While preaching at a some churches in central Spain, a couple missionary friends asked if my wife and I would like to visit some very historical places. Of course, our answer was yes.
We first visited the large and unique buildings called the El Escorial which is also known as the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo El Real. It was located about 28 miles northwest of the Spanish capital, Madrid. El Escorial comprises two architectural complexes of great historical and cultural significance. The El Escorial was, at once, a monastery and a Spanish royal palace.
The facade of the Monastery of El Escorial Philip engaged the Spanish architect, Juan Bautista de Toledo, to be his collaborator in the design of El Escorial. Juan Bautista had spent the greater part of his career in Rome, where he had worked on the basilica of St. Peter's, and in Naples, where he had served the king's viceroy, whose recommendation brought him to the king's attention. Philip appointed him architect-royal in 1559, and together they designed El Escorial as a "perpetual home for the Crown of Spain.
El Escorial is situated at the foot of Mt. Abantos in the Sierra de Guadarrama. It is a bleak, semi-forested, wind-swept place. This austere location, hardly an obvious choice for the site of a royal palace, was chosen by King Philip II of Spain, and it was he who ordained the building of a grand edifice here to commemorate the 1557 Spanish victory at the Battle of St. Quentin in Picardy against Henry II, king of France. The building's cornerstone was laid on April 23, 1563.
El Escorial has been the burial site for most of the Spanish kings of the last five centuries, Bourbons as well as Habsburgs. The Royal Pantheon contains the tombs of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V (who ruled Spain as King Charles I), Philip II, Philip III, Philip IV, Charles II, Louis I, Charles III, Charles IV, Ferdinand VII, Isabel II, Alfonso XII, and Alfonso XIII.
The complex is also an enormous storehouse of art. It displays masterworks by Titian, Tintoretto, El Greco, Velázquez, Roger van der Weyden, Paolo Veronese, Alonso Cano, José de Ribera, Claudio Coello and others.
The library contains thousands of priceless manuscripts; for example, the collection of the sultan, Zidan Abu Maali, who ruled Morocco from 1603 to 1627, is housed at El Escorial. Philip II donated his personal collection of documents to the building, and also undertook the acquisition of the finest libraries and works of Spain and foreign countries. The library’s collection consists of more than 40,000 volumes, located in a great hall fifty-four meters in length, nine meters wide and ten meters tall with marble floors and beautifully carved wood shelves. The library's ceiling is decorated with frescoes depicting the seven liberal arts: Rhetoric, Dialectic, Music, Grammar, Arithmetic, Geometry and Astronomy.
The dome at El Escorial, soars nearly one hundred meters into the air, is supported by four heavy granite piers connected by simple Romanesque arches and decorated by simple Doric pilasters, plain, solid, and largely unprepossessing.
As we walked through the church we noticed an open area above and situated next to the main altar of the Basilica, the residence of King Philip II is made up of a series of austerely decorated rooms. It was of interest to me that the king could observe Mass from his bed when incapacitated by the gout that afflicted him.
In every part of this huge building you could see historical items not available anywhere else.
After we left the El Esorial we walked across to a street café and had coffee and discussed what we had seen. We still talk about that trip with our friends.