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Toledo Spain 2017

T2H2 Visit Spain November 2017

“Second Stop Toledo, All Aboard!”

We arrived by train in Toledo to find this charming Neo-Mudejar station alive with color from the tall stained glass windows, surrounding tile walls and floor. This spectacular wall of Mashrabija screens (turned wooden spindle screens) backed with colored glass, was the original ticket counter of the station. I am a particular fan of the eclectic and revivalist styles used so effectively in the second half of the nineteenth century and into the first decades of the twentieth. This marvelous concoction was designed by Narciso Claveria de Palacios (don’t you love that name) and completed in 1919. It references the Mudejar style (a combination of Islamic and medieval Christian designs) that is present in all the ancient communities of Castille or Islamic Iberia of which Toledo was an important city in both epochs.

This is a view of Toledo Cathedral from the 4th floor terrace of our hotel, La Posada de Manolo  Do yourself a favor, drop the burger you’re munching, pack a bag and dash to Posada Manolo ASAP!  The hotel is nestled into the center of Toledo right beside the Cathedral and although compact and small it is also warm, cozy, and every inch is a masterpiece of textual grace with lots of custom wrought iron details that incorporate a variety of   dragons. The fourth floor breakfast room has this same view inside and out on the terrace and its proximity to the ancient masonry pinnacles and towers of the cathedral allows for close inspection of that church. In the opposite direction we could see a jumble of tiled roofs, all encrusted with lichens of surprisingly vivid colors. Beyond these I could see the rural and wild country side just beyond the Tagus River surrounding Toledo.

The bell tower of Toledo Cathedral is 301 feet tall and crowned by a triple tiara referencing the Papal crown. This tower is the great landmark of the city made ultimately famous by El Greco in his painting, “Vista de Toledo” (1596.)  The narrow streets of this perched city built on a steep rock formation rising precipitously from the surrounding Tagus River, makes the tower seem impossibly tall in its audacious reach for heaven.

Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo is considered to be the greatest achievement of the Gothic style in all of Spain. Begun in 1226 it was in process of construction until 1493 when the vaults of the central nave that we see here were completed. I am enamored of round architectural shapes in general and when they appear as windows I am particularly enthralled. The vast colored windows known as “Rose Windows” have a strong universal appeal because of their grace of form and explosion of color that refracts light into its constituent parts and thereby reveals the glory of the divine. 

So here they are, Mother and child, Mary and Jesus. They express such a tender love toward each other, especially Jesus’s gesture of his hand caressing the chin of Mary. His tender embrace has elements of mature reciprocation as if the child has presentment of the sorrow his mission must tragically encumber his mother with. To me, mother and child recognize each other over infinite incarnations and by this insight have deep sympathy for the inevitable imperfections each must embody in the quest for resolution in their tumultuous reach for spiritual evolution.

Some you may recognize this photograph as my Christmas card this year. I am deeply gratified to have been able to capture the meaningful alignments that are present in this image. The way Mary and Jesus stand out against the background of the surrounding cathedral has a surreal quality that “pops out” at you and this is fitting for a church that is dedicated to Mary. It is the Mother who brings us the possibility of innocence and the potential of life anew. She is the eternal source of nurture and care, swathed in the strength of generous abundance. She is sure of herself without arrogance knowing that death is the inevitable outcome of her travail. She knows herself to be a window into eternity.

Within a compositional concern, I see the organ pipes horizontally projecting from left to right one direction folding into the other and echoing this construction, in the tradition of contrapposto rhythm, Mary leans her hip to the right, supporting the seemingly easy weight of Jesus. Above them soars the fantastic ambition of the pointed arches of the nave that resolve their tension in the perfect halo of the rose window, embracing the divine pair in an aura of prismatic glory!

I am enormously fond of cloisters and when visiting San Juan de los Reyes, a royal monastery in Toledo originally intended to be the mausoleum for Ferdinand and Isabella. I heard whispered laments of vespers echoing from the shadows of time.

We came across this monastery quite by chance as we wandered the narrow medieval lanes of the city. It was an oasis of quiet in an otherwise tourist invaded world and I sank deep into the peace of the place. Because of its original intention to shelter Spain’s most important monarchs it enjoys a wealth of gothic embellishments that are profoundly beautiful.

Two tiers of cloisters surround the “Paradise Garden” at the heart of San Juan de los Reyes.

The extreme grace of the gothic tracery decorated by a wealth of verdant garlands that are alive with humans and animals both fantastic and real, animate the cloister with a royal celebration of this world and the next.

The picturesque streets of Toledo twist and turn, following the tortured history of Celts, Romans, Visigoths-the original Christians, Moors and then the reconquest by Alfonso VI of Castille on May 25th, 1085. This is, in some ways, only the beginning of the convoluted history of this important Spanish city.

On our way out of town, on a sparkling clear morning, we pause for photos with Toledo Cathedral and the Alcazar in the background.

Here’s looking atcha!

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