Friday, May 11, 2012

It's a Bloody Mystery

Royal Monastery of the Incarnation / Real Monasterio de la Encarnación
05/11/12 – Plaza de la Encarnaci

The Royal Monastery of the Incarnation was established in 1611, a few years after the Monastery of the Barefoot Noblewomen.  In olden times, a passageway from the nearby Royal Palace allowed the royal family to visit and worship at their convenience. The monastery conducts 1-hour guided visits in Spanish. 
Royal Monastery of the Incarnation

The guide told us that 10 nuns still live in the cloister today, hidden from view.  A revolving wooden counter set in an interior wall--identical to the “torno” for convent sweets at the Convent of Corpus Christi--functions as their portal of communication with the outside world.  How I would like to interview one of those nuns, or at least send a list of written questions through the wall!  

What's it like to never leave?
As the guide whisked us from room to room, she pointed out religious figures in time-darkened paintings; statues of the virgin wearing real outfits of embroidered silk; and the royal visages of Spain’s pallid, pursed-lipped Austrian monarchs.  At one point the guide chastised a hapless man who strayed several meters from the group.  Perhaps he too was trying to get a glimpse of a living being amongst the Stations of the Cross.  The windows onto the courtyard, it turns out, have opaque glass.  
The paintings and sculptures are not as impressive as those in the Monastery of the Barefoot Royals, and the rooms are not as lavish. My favorite painting showed a nun laid out in her coffin, covered in flowers; the guide said it was a rare illustration of the convent’s funerary tradition.  A huge painting of a biblical wedding scene shows a banquet table laden with empanadas. A life-sized 17th century sculpture by Gregorio Fernandez, of the reclining Christ covered in blood, is all too realistic.  The final station for our group, a room chock full of saintly relics, might be worth the price of admission (7 euros).  

St. Pantalemon, usually portrayed as a mop-top

From floor to ceiling, the walls are lined with artfully displayed bone chips, the arms of eight martyrs, and the leg of St. Margaret.  A reliquary with a glass orb contains the solidified blood of St. Pantalemon, a Christian healer from the early fourth century.  According to legend, he was tortured mercilessly and then beheaded for performing miracles on sick people instead of treating them in the normal way—normal for Greek doctors in the year 303 CE, that is.  

Every year on July 27, the day of St. Pantalemon’s death, the reliquary is carried to the Baroque church next door and displayed to the public, as well as broadcasted on closed-circuit TV monitors.  On that day only, the blood in the orb is said to turn from a solid to a liquid before your eyes.  As luck would have it, we leave Madrid for home on July 27, and will not be here to see it.


  1. We found your blog through Holakjs on TripAdvisor. What a wonderful blog We are only in Madrid for 5 days & now we realize that is not enough. Thank you so much for all the info & the great pics.
    Two Grannys

  2. My pleasure, Two Grannys! Indeed, I am starting to realize that even one year is not enough.

  3. Well, these comments are entertaining for me. Not let's see if I can read the numbers/letters to publish my lines. Yours are super!