Toledo and Don Quixote

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By Luci Lizares


Saturday, August 2, 2014

WE WANTED to see more of Spain, so Toledo was the chosen destination. After just 33 minutes, we were in the land of Don Quixote, the Man from La Mancha.

The Toledo Railway Station looked very much like a Moorish palace. It has many Mudejar details. Beautiful ceramic tiles, plaster moldings, brick, ceramics, iron and wood are used throughout the station. All church towers in Toledo have clocks and the station had one, too. The train station has been declared a “Property of Cultural Interest.”

The red hop-on, hop-off bus was conveniently parked and waiting for tourists. Our first stop was a viewing point and the sight was picture perfect. I felt frozen in time. There were no modern structures disturbing the medieval “feel and look” of the city.


With the clear blue skies, the transparent river, the bridges, the aqueducts, and the buildings— it was like looking at a Gothic/Renaissance landscape painting.

We decided to go down in the Holy Church Cathedral which is dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption and is the mother church of the Diocese of Toledo. It was built over foundations of a 6th century Visigoth Cathedral which was later used as a mosque. We had to pay entrance to the Cathedral plus an audio guide which cost us around 20 euros.

The cathedral has numerous chapels, more than 25 but the most captivating chapel was the El Transparente, which is considered as the pinnacle of Spanish Baroque. This altar is beyond words! The name is derived from the illumination provided by a large skylight cut very high up and another hole cut into the back of the altarpiece to allow shafts of sunlight to strike the tabernacle.

The altar is several floors high done with extraordinarily well-executed figures done in stucco, painting, bronze castings, and multiple colors of marble. The faithful say that in the morning masses when the sun shines from the east, shafts of sunlight strike the tabernacle through the hole in the back of the retable, giving the impression that the whole altar is rising to heaven. We were there in the afternoon and I was hypnotized! The main body of the altarpiece is constructed with a sculpture of the Blessed Virgin and the Child Jesus. This altar is so rich with details that it was so hard to detach myself from this corner.

The works of the great El Greco is featured in one of the chapels. El Greco was born Domenicos Theotocopoulos, in Crete, which was then part of the Republic of Venice. In his mid-20s, he traveled to Venice and worked under Titian. When he was about 35, he moved to Toledo, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life, producing his best-known paintings. His works from this period are seen as precursors of both Expressionism and Cubism.

You can easily distinguish El Greco’s work because his figures are elongated and tortured. His themes are often religious in nature, with bold colors and distinct brush strokes, which will establish his reputation in the years to come. He lived and painted in Toledo from 1577 until his death in 1614.

His El Expolio, or the Disrobing of Christ, is found in the High Altar of the Sacristy of the Toledo Cathedral. The painting shows Christ looking up to Heaven oblivious to the violence surrounding him. The Three Marias are found in the left foreground with a look of horror in their faces watching the hostile events taking place.

The Treasure Room is not to be missed. Fitted out from under the tower for more security and custody, are gold and silver works of art such as liturgical objects, relics, crosiers, clothing, crowns kept safe inside glass cabinets. A prized possession in this Treasure Room is the exquisite Bible of Saint Luis that was given to Alfonso X in 1258.

But the most valuable piece in the Treasure Room is the gorgeous Custodia, the monumental Processional Monstrance by Enrique de Arfe made in 1515. Made of the finest silver and gold and bejeweled with gems, it measures over 10 feet tall and holds the Ostensory (inner small monstrance) in its center. This was acquired by Cardinal Cisneros from Queen Isabella the Catholic and it is said that this monstrance was made from the first gold brought in from America by Columbus.

Arfe created the monstrance over a period of seven years. It is crafted in the form of a Gothic temple complete with architectural details, such as columns, arches, and vaultings. Scenes from the life of the Christ are magnificently illustrated. It has 260 statuettes of various sizes adorned with gems and varied figurines of angels and saints, fleurons, small bells and clappers. The work is crowned by a 17th-century cross. Eighteen kilograms of 18 karat gold and 183 kilograms of pure silver were used in its fabrication.

The 500-pound monstrance today is encased in a bullet-proof glass and heavily guarded by an automatic security system within the grounds of the cathedral. Since 1595, it has been the custom to carry the monstrance during the procession of the Corpus Christi. A float was made especially for this purpose. The size of the monstrance is monstrous. I am amazed how they could even get it out from the Treasure Room, more so to process it. But during the World Youth Day in 2011, the Monstrance of Arfe was brought out of the Cathedral of Toledo into the Cuatro Vientos airport, where it was used for the Eucharistic Adoration presided over by Pope Benedict XVI. Wow!

Having our fill with the Cathedral, we strolled down to the heart of the city, enjoying the scenes along the way with the Renaissance Ayutamineto (the City Hall). There were so many shops featuring local products of Toledo.

Toledo has a history in the production of bladed weapons, Damascene jewelry and pottery which are popular souvenirs of the city. Mazapan is their popular dessert. Window shopping as we went our way, we finally reach Plaza Zocodover. Over the centuries, this tiny square was where bullfights, executions of the Spanish Inquisition and trade fairs tool place.

Today, it is the hub that takes you to the different parts of Toledo.

Before leaving, we got to greet Don Quixote and said our good-byes to Toledo, the beautiful city and to exclaim, “Thank you, Lord!”

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on August 02, 2014.


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