In the last 20 years, Spain has been moving away from its religious roots. Sixty percent of Spaniards now do not go to church on a regular basis and only 14% of young Spaniards say they are devoutly religious. Even though this is the case, Madrid is still known for its many beautiful religious buildings and churches. Churches, convents and monasteries still survive here and are some of the most famous and most beautiful buildings in the city.
The Convent of the Royal Barefoot Sisters (Convento de las Descalzas Reales)
Plaza de las Descalzas, Reales 3, Arenal, Madrid 914-548800
Built in the 16th century, this convent is now also a museum. Visitors are allowed in groups of 20 at a time on a guided tour. The tour, which lasts an hour, is usually in Spanish, but still worth doing for the beautiful paintings, chapels and tapestries you will see. Paintings by Titian, Rubens and frescoes by Claudio Coello are all worth seeing. The convent also has an amazing hidden inner garden. Get there early as they only allow a couple of groups in every hour, so the wait can be long.
On Wednesdays, they have free admission for European nationals, but you will need your passport to verify your citizenship. Very beautiful though and worth every penny of the admittance fee. This is also still a working convent with a small group of nuns living here.
Our Lady of the Almudena (Catedral Nuestra Senora de la Almudena )
Calle Bailen,Madrid – 915-422200
A very odd building, this new Cathedral located near the Grand Palace is glaring white and neo-classical on the outside with huge columns and spires, and gothic on the inside. Due to different building problems, it took more than a century to complete so didn’t open until 1993. The view from the altar down the nave is beautiful and don’t forget to look up to see the impressive arched ceiling. Outside, it is just as impressive as inside, as the walk up to it is across an enormous square. A statue of the patron saint of Madrid, the lady of the Almudena, is also in the cathedral.
San Francisco el Grande (The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi)
Plaza San Francisco, Madrid – 913-653800
Near the Cathedral of Our Lady of Almudena is the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. This incredibly beautiful church has a dome that is larger than the one on Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, and used to be the most important religious building in Madrid. Impressive inside, it houses a Goya painting of San Bernardino and a self-portrait of Goya. This building is gorgeous inside and guided tours in English are available daily, so you can get the lowdown on the building’s history.
San Jeronimo el Real
Calle de Moreto – 914-203578
One of the most fascinating and important historical buildings in Madrid, this building is the site of past Spanish parliament meetings and present day society weddings. King Juan Carlos was even crowned here. There is a famous drawing in the Louvre Museum in Paris of the child king, King Ferdinand, taking an oath here in the 1790s.
Spain may not be as religious as its past would lead you to believe, but it does still have some beautiful religious buildings. There are several other churches around the famous Plaza Mayor area that are also worth seeing, a couple of churches even dating back as far as the 14th century. Don’t forget though, unlike much of the world, most churches and religious buildings in Spain have an entrance fee. Some of them will offer free admission to EU citizens on certain days of the week, so it is worth checking to find out when this is offered.
Photo of San Jeronimo el Real – copyright Kevin Poh/Creative Commons