Sunday, 23 April: Toro, Toro!

Hey, everyone! In my continuing efforts to catch up on my blog posts, I bring you this description of my week in Spain after Easter. It was finals week at the Fund, and on the Saturday following these tests a group of us students embarked on the last trip organized by our school, this one headed to Zamora and Toro.

Easter Monday was a pretty relaxed day for me. I did not have to go to the library for my internship because it was closed, in addition to many other businesses and organizations in Toledo and Spain in general. In the morning, I went on a run and ended up going around Toledo on the opposite side of the Río Tajo (Tagus River). The air was fresh, the skies partly cloudy, and the views of the city spectacular. I considered it my first and fullest goodbye to the city and a blessed opportunity to see it in its entirety.

The rest of my day was markedly uneventful. I studied for my first test, Politics and Society of Latin America, with some friends at the Fund in the afternoon.

I also started preparing my things for my departure from Toledo and, eventually, Europe on 28 April. I could not (and still cannot) believe how quickly the time abroad passed. It seemed as though I had just arrived, even as I also had the impression that I had been abroad for way longer than three months. In any case, it was both exciting and sad (as well as a bit stressful, given my compulsion to order everything perfectly at once) to begin the packing process.

On Tuesday, I took my final for Politics and Society; on Wednesday, the final for Theology of Spanish Mysticism; and on Thursday, the finals for Christian, Muslim, Jewish Art and Spain Since 1936. I felt confident about my performance for each of them, especially given that most of my free time that week was spent studying for them! However, I also took the time to walk in different parts of the city and bid each one farewell in doing so.

Friday was another completely free day for me, so I decided to visit El Museo del Ejército one more time to view its free exhibit on Miguel de Cervantes, one of Spain’s most famous authors and the writer of Don Quijote (Don Quixote to us Americans). I had visited the section of the exhibit shown in the Museo de Santa Cruz (only two blocks away) that discussed Cervantes as a poet; the section in the Museo del Ejército focused, unsurprisingly, on the man as a soldier. The exhibit was neat and informative, and I was happy to have now seen it in its entirety.

After walking through it, I visited the museum’s other free exposition, this one permanent and focused on armies from prehistoric times through the Crusades. After that, I walked out to the back patio of the Alcázar (the building in which both the Museo del Ejército and the Biblioteca de Castilla-La Mancha are housed) and enjoyed its gardens and views of the opposite bank of the Tajo and the river itself. The back patio also holds a couple of tanks and a massive statue from the time of Spain’s dictatorship under Francisco Franco. The Alcázar was almost completely destroyed in the beginning of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and afterward rebuilt under Franco’s orders.

After leaving the museum, I went to La Posada de la Hermandad, another museum that I had passed almost every time I went to or from the Fundación. The Santa Hermandad (Holy Brotherhood) was an organization created by farmers in the rural areas of La Mancha to protect livestock, workers, and travelers from bandits. They built their headquarters and a prison for the rogues they captured just to the east of the cathedral, and that is where the museum I visited now sits. There are explanatory plaques for the prison in the lower level of the building and for the brotherhood in the room leading to them. Otherwise, the Posada houses temporary exhibitions that change every few months.

When I visited, the focus was on catapults and siege machines: I learned about the origins of catapults in ancient Greece, looked at (and definitely did not understand) the equations showing the physics of the catapult process, read the story the museum told of these machines through the Middle Ages, and viewed recreations of and fragments of them. I was pleasantly surprised that the Posada had bilingual signs for the exposition and that the English versions of these signs were excellent (even better than those of the Museo del Ejército!), especially given that this was a relatively small museum and its expositions do not last more than four months. I left the building happy to have checked another site off my figurative list for Toledo, particularly one that I saw so frequently.

Once I returned home, I finished packing for the Fund trip to Zamora the next day and did some more preparation for my final departure from the city and my one week of extra travel in Europe with my friend Alyssa, a St. Norbert College student studying in London for the semester. We would be visiting Venice, Italy; Prague, the Czech Republic; and Paris, France together. That, however, is its own blog post!

On Saturday at 8:30 a.m., the students who had signed up for the trip to Zamora left from the Fund for Madrid, where we picked up a few other students from the other branch of the Fundación in that city. Before even reaching Madrid, however, Miguel, one of the directors of the Fund in Toledo, gave each of us on the bus 50 euros. This had been the security deposit and total “cost” of the trip, and now we got it back! Let me tell you, reader, everyone on the bus was pretty darn happy when Miguel passed out that money: it was an indicator of how much we had come to appreciate budgeting over the semester (i.e., how much money we had spent and how little money we had left).

We arrived in Zamora around 1:30 p.m. Just like for our trip to Granada, the Fund had reserved rooms at a very comfortable hotel, the AC Hotels from Marriot, for us. This was also where we would be eating almost all of our meals for the weekend, too: thankfully, the food was delicious and plentiful!

After a few hours given for unpacking and relaxation, we had a tour through the city of Zamora with two local guides. Zamora is the capital of the province with the same name in the autonomous community of Castilla y León, a large region to the northwest of Madrid. It has approximately 66,000 inhabitants, but during our time there I did not get that impression. Sure, 66,000 people do not constitute a huge city (even for a small-town citizen like myself), but Zamora had a very calm and quiet atmosphere. It was almost dead when we arrived on Saturday, probably due in large part to the siesta. At the same time, even during the busiest times of day (around 7 p.m. each night), the city still felt safe and small.

That tangent done, here’s another fact about Zamora: it has the most churches in the Romanesque style of any settlement in Europe, so much so that it is often called a “museum of Romanesque art.” The Romanesque style was the dominant style of architecture for churches in Europe between the tenth and twelfth centuries. It was still prevalent beyond the twelfth century, but it was at this time that the transition to Gothic architecture began. Round arches, low ceilings (compared to Gothic churches), small windows, thick walls, and a general sense of weight and massiveness characterize Romanesque architecture, which took many traits from the architecture of the Roman and Byzantine Empires (the former empire resulting in the name for the new style). Below is a photo of the interior of just one of the many Romanesque churches in Zamora, la Iglesia de Santa Maria la Magdalena.

Santa Maria La Magdalena

Our tour began in the shopping district of Zamora and then made its way to the historic city center, only a few minutes away walking. Our guide pointed out the Romanesque churches that we saw, in addition to the examples of Modernist architecture (a style pioneered by Antoni Gaudí, who built the Sagrada Familia Church), including the Teatro Ramos Carrión of Francisco Ferriol; the old ayuntamiento building (or casa consistorial) from fifteenth century and the current one from the twentieth; the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Ildefonso from the eleventh century (Romanesque), with substantial renovations from the fifteenth (Gothic) and eighteenth (Baroque) centuries; and a statue of Herminio Ramos Peréz, a famous – and still-living – resident who has chronicled the history of the city and region for decades.

Our tour guide also took us to one of three viewpoints overlooking Zamora’s famous medieval bridge. As you can tell from the photo, it makes for a pretty great photo!

Zamora Puente

From the bridge, we visited the cathedral of Zamora, the city’s largest and most famous example of Romanesque architecture. It was built in the twelfth century, boasts a dome with sixteen smaller surrounding domes built in the Byzantine style, and has many added Gothic elements from the style’s last years in the sixteenth century. The choir inside the cathedral has stalls built in the mid-1500s that feature not only mythological and religious scenes but also depictions of common life and vices, some even featuring priests and nuns.

After touring the cathedral with the group, I almost lost it! The rest of the students went to view the tapestry collection of the cathedral, while I, who had fallen behind, left the building. Thankfully, Miguel found me and called me back before I went too far.

Once we were done in the cathedral, we ended our tour at Zamora’s Alcázar, or palace, just a few hundred feet away. It was built in the tenth century and overlooks the Duero River that runs past Zamora and served as a natural and formidable defense in the city’s past. The palace is in ruins today and only opened to the public a few years ago, but it was still an impressive sight.

From the Alcázar, I started walking back to the hotel with my friends. On the way, I saw people heading into the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Ildefonso and decided to follow them. It turned out that it was the vigil Mass for the week, so I stayed in the church and gratefully attended it. Afterward, I walked around in the city center a bit more and then returned to the hotel, where I tucked in for a good night’s sleep.

The next day, the Fundación visited Toro, a town of just over 9,000 people and the home of the only surviving Norbertine institution in Spain. Our first stop was El Monasterio de Sancti Spiritus el Real, the Royal Monastery of the Holy Spirit. The monastery was founded in the early 1300s, with the church and choir that we visited built soon after. The foundation and construction were both supported by the royalty of Castilla y León at the time, hence the addition “El Real” to the monastery’s name. The monastery complex, as well as its collection of tapestries, religious objects, Christ Child dolls that many nuns brought with them when they entered the cloister (since many entered during or even before their early teens and were thus still children), and even the burial clothes of a nun (!) was impressive and an excellent way to start our day.

After touring the monastery, we had some free time before lunch, so my friends and I walked to one of the historic gates of the town and back. Along the way, we saw a few murals of wine-tasting monks: in addition to its religious past, Toro is know for the fine (and cheap!) wines produced in the region. We would try some of it later in the day. In this total non-expert’s opinion, it was excellent!

Once lunch was over, my friends helped me find the Premonstratensian institution in Toro, El Monasterio de Santa Sofía, or the Monastery of Saint Sophia. Don’t let the name confuse you: the foundation is a convent for Norbertine canonesses. They were given the building they currently occupy by Maria de Molina, a queen of Castilla, in 1316; in fact, it was her palace. The canonesses had previously lived in Toro, but their building was decrepit, making Molina’s gift much needed and appreciated.

The Premonstratensians of Toro, like other Norbertine women, live in cloister, that is, separated from the outside world. The community does take visitors in their guest house, however, and I was blessed to be such a visitor for the night. Dr. Sands, the Assistant Director the Center for Norbertine Studies at St. Norbert College, has done a lot of research on the Norbertine Order in Spain and has thus gotten to know the canonesses of Toro well. She contacted the guest master of Toro to reserve a room for me. To her and the canonesses themselves, I cannot thank you enough for your generosity and friendliness!

Toro 2
The interior of the church of the Monastery of Saint Sophia.
The exterior of the Church of Saint Sophia and its bell tower.

I not only received a room in the guest house of Toro: I received a suite of them! The two canonesses who greeted me showed me a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and sitting room for my use. I would really only use the bathroom and bedroom, but it was still wonderful to have so much room in so many rooms, especially since they were still cool despite the afternoon heat.

I walked through Toro a bit more with my friends after “checking in” to my rooms, then went back to the convent and rested a bit. I then visited the church of the convent, where Mass is said every day. I did not make it to Mass but did attend Vespers, which allowed me to meditate a little as well as gaze at the beauty of the church. Afterward, I headed out into Toro and did a walking tour of its churches, gates, and other historic monuments. The old city was small enough that I could do this pretty completely in about two hours. I walked past the former Church (and now Museum) of San Salvador de los Caballeros, La Colegiata (the cathedral of Zamora), the Royal Church of San Lorenzo, the Church of San Julián of the Knights, the Church of Saint Thomas of Canterbury, the Palacio de las Leyes (where the will of Isabel I was read in 1505), the Church of the Most Holy Spirit, the Church of Saint Peter of Olmo, and the Palace of the Marquis of Alcañices.

I came back to the monastery content and tired, ready to rejoin the Fund group in Zamora the next day for our tour of the Lago de Sanabria, the largest glacial lake on the Iberian Peninsula. Things would go a little differently than I planned, however! On Sunday night, I was simply happy and grateful for another fantastic week in Toledo, in Spain, in Europe, and simply on the earth.

Thanks for reading another installment of my study-abroad blog, reader! And thanks for your patience with them, too. I’ll catch up eventually!


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