santa Cruz.

The light spectacle

A radiant and luminous space, after the coloured stained-glass windows and the blinded windows of the transept were lost, has little to do with the spectacle of nuanced light initially conceived: from the semi-darkness of the choir loft, the light poured gradually into the nave and in torrents into the transept. The symbolism is clear: from the darkness of death, the faithful must reach through the nave of the church into the presence of the Divinity, which is epitomised in the Eucharist.

A funeral catafalque

On the outside, the profile of the building with its large rectangular volume surrounded by vertical pinnacles simulates a catafalque flanked by funeral candles. The original entrance was through the foot of the nave after a staircase that crosses the slope towards the Bridge of San Martín and which appeared in the last restoration in 2007. In the polygonal apse of the chancel, the powerful white stone figures of pages bearing the arms of the kingdom, after the recent restoration, have recovered all their splendour.


The yoke and arrows and the “Tanto monta”.

The coat of arms, which holds the eagle of Saint John the Evangelist, under two lions facing each other, symbol of royalty, contains in its quarters the lion and castle of the kingdom of Castile and the bars of the kingdom of Aragon, owner also of the kingdom of Sicily, epitomised by the crowned eagles. On the lower part, are the emblems of the yoke and arrows. Isabella chose the bundle of arrows, representing the union of kingdoms, because the F was the initial of her husband’s name. Ferdinand, knight of the Golden Fleece, chose the yoke, meaning union of forces, because the Y was the initial of his wife’s name. The Y and the F are present in the slender and majestic tribunes attached to the pillars, a space undoubtedly reserved for kings. The motto of “Tanto monta” that was to accompany its emblem, proposed by the great Latinist Antonio de Lebrija, alludes to the legendary episode of Alexander the Great arriving at Gordion where a yoke tied with a very complex knot was attached to a promise of conquest of the East. Alexander cuts it with his sword and proclaims: “it’s as good to cut as to untie”, which translates as “it’s all the same”. With this motto the equality of king and queen in the respective kingdoms is made present.

The Cloister: A Paradise on Earth

The cloister houses a garden that is a synthesis of an earthly paradise populated with species that originally sought to evoke the Garden of Eden. Today, myrtle, cypress, orange, pomegranate and other species perfume the air with their aromas and provide the stone with attractive notes of colour. It is divided into four parts, reflecting the four parts of the world, and with the water well in the centre, it is reminiscent of the medieval hortus conclusus or closed garden, an allegory of Mary’s virginity: “Garden you are closed, my sister, my bride, closed garden, sealed fountain. Your buds, a paradise of pomegranates, with exquisite fruits: spikenard and saffron, with the best balsams”. (Cant. 4, 12).

A fantastic neo-gothic restoration

At the end of the 19th century, at the behest of the state government, a comprehensive restoration was undertaken under the direction of the architect Arturo Mélida, who also drew up the plans for the School of Arts on the site of the second cloister that had disappeared. Architect, painter, sculptor and designer, Mélida undertook a subjective restoration, based on his admiration for the monument, in a neo-Gothic style with hints of historicist romanticism.

A leisurely stroll through its piece of land reveals all the beauty of its filigree stonework and reserves numerous surprises in the humorous representations of animals: dragons, apes, fantastic birds… carved by the Toledo sculptor Cecilio Béjar, who also worked until 1967 on the restoration of the images of the saints that populate the lower cloister. Particular ingenuity is displayed in the gargoyles, which are unique and full of fantasy.


The altarpiece of the Holy Cross

The current altarpiece comes from the Hospital de Santa Cruz, now the Provincial Museum of Fine Arts, promoted by Cardinal Mendoza at the beginning of the 16th century. It is the work of the sculptor Felipe Bigarny and the painter Francisco de Comontes from the mid-16th century and therefore contemporary to the monastery. It depicts episodes from the Passion, the Anastasis or descent into Hell and the Resurrection, as well as containing two original scenes from the Legend of the Holy Cross, popularised in the 13th century by the Dominican Santiago de la Vorágine in his Golden Legend: Saint Helen, mother of the Emperor Constantine, attends the origination or finding of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, hidden by the Jews in a deep cistern. The second scene alludes to the miracle of Christ’s cross, which, in contrast to those of the two thieves, is capable of raising a dead man who was being led to his tomb. The scene takes place in front of the rotunda of the Anastasis, a circular building containing Golgotha and the Holy Sepulchre, made known to pilgrims and travellers.


Let the stones speak

The whole temple is covered with inscriptions that proclaim the thought and spirituality of an era: “Not to us, Lord, but to Your Name glory is given” (Ps 113). It can be read in Latin on the outside under the window on the Gospel side. “This temple was built by the most Christian and enlightened princes Ferdinand and Isabella of immortal memory, kings of Spain, the Two Sicilies and Jerusalem, who later defeated and expelled all the infidels of the profane sects, both Judaic and Agarene, with the triumphal victory of the kingdom of Granada” can be read on the inside of the main chapel.

The Outer Chains: Trophy of Pain and Triumph

“From the outer walls hang chains and crickets of the Christian captives of Granada, placed there in memory of them, so that two carts would not be enough to carry them”. The traveller Münzer described in amazement this curious ex-voto: the chains of the Christian prisoners freed by Don Fernando in Marbella and other Andalusian squares, ordered to be placed here by the queen in 1494.

The pelican’s cross

The current visitor access door is crowned by an impressive sculptural group of Hispano-Flemish art- which are thought by some people to have been made to decorate the main chapel- under an arch over the altarpiece that today houses the painting by Romero Carrión: María Inmaculada y la orden franciscana (Immaculate Mary and the Franciscan order). It is a Calvary in which the cross, flanked by the Virgin and Saint John, is a Tree of Life. Interestedly, on its summit nests a pelican, a bird that, according to popular wisdom, when it lacks food, pecks its breast to feed its own flesh and blood to its young. The moral sentence derived from such an act was highlighted by the Physiologus, a book compiled in Greece by an unknown author in the 2nd century B.C. and which was transferred to Latin around the year 400, decisively influencing medieval bestiaries, in which the pelican clearly appears as an image of the Eucharist: Christ gives his flesh, his blood and even his own life to save humanity.

A place of cinema

Many films about Queen Isabella, her daughter Joanne of Castile, or Admiral Christopher Columbus, have coveted the settings around the cloister and church of this monastery for their locations. Not only the greatest names in the world of cinema, but also many illustrious personalities, have considered this an unmissable date in the city, to meet again with one of the most eloquent material testimonies of the history of Spain.


Sundays and Holidays
Sundays and Holidays

Visitors' comments

Comments and opinions of visitors on the Royal College of Doncellas Nobles

MartaOtra muestra de que Toledo es excepcional
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“Un lugar hermosísimo en el que, además de un pedazo de historia, el visitante puede disfrutar de una arquitectura bellísima en el centro de Toledo. Su restauración y limpieza reciente acrecentan su belleza.”
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“Es un Monasterio precioso y espectacular. Tiene un patio interior con un jardín muy cuidado y frondoso. La arquitectura es espectacular. La parte alta el techo es de madera tallada muy buena. La Iglesia interior es altísima y tiene un altar muy bonito.”
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“No puedes irte de Toledo sin visitar este monasterio, precioso. Es de estilo gótico isabelino en España y el edificio más importante erigido por los Reyes Católicos. El monasterio es, además, un monumento conmemorativo de los logros de los Reyes Católicos y de su programa político.”

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