Maundy Thursday is a very special day in Toledo, I was told. It is the day when the city’s myriad of monasteries and convents, usually closed to outsiders, open their doors to the hoi polloi. Spain’s first Catholic cathedral was built in Toledo, and resting on its momentous religious significance, every conceivable Catholic order has its hive. Nevertheless, the number of devout men and women contained within their thick stone walls has been progressively shrinking, and it seems that, nowadays, almost all the nuns, monks and priests under the age of 70 emanate from Latin America, Africa or the Philippines.
But I digress…
This is my third Easter since moving to Toledo, and I’d missed “The Grand Opening” of these holy dwelling places in the two years previous. So this time round, I was determined not to let it pass me by.
Well, I needn’t have bothered.
I’d not done much research beforehand to see what it was all about. I had naively hoped that I’d be able to indulge in a bit of “snooping”. I mean, I would love to see a working convent or a monastery from the inside, even if it was just for an amble around the inside courtyards (which can be very beautiful), a sneak peek into the reading room, kitchen, dining hall, or anything actually relevant to the everyday life of the inmates.
But no. The deal was that the institutions’ churches opened, allowing you to have a quick shuffle round the pews, gaze at statues of gold-robed saints with their fingers in weird positions and pray that you’d not get trapped in there mid-mass. Unless you actually wanted to attend mass. Which I didn’t. But I did get trapped. For a whole three hours. OK, it was probably only 20 minutes…
During my detainment, I noticed something interesting. At the back of these churches, facing the altar, there’s often a separate section, partitioned off with a wooden lattice. When I turned round during the interminable sermon, I realised what these were for: they were viewing galleries for the nuns. There they stood, shoulder on shoulder in solemn silence, watching the men in their fancy dresses pull off their show in what was actually their (i.e. the convent’s) church.
We (I was accompanied by my delightful Aussie neighbours) made it to four or five venues (with stopping off for drinks in between) before we ran out of steam.
There was only one WOW!-moment for me, induced by this most spectacular ceiling:
Toledo has some very fancy doors (here’s a picture post, if you’re interested), and we passed by this one on our thirsty pilgrimage:
Over the millennia, Toledo has amassed a stockpile of tales and legends that would fill Hogwarts library twice over. It’s not all cute and pleasant bedtime lore, as you can imagine. And if all those sieges, driving out of Jews, murdering of Moors, not to mention the Spanish Inquisition, weren’t enough, there’s a whole compendium of ghost stories. The local Tourist Office is not above promoting Toledo’s dark side. On our walk, we came across this gem of a poster:
I’m a bit concerned now that I might have given you nightmares… here’s some remedial petunias for you:
Happy Easter :)