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The Escorial

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A remarkable building in Spain situated on the south-eastern slope of the Sierra Guadarrama about twenty-seven miles northwest of Madrid. Its proper title is El Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial, Escorial being the name of a small town in the vicinity. The structure comprises a monastery, church, pantheon or royal mausoleum, a palace intended as summer and autumn residence of the court, college, library, art-galleries, etc., and is called by Spaniards the eighth wonder of the world. It was begun in 1563, at the order of Philip II, by the architect Juan Bautista de Toledo, assisted by Lucas de Escalante and Pedro de Tolosa, and was intended to commemorate the Spanish victory over the French at the battle of St-Quinten in 1557. Probably another reason was that Philip II was obliged by the will of Charles V to erect a royal mausoleum.

Bautista's plan was ambitious and eccentric; he was influenced by Renaissance ideals and used the Doric style in its severest forms. He died in 1567 and was succeeded by Juan de Herrera and Juan de Minjores. The plan of the building is somewhat in the shape of a gridiron, and is thought thus to commemorate the fate of its patron saint, St. Laurence, upon whose feast day, 10 August, the battle of St-Quinten was fought. The church was consecrated in 1586, and the pantheon was completed in 1654. Charles III built some additions and the building generally was restored under Ferdinand VII. The Escorial has twice been devastated by fire, and in 1807 it was looted by the French troops. It is built of a light-coloured stone resembling granite, for the most part highly polished. The general plan is a parallelogram with a perimeter of 3000 feet; its area is about 500,000 square feet. There are four façades, the finest external aspect being on the southern side. The western or principal front is 744 feet long and 72 feet high, while the towers at each end rise about 200 feet. The main entrance is in the centre of this façade. Monegro's figure of Saint Laurence stands above the door. The vestibule is about eighty feet wide and leads into the Court of the Kings. To the right are the library, refectory, and convent; the college is on the left. The church is the finest of the several buildings contained within the walls of the Escorial. Its tall towers on either side, the immense dome, with its superimposed massive lantern and cross, and the portals of the vestibule, at once attract attention. The church is of stone throughout, huge in plan, and severe in its Doric simplicity. Pompeo Leoni designed and cast the metal statues that ornament the splendid screen. A hall behind the ante-choir is known as the library. On the south side of the church is the Court of the Evangelists, a square of 166 feet with two-storied cloisters in the Grecian style. Adjoining it is the monastery of Saint Laurence. Both the monastery and the church were served by Hieronymite monks until 1835; in 1885 Augustinians took charge. The Augustinian monks also conduct the college, the building of which formed an important part of the great structure. On 10 Feb., 1909, it was slightly damaged by fire. The small room which Philip II occupied during the latter part of his life and in which he died adjoins the choir of the church. Through an opening in the wall he could see the celebration of the Mass when ill. The corridor of the Hall of the Caryatides is supposed to represent the handle of the gridiron.

The Escorial is a treasure-house of art and learning. The civilized world was searched to stock the library with great books and fine manuscripts. Greece, Arabia, and Palestine contributed, and the collection was at one time the finest in Europe, the Arabic documents being among the most remarkable of the manuscripts. From the Inquisition the library received about one hundred and forty works. It contains 7000 engravings and 35,006 volumes, including 4627 manuscripts; among the last named are 1886 Arabic, 582 Greek, and 73 Hebrew manuscripts, besides 2086 in Latin and other languages (cf. Casiri, Bibliotheca arab.-hisp. Escur., Madrid, 1760-1770, 2 vols.). Among its manuscript treasures are a copy of the Gospels illuminated in gold on vellum, and the Apocalypse of Saint John richly illustrated. It also contains a large collection of church music, included in which are compositions of the monks, del Valle, Torrijos, and Corduba, besides many of the musical works of Antonio Soler. The most important tapestries of the Escorial are in the palace; many of them were designed by Goya and Maella. The weaving was done chiefly in Madrid, but those designed by Teniers were made in Holland. Since 1837 the finest pictures of the large collection of paintings have been placed in the museum at Madrid. Among the famous artists whose works were or still are in the Escorial are: Carducci, Giordano, Goya, Holbein, Pantoja, Reni, Ribera, Teniers, Tibaldo, Tintoretto, Titian, Velasquez, Zuccaro, and Zurburán.


Sources

CALVERT, The Escorial (London and New York, 1907); HAMLIN, History of Architecture (London and New York, 1904), 351; B. AND B. F. BANNISTER, A History of Architecture (London and New York, 1905), 537, 539; SMITH, Architecture, Gothic and Renaissance (London), 232.

About this page

APA citation. Poole, T. (1909). The Escorial. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05534c.htm

MLA citation. Poole, Thomas. "The Escorial." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05534c.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Sidney K. Ohlhausen. In honor of Philip II of Spain.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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