Valle de los Caidos, Spain
Valley of the Fallen
Valle de los Caidos, Spain
We visited the Basilica at the Monasterio Benedictino de Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caidos. This was the third or fourth time I have tried to visit the site. Each of the previous times it has been closed for one reason or another.
There was no entry fee. From the gate to the parking lot is about six kilometers. We parked right at the stairs to the vast plaza. As soon as we got out of the car, our view was dominated by the 150 meter (490 foot) cross. It is very large. It is easily visible from many areas around Madrid. I can remember seeing the cross from the mountain pass we drove on our way to Segovia, our first trip there in December, 2009.
The Basilica was commissioned by the dictator, Franco. It was begun in 1940 and completed in 1958. It is an absolutely massive structure on the exterior of the mountain. It is every bit as large within the mountain. It extends 250 meters (820 feet) into the mountain. That is nearly one-seventh of a mile!
The scale within is every bit as enormous as the exterior facade. Upon entering the Basilica, one is in a large ante room to pass bags, etc. through a scanner and walk through a metal detector. After passing through the ante room, one descends several stairs to a room just in front of the huge metal gates. In this room, on either side, are two huge statues of Michael the Archangel. I estimate each statue was 20 or 25 feet tall. On the gate itself are statues of saints. There are 20 saints on each side, for a total of 40. Each statue is probably one meter tall. Below each statue is a very large holy water font in the shape of a shell.
After passing through the gates, one descends several stairs again into a great hall. The great hall appears to be about 150 long. The vaulted ceiling is probably 50 or 60 feet above the floor. On display in the great hall are eight very large tapestries, four on each side. On either side of each tapestry is a cross and pipes for an organ. In between each tapestry display is a niche (for a total of six) which serves as a chapel. Following is a list of what is depicted on each tapestry:
1. The Beginning of the Revelations to St. John on Patmos
2. The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb
3. St. Michael defeats the Devil
4. The Nuptials of the Lamb
5. The Angel Defeats the Dragon
6. The Triumph of the Gospel
7. St. John Commissioned to Measure the Temple
8. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Above each of the chapels (niches) were very large statues of various depictions of the Virgin Mary. I have numbered the chapels to correspond with their placement between the tapestries. In other words, chapel 1 is in between tapestry 1 and tapestry 2. Following is a list of the names of the chapels:
1. Chapel of the Immaculate
2. Chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
3. Chapel of Our Lady of Loretto
5. Chapel of Our Lady of Pilar
6. Chapel of Our Lady of Mercy
7. Chapel of Our Lady of Africa
At the opposite end of the great hall, visitors are stopped at the stairs that lead up to the pews. The entire time we were in the Basilica we could hear a priest chanting various parts of the mass. It was beautiful and comforting. As I looked down the main aisle I could see the altar. Above the altar was a very large crucifix, under the cupola. I counted eight priests there. I could tell they were at that point in the mass when they consecrate the host. Suddenly, virtually all of the lights went out. The exceptions were some of the small sconces on the walls and some spotlights focused on the crucifix and altar. I could also see smoke from the incensor rising behind the crucifix. It was amazing to be there for that moment. The lights were off for about a minute.
Before exiting the Basilica I read a little about the massive cross on top of the mountain. At the base of the cross are sculptures of the four Evangelists. Below them are sculptures of the four cardinal virtues.
When we got back in the car, we set the GPS for Manzanares el Real.