Iglesia de las Calatravas

Welcome to La Iglesia de las Calatravas! if you want to know everething about this amazing building of the 17th century, keep reading!

While reading you can enjoy this music piece in order to make the exerience a bit more relaxing and interesting.

Vivaldi - Four seasons


The 17th century was for Spain a period of serious political, military, economic and social crisis that ended up converting the Spanish Empire into a second rank power within Europe. The Austrian Habsburgs -Felipe III, Felipe IV and Carlos II- left the government of the nation in the hands of validos  the duke of Lerma and the count-duke of Olivares. The Duke of Lerma, Philip III’s valido, adopted a pacifist policy ending all the conflicts inherited from the reign of Philip II. Unlike count-duke of Olivares, Philip VI’s valido, involved Spain in the Thirty Years War, in which Spain suffered serious military defeats.

Then, France took advantage of the Spanish military weakness and exerted continuous expansionist pressure on the European territories ruled by Charles II. As a result of this pressure, the Spanish Crown lost much of its possessions in Europe, so that at the beginning of the eighteenth century the Spanish Empire in Europe was completely liquidated.

On 1609 the Duke of Lerma carried out the expulsion of the Moors. Later, the policy of the Count-Duke of Olivares provoked numerous uprisings in Catalonia, Portugal, Andalusia, Naples and Sicily. The Catalan rebellion was put down in 1652, while the Portuguese uprising led to the country’s independence (1668).

Calatrava's History

Its history is linked to that of the Military Order of Calatrava. This Order was founded in the 12th century so that Christians in the south of the peninsula could defend themselves from Muslims attacks during the Reconquest.

There, the military orders had feminine equivalents, of monastic character, who welcomed and cared for the wives and daughters of those who left to fight the war. They also helped by offering oration and penitence to the Christian knights. From here came the religious Comendadoras de Calatrava. These convents became prestigious educational centers for the daughters of nobility. The nuns of Calatrava in Madrid first occupied a convent in Almonacid de Zorita (Guadalajara), a town closely linked to the history of the Order, but in 1623, they wanted to be close to the Court. For this they moved their convent to the capital by mandate of Felipe IV. The convent buildings and the church were built at that time. The convent of the Calatravas was like a palace of the Court where the affairs of the Order were discussed, and it became the first hall of the Court. The exterior of the church was remodeled by Juan de Madrazo in  the XIX century under the orders of Francisco de Asís, husband of Queen Isabel II. Its splendor lasted two centuries until the Democratic Sexenio (1868-1874) when it was proposed that the convent and church be demolished. Finally, although the convent building was destroyed, the church was preserved. In this way, one of the most outstanding Baroque churches of Madrid of the XVII century was maintained. Unlike many other churches, it did not suffer much in the Civil War and kept its interior almost intact. In the 2000s, it was modified in neo-Renaissance style by Juan de Madrazo y Kuntz under the order of King Francisco de Asís. The external part of the building (roofing, cleaning of facades and recovery of the original plaster) and the inside were totally restored.

Comendadoras de Calatrava

About the church

It was built between 1670 and 1678 according to a design that was started by Fray Lorenzo de San Nicolás and finished by Isidro Martínez and Gregorio Garrote.

Felipe IV commissioned its construction.

Original and current function

In the past, it was the convent of the Calatravas, which was like a palace of the Court, where the affairs of the Order were discussed. It later became prestigious educational centers for the daughters of the nobility. Today, it is a Christian Church and its current function is religious.

Main building and decorative elements

The main façade has a reddish or pinkish terracotta color, . There is also a rose window with the cross of Calatrava and a niche with a stucco image of the Immaculate, a work of Sabino Medina. Furthermore, an octagonal dome can be seen though the outside.

Main façade

Rose window

The Immaculate of stucco

Inside, there is a large space in which light envelops everything. It has a Latin cross plan in which the nave is composed by vaults with arches and lunettes. At the crossing of the transept, there is the dome supported by pendentives  and painted with frescoes that represent San Benito and San Bernardo, the approval of the rule by Pope Alexander III and San Diego Velázquez, works painted by Carreño's disciple, Francisco Ruíz de la Iglesia. The shape of the dome is  semi-spherical with inner ribs and it is topped with a lantern. The drum has windows, of which eight are stained glass and four are blinded. In addition, the nave is structured in sections separated by elegant Corinthian pilasters that are crowned by a very salient cornice supported by paired brackets.

Latin cross plan

Royal shield

Pendentives by Carreño's discipline.

Semi-spherical dome

Then, on the sides of the transept are the images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Also, two small altars with the images of San José and San Antonio de Padua are found on both sides of the new icons of Saint John Paul II and the Martyrs of the XX century in Madrid. The work was attributed to Luis Salvador, but according to a recent investigation,was done by Juan Pascual de Mena.

In a chapel of the Church, is found the sculpture of the eighteenth century, Santa Rita de Casia, from the Augustinian convent of San Felipe el Real, which is sheltered behind a glass. There are so many images inside this temple, that a popular expression of the time said that inside "all the saints are" …  Some of this sculptures are: Virgen de la Soledad, Virgen de Montserrat, Cristo de la Esperanza, Cristo yacente, Santa Teresa de Jesús, Nuestra Señora del Carmen y Santa Maravillas de Jesús, Santa Teresita del niño Jesús, San Expedito, Nuestra Señora del Pilar and San Judas Tadeo .

Finally, in the transept of the epistle, there is a cover formed by an opening in the wall and a broken molding. It is topped with a royal shield made of plaster over the lintel of the door. The shield is held by two angels, with two lions at their feet. All of this is surrounded by ornaments of flowers and the necklace of the Tolsón de Oro, a symbol of the monarchy as protector of the convent and administrator of the Order. The work could be Bernini or Pietro Martino de Vaese.

State of conservation

The current condition of Iglesia de Las Calatravas is  good because it has not deteriorated too much, and currently they are repairing some parts of the facade.


iglesia antes

Iglesia de las Calatravas -1910


Iglesia de las Calatravas - 2019

Artistic style

The style of this church is baroque like, for example, the altarpiece churrigueresco. The outer facade was remodeled in 1858 in the neo-Renaissance style with neoplateresque characteristics. It is also remarkable for the renaissance style dome.

Interesting Facts

It is said that the church stands on the place where once stood the palace of an aristocratic family, whose teenage daughter was one of the first extramarital loves of Philip IV. The girl gave birth to a bastard, who would die at age of 8, who follow him to the tomb. The King ordered the construction of a monastery, which he very appropriately called Convent of the Royal Conception where he had given free rein to his instincts.


Also the painting “El interior de la Iglesia de las Calatravas, in Madrid” appears in the nineteenth century in the national museum of Prado in the general section of paintings. This painting shows the Inside of the Iglesia de las Calatravas is celebrated a ceremony of the military order of its name, whose knights, dressed in their characteristic habit, are lined up in front of the high altar, lit by candles that hasten to light an altar boy. Behind them, the priests and the crowd who witness the act.

Geological aspects

Materials used


They selected granite because it is an  igneous rock and they are extremely resistant. Nowadays it continues to be used in the coating of buildings because of its elegance and durability.

Granite is a light-colored  plutonic igneous rock with large grains. It forms from the slow crystallization of magma below Earth's surface. It is composed mainly of quartz and feldspar with minor amounts of mica, amphiboles, and other minerals. It usually gets  a red, pink, gray, or white color with dark mineral grains visible throughout the rock. Granite has a high degree of hardness, is crystalline and has a granular and phaneritic in texture.


They selected this material because marble is very hard and is easy to carve for making materials of construction as sculptures, tables, tiles... This material also was a symbol of wealth and prosperity.

Floor of the church

Marble is a metamorphic rock originating from limestone rocks. Once the limestone rocks are transformed into marble, it obtains a high quality rock in terms of hardness, brightness, reactivity and solubility. These features turn it into building material. Marble is usually a light-colored rock. When it is formed from a limestone with very few impurities, it will be white in color.Being composed of calcite, As a result, marble is easy to carve, and that makes it useful for producing sculptures and ornamental objects.



Terracota clay bricks

 They selected this material because brick looks better for much longer and requires less maintenance than other building materials and they offer superior protection to other wall coating materials.

Façade of the church

The clay is a decomposed sedimentary rock constituted by aggregates of hydrated aluminum silicates, results of the decomposition of the rocks that contain feldspar, like granite. Clay has plasticity, resists temperature increases, is breathable, has a smooth surface, has malleability when soft… The clay bricks of our buildings have ornamental elements as crosses of the military orders like that of the military order of Santiago.


They selected this material because stucco gives an appearance of great beauty; if it is well made, it is very resistant to moisture; value the church; It has easy maintenance; it has a large durability and finishes are obtained cheaper than the material they imitate.

Decoration of stucco

It is a paste made mainly of lime, which is combined with elements such as plaster, resins and natural pigments. But the magic of stucco lies in its great versatility. It is mainly used to plastering surfaces of walls and ceilings, but it is also possible to model and carve ornamental objects and provide a beautiful appearance that resembles marble through polishing.

Alterations of the materials 

With the pass of the years, rocks had suffered little alterations. One of main factors that affected alteration  are pollution or meteorological phenomena as acid rain. For example, granite is affected by humidity and erosion and marble becomes yellow because of  strong acids, alkalis or fungus. This is why lemon juice, vinegar and wine can attack the surface and remove the enamel. Repeated exposure of these products can erode the surface even more.


Terracota clay brick damaged

Materials extraction and transportation

Granite: It is extracted in slabs which have been polished and then transported to a special factory where they are cut into sizes. It has to be transported vertically to avoid cracking.

Marble: It begins with the extraction of marble that has been done at open air. This is usually done from top to bottom. When the block is extracted from the quarry it is classified based on quality criteria. Once the quarry blocks have been removed, they are transported by large trucks to the factories for processing. In the production centers they are unloaded and sorted in the block yard to be cut. The blocks are kept outdoors waiting for the next phase of marble transformation to begin. The cutting of the marble is done in the looms or cortabloques. This will depend on the dimensions of the block, that is, the large blocks will go to the loom while the irregular blocks and to a lesser extent the blocks. Finally, after the marble cut is polished.

Clay bricks: Clay is  obtained in quarries where it is stored for a long time. After a year, the clay is transported to the feeder box, initiating in this the first stage. Later, it will be used in the manufacturing process. The clay, by means of a conveyor belt is raised to a kneader, Where It is freed of impurities. Then, It passes to the rotofilter, where by means of steel rollers, the pellets are formed an metallic impurities are removed. Finally, the clay is deposited in silos. They were transported by mules and in wagon.

Stucco: To form the stucco, you first have to apply a scratched layer. This will provide a good base for the final layer. To mix your scratched layer, gather a part of Portland cement, a part of hydrated lime and four parts of sand and then add water slowly until the mixture reaches the consistency of a thick paste.


This poor materials as granite, stucco or clay are extracted from quarries of Madrid as quarry of Levantina, quarry “Granito Gris” in Quintana, quarry “Cantera Viva” on C/Hermosilla… This quarries were selected due to its proximity.

Noble materials as marble could be extracted from quarries near the church or from Italy, one of the countries with more marble.


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