Tired of shopping on nearby Preciados, worn out by modern-day life and disappointed in that eternal struggle called “love”? There is always the option of getting away from it all and becoming a nun in the Convent of “the Barefooted Royals”. If you aren’t ready to commit to a lifetime of cleric service, you can, of course, just visit.
In 1557, Doña Juana de Austria, recently widowed and returning from Portugal to Spain, decided to convert a palace her parents, the Spanish king and queen, owned into a convent. The former palace soon became the place to be for many female members of the Royal family and high nobility with broken hearts – provided they brought a dowry with them.
Centuries of valuable objects piled up but when times changed and less rich women were willing to ‘take the habit’ and were followed by girls from more humble backgrounds, the convent faced a financial crisis. Not being allowed to use any of the money or objects inside, the starving brides-to-Jesus opened a part of their home to the public.
There are still 19 nuns living there, together with a recently arrived novice from Argentina; however, none will ever be seen because they live in seclusion. What you will see are the main entrance, the never-ending number of chapels they maintain, the rooms where the cells were located before the convent was opened for visitors, the chorus, and assorted other rooms.
Each and every one of them heavily decorated with statues, religious objects, tapestries, and countless paintings from royals and saints. The guided tour will give you the basic information on materials used, names of famous painters, people depicted and dates, but there is still plenty left to ask or wonder about: How do you fit a bed, table and chair in a space not bigger than 1,5×1,5 meters? How do you build and maintain a Jesus-on-the-cross made from corn dough? Or a Mary from wax? What is done with the eggs people bring the nuns to ask for a wedding or communion day without rain? Exactly which body parts of Saint Sebastian and Saint Barbara are kept as relics?
See? No time to wonder about that lost love anymore!
Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales
Plaza de las Descalzas s/n
Tue-Thu 10.30 to 12:30 and 16 to 17
Fri 10.30 to 12.30
Sat 10.30 to 12.30 and 16 to 17
Sun 11 to 13.30
Entrance: €5, guided tour of 1 hour, only in Spanish. You might have to wait a bit before it is your turn.
First published on www.MAPmagazine.com, summer 2007