Travels

The Moral castle and the church of San Mateo in Lucena

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In the south of the province of Cordoba, in the middle of the Subbética region, is the city of Lucena. Its rich heritage is surrounded by a field rich in olive and vineyards, where farmers continue to work from sun to shade since the times when Jews, Arabs and Christians lived in peace.

And is that Lucena It was inhabited only by Jews between the ninth and twelfth centuries. There was an important Jewish university school from which many of the venerable sages who would later travel to Toledo, where they founded the famous School of Translators.

The Arabs would also leave a great cultural and heritage legacy and in one of the most emblematic places of Lucena, the Moral castle, the last Arab king of Granada, Boabdil el Chico, would be imprisoned.

I visited Lucena on an unusually warm autumn afternoon. After walking through the tangle of alleys that show their Jewish past, we turn to the two most iconic monuments in the city: the church of San Mateo and the Moral castle.

The church of San Mateo

Facade of the church of San Mateo de Lucena

Located in the square that opens between the church of San Mateo and the town hall of Lucena, I admired the front of the first. My guide commented that they called her the Subbética Cathedral, but to me, although it seemed pretty to me, the nickname seemed somewhat exaggerated.

When I visited inside I had no choice but to erase that thought.

This magnificent church responds to a mixture of Gothic-Mudejar and Renaissance artistic canons. In fact, it is believed that in this same location was the former synagogue first and the city mosque later, before the Christian forces reconquered Lucena in 1240.

The current church is the resulting work of several different artists. Hernán Ruiz I began construction in 1498. He started with the headland, where he placed three beautiful chapels covered with ribbed vaults. Colorful polychrome paintings by Antonio Mohedano were on their roofs. From the same time as these three chapels, they are the covers of the Sacristy and the exterior of Our Lady of the Umbria.

Inner Vault of San Mateo

But nevertheless, it would not be until the middle of the 15th century when the ornate cover of San Miguel would appear, a clear example of the transition from Gothic to Renaissance.

The rest of the church of San Mateo is totally Renaissance. Three ships with large pillars appear supported by pointed arches reminiscent of the Mudejar era.

But what amazed me most about the temple is the main altarpiece, an authentic masterpiece of Spanish Mannerism, prepared by Jerónimo Hernández and Juan Bautista Vázquez el Viejo.

It is also to admire the shrine chapel, whose construction took 32 years, in the middle of the second half of the 18th century. This chapel is considered to be the baroque masterpiece of Cordoba.

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