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Salamanca: Medieval Paintings and Preserved Arms in Spain’s Historic University Town

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

The apse of Salamanca's Old Cathedral. Photo courtesy Lourdes Cardenal

The apse of Salamanca’s Old Cathedral. Photo courtesy Lourdes Cardenal

Salamanca is one of Spain’s better-preserved medieval cities. It’s famous for its university founded in c.1130 and chartered in 1218, numerous old stately homes, winding medieval streets, some great bookstores, and a cathedral renowned for its rare medieval paintings. The entire Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Tomb of a noblewoman, 13th or 14th century.

Dominating the skyline is the cathedral. Much of what you can see from the outside dates to the 16th century. This newer cathedral was built as a grandiose expansion to an already grand 12th century cathedral. Inside you have the usual soaring Gothic arches, golden retablos, and dark religious paintings that visitors to Spain have come to expect. More rare are the 13th and 14th century wall paintings preserved in the Old Cathedral. Several walls and an entire side chapel are filled with painted tombs, large scenes of Heaven and Hell, and Bible stories.

Detail of painted arch.

Detail of painted arch.

This side chapel is so sheltered from the elements the paintings look fresh. Sorry for the bad angle, you're not actually allowed in here and I was leaning over a fence, with a nasty metal spike biting into my gut!

This side chapel is so sheltered from the elements the paintings look fresh. Sorry for the bad angle, you’re not actually allowed in here and I was leaning over a fence, with a nasty metal spike biting into my gut!

Another unusual attraction is the preserved arm of Julián Rodríguez, a local priest who was martyred on December 9, 1936. That date is significant because it was during the Spanish Civil War. Several extreme left-wing groups took vengeance of the Church and the clergy for what they saw as centuries of oppression and many priests, monks, and nuns died as a result. Rodríguez was beatified by Pope John Paul II. While many Spanish churches have relics, this is the only one I know of from the 20th century.

The saintly arm.

The beatified arm.

The city’s other great institution is the University of Salamanca. It was a major center of learning from the 13th through the 16th centuries and is still an important university today. It contains numerous important archives, including the archives for the Spanish Civil War. Much of Salamanca has a university town feel, with lots of nightlife and bookstores.

The old university library. Sadly, visitors can't browse.

The old university library. Sadly, visitors can’t browse.

One of the many painted ceilings and crests in the historic university.

One of the many painted ceilings and crests in the historic university.

The quad of one of the colleges after dark. There was a loud, drunken black-tie party going on here. We weren't invited.

The quad of one of the colleges after dark. There was a loud, drunken black-tie party going on here. We weren’t invited.

Besides the main sights, of which we could only see a few in three days, it’s also fun to simply stroll around the Old City and admire the buildings. There are plenty of terrazas (outdoor cafes) where you can sip some wine and gaze at the architecture. One of the best spots is the Plaza Mayor, a huge main square of grandiose Baroque architecture. There was a large book fair going on in the plaza when we were there.

The back side of the cathedral.

The back side of the cathedral. There’s a great bookstore just out of sight!

Many of the leading families in centuries past fortified their homes. Tower del Clavero, from the 15th century.

Many of the leading families in centuries past fortified their homes. One of the most impressive is the Tower del Clavero from the 15th century.

On my personal blog I’ve published more photos and information on the medieval paintings, old family crests, and the historic university.


Sean McLachlan is the author of the post-apocalyptic Toxic World series and several other titles, including his action series set in World War One, Trench Raiders. His historical fantasy novella The Quintessence of Absence, was published by Black Gate. Find out more about him on his blog and Amazon author’s page.

All photos copyright Sean McLachlan and Almudena Alonso-Herrero unless otherwise noted.

2 Comments »

  1. great article as always. I love these.

    Comment by Glenn - July 15, 2015 3:13 pm

  2. Great piece as usual, Sean. Was it in Salamanca that the lecturer was arrested mid-lecture by the Inquisition, and when he was returned years later, began his talk with “As I was saying”? I’ve blanked on the man’s name, otherwise I would give you the reference.

    Comment by Violette Malan - July 19, 2015 6:42 am


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