The devotion to Our Lady of Almudena, patroness of Madrid, and to whom the Cathedral Church in Madrid is dedicated, began in the 11th century. Tradition tells us that when Dom Alfonso VI conquered Madrid in 1083, he immediately ordered the purification of the Church of Santa Maria, which had been profaned by the Moors.
Since the statue of Our Lady, which the Apostle St. James had placed in that building in the early days of the Chuch, had disappeared, the King, together with the religious authorities, made a procession praying to Our Lord to help them find the statue. The pious cortege processed around the walls of the city, singing and praying.
At a certain moment, part of the wall fell and they found the statue of Our Lady that had been hidden there for over 300 years. On either side of the statue were two candles – still lighted and burning – that Catholics had placed there in homage of the Virgin before closing the niche where they had hidden her statue. Almudena means market or granary, and this name was given to the statue because the place where it was hidden was near the Moorish granary.
The site on which Almudena Cathedral now stands was originally occupied by Madrid’s first mosque, then by a church dedicated to one of Madrid’s patron saints, Santa María de la Almudena.
Plans for a grand new church began in the 16th century after King Philip II made Madrid the capital of Spain. But construction was constantly postponed due to various political issues and opposition from the powerful archdiocese of Toledo.
Finally, in 1868, Madrid received permission from Toledo to construct a new church dedicated to the Virgin of Almudena. Construction began in 1883 based on a Neo-Gothic design. The first part to be completed was the crypt, which contains a 16th-century image of Madrid’s patroness the Virgen de la Almudena.
A year later, in 1884, Pope Leo XIII created the Diocese of Madrid, giving Madrid a bishop and raising the status of the new Almudena church to a cathedral. The building plans were updated to reflect the elevated status of the building.
Construction on the cathedral progressed slowly and came to a complete halt during the civil war of the 1930s. The process began again in 1944, when the new architect introduced a Neoclassical style that would match the Royal Palace next door.
Almudena Cathedral was completed in 1993 and consecrated in person by Pope John Paul II that same year. A statue of the pope in front of the cathedral commemorates the momentous occasion. The cathedral was given another publicity boost with the sumptuous wedding of Prince Felipe and Doña Letizia in May 2004, the first such royal event in nearly a century.
What to See
The bright interior of Almudena Cathedral is based in the Gothic style, but modern and modest compared to most Spanish cathedrals. Its “pop art” stained glass windows were recently revealed to be copies.
Although lacking the architectural merit or historical significance of other European cathedrals, Almudena Cathedral is nonetheless worth a visit due to its uniqueness, its modern beauty, and its sheer size: it measures 104m long and 76m wide, with a central dome measuring 20m in diameter.