Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe

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Overview

From the Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe World Heritage inscription:

The monastery is an outstanding repository of four centuries of Spanish religious architecture. It symbolizes two significant events in world history that occurred in 1492: the Reconquest of the Iberian peninsula by the Catholic Kings and Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. Its famous statue of the Virgin became a powerful symbol of the Christianization of much of the New World.

The Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe is located in the town of Guadalupe in the Spanish Region of Extremadura. It is one of the most important religious destinations in Spain and was a vital place in the history of Spanish exploration and conquest of the Americas, as well as to the political history of Spain.

The site is a popular religious and tourist destination for Spanish tourists, but relatively unknown to international travelers. About 80% of the visitors to the site are from Spain.

Guadalupe is the namesake of many other Guadalupes around the world, mostly in Latin American countries.

The monastery is still an active monastery with monks and daily services, although the number of monks living here is much smaller than what it was in the past.

In 1993 it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the many World Heritage Sites in Spain.

Take a guided tour of Guadaloupe

Inside the Church of Santa Maria
Inside the Church of Santa Maria

History

The history of the monastery dates back to the 13th century when a shepherd boy by the name of Gil Cordero found a statue of the Virgin Mary along the Guadalupe River. The word “guadalupe” is derived from the Arab word for “hidden river”.

The statue was believed to have been buried there by Visigoths who fled an invading Moorish army in 714. Legend says that the Virgin brought one of his cattle back to life with the promise that Gil create a church on the spot where the statue was found. The monastery is the church that was built.

The monastery became a popular spot for kings of Spain. In particular, Queen Isabella often stayed at the monastery and a residence built at the monastery for her.

The monastery had a special role in the exploration and colonization of the New World.

  • It was here where Queen Isabella first met Christopher Columbus, and it is believed that here he may have proposed the idea of trying to reach Asia by sailing west.
  • It is believed that the vegetable garden of the monastery might have been the first place in Europe where New World foods such as potatoes, corn, and tomatoes might have been grown.
  • The first natives of the Americas to reach Europe were brought here, and they were baptized as Christians here. There is a painting depicting the scene in the back of the church.
  • All of the places in the Americas with the name “Guadalupe” were derived from this town. This includes the city in Mexico and Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas.

The monastery became an important pilgrimage site over the years and it is the focal point of the Camino de Guadalupe.

What to see / Sights

The Virgin of Guadalupe Statue
The Virgin of Guadalupe Statue

The Virgin of Guadalupe This is the highlight of the entire monastery complex and the reason why it was built. The statue itself is not that large. It is about the size of a large doll. The statue is on a rotating pedestal, with one side facing the main church, and the other side facing a small chapel. The statue is facing the church most of the time, and that is how most visitors will see it. (Note: it is rather far away when you see it in the church). However, on occasion, it is on display in the chapel where you can see it up close. Expect a crowd with long lines when it is on display.

Dressing Room Originally built for Queen Isabella, it is adorned with paintings by the artist Francisco de Zurbarán. Today it is still used as a dressing area for the monks as their clerical vestments are stored here.

Embroidery Museum The former dining hall of the monastery has been converted into a museum of the historical clerical vestments which were used by the monks. Many of the vestments were created from cloth from dresses worn by the Queen of Spain who donated them to the monastery. The monks created very intricate embroidery for all of the vestments used for religious services.

Choir Book Room Monks who sang in the choir in the 16th century all used massive books which could be read by the entire choir. There is a collection of these giant books in the choir book room. You can visit the choir loft in the church where you can see the original bronze rotating holder which held the books for the choir.

Painting and Sculpture Museum This room is a collection of the artworks donated to the monastery over the years. Here you can see works from Goya and El Greco.

Detailed work in the Embroidery Museum, Guadalupe
Detailed work in the Embroidery Museum

How Much Time Should You Spend

Give yourself at least an hour, and probably two hours at a minimum depending on how much of the monastery is accessible. There are several small museums inside the monastery (see above) which should be explored as well as the main church. You can easily spend a day in Guadalupe exploring the village and the surrounding area as well.

The monastery gets about 85% of its visitors from Spain, most of which come for religious reasons. As such, expect significantly smaller crowds on weekdays and in the off-season.

Photography Tips

The most common photo of the monastery is taken outside from the main square located in front of the church. This is a wide-angle view of the facade of the church and the front steps.

Flash photography is not allowed inside the church or inside any of the museums. Prepare to increase your ISO when you are shooting indoors.

You can get a great view of the tops of the buildings from the Parador de Guadalupe hotel which is located across the street. The main image at the top of this page was taken from a window in a hallway from inside the hotel.

You can also get a landscape view of the entire monastery complex and the village by going a few kilometers outside of the village. There is a pullout on the road in the hills with a metal sign for the “Camino de Guadeloupe” where you can park your car to get a shot.

View of the monastery complex from outside the city
View of the monastery complex from outside the city

Take a guided tour of Guadaloupe

Operating Hours

The monastery is open daily. Note that the operating hours follow the traditional Spanish siesta and it is closed in the early afternoon. If you which to use the afternoon break to have lunch, note that most restaurants in Spain will begin seating for lunch around 2 pm.

  • Mornings: 9:30 am – 1 pm
  • Afternoon: 3:30 pm to 6 pm

Where to stay

There are two hotels which are associated with or close to the monastery.

Hospederia del Real Monasterio This hotel is located inside the monastery and is one of a small number of hotels which are located inside world heritage sites. You can’t get any closed than actually staying inside the property.

Parador de Guadalupe Located immediately across the street from the monastery, it offers the best views of the monastery. The image taken at the top of this page was taken from my room at the Parador.

There are several other hotels in Guadalupe as well which serve a variety of price levels.

Inside the Choir Book Room
Inside the Choir Book Room

Where to Eat

There are several dining options in the immediate vicinity of the monastery. Both of the hotels listed above have restaurants. In the case of the Hospederia del Real Monasterio, you can actually eat inside the world heritage site.

In the main square right outside the doors of the church, there are several small cafes which also serve food. Likewise, if you are willing to walk a bit, there are other places to eat in the village of Guadalupe, none of which are too far away.

How to get there

While not the easiest world heritage site to visit in Spain, it also isn’t terribly difficult to visit either.

Airports

The closest major airports to Guadalupe are Madrid (MAD) or Badajoz (BJZ). Both have car rentals available at the airport.

Get rental cars at the Madrid Airport

Get rental cars at the Badajoz Airport

By Car

Most people visiting Guadeloupe will be driving. As the village is in the hills, there is not a major highway which comes here. The roads connecting the village are in very good shape, but they are 2 lane roads which wind through the hills.

Estimated driving times from nearby cities:

  • Madrid: 2 hours, 45 minutes
  • Trujillo: 1 hour
  • Cáceres: 1 hour, 30 minutes
  • Mérida: 1 hour, 30 minutes
  • Badajoz: 2 hours
  • Seville: 3 hours, 20 minutes
  • Lisbon: 4 hours

Note that parking can be difficult in small Spanish villages like Guadaloupe, which weren’t designed for cars. The hotels nearby (see above) have parking available for their guests.

View inside of the dressing room with paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán
View inside of the dressing room with paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán

Public Transportation

There are buses which go to Guadaloupe from Madrid and other communities in Extremadura. There is no train service to Guadaloupe.

Get bus tickets from Madrid to Guadaloupe. (leaving Estación Sur in Madrid)

There are two bus lines which provide regional access to Guadalupe:

Cost

There is a fee for entering the monastery complex. The fees are quite reasonable for a world heritage site.

  • General Admittance Fee: €5
  • Retirees: €4
  • Children up to 14 years: €2.5

Weather

The climate in Guadeloupe is moderate. Because it is up in the hills it doesn’t experience the extreme temperatures you can see in other parts of the region. In the winter, temperatures will seldom dip below freezing.

Current weather in Guadalupe, Spain

Books about Guadaloupe