Mezquita-Iglesia de El Salvador, Toledo

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The arcade of the former mosque blended in the church, it is horseshoe arches that support on 6 reused Roman capitals and one Visigothic pilaster[1]
The Visigothic decorative reliefs, the faces were scraped by the Muslims.[1]

The Mezquita-Iglesia de El Salvador is a church in Toledo, Spain completed in 1159.

Although the church is small, it is an exceptional building, because it was the site of 4 successive constructions, one on other and so on, It's a 12th-century church built on an 11th-century Taifa mosque, which was an expansion of a 9th-century Ummayad mosque and in turn on a Visigothic religious building.[2][1] Also these civilizations reused 2nd-century Roman elements.

Have to say that is very-usually at the al-Andalus territory that Muslim liked to build on Visigothic buildings.

The large number of Visigothic decorative reliefs forming friezes and Roman cornices embedded in the walls is surprising.[3]

The current church is still oriented south-east, in the direction of Mecca. It survived to the conquest of Toledo by the Christian armies in 1085, to be turned into a church in 1159. One of the most characteristic elements of the church is a Visigothic pilaster, with intricate relief carvings.[4]

As a Christian church, from around 1180 to the late-15th century, it began to be used as a cemetery with anthropomorphic tombs, above which were placed more burials, in which some grave goods have been found.


A Visighotic relief

The Iglesia de El Salvador is located in the city of Toledo, near the Churches of Santo Tomé and Convento de Santa Úrsula. It is one of the churches mentioned in the Lazarillo de Tormes, and here Joanna of Castile ("the Mad") and the dramatist Francisco de Rojas Zorrilla were baptized.

The first (Ummayad) mosque can be considered the oldest in the city because of the brickwork and the remains, and the second in importance.[3] There are some data that place this building as one of the main mosques in the city.

It was rebuilt during the Taifa period (11th century) until its conversion to Christian worship in 1145. There is a Mozarabic tombstone of 1041, which attest to a renovation or expansion of the building.[1]

Some historians have suggested that when Alfonso VI of León and Castile took Toledo at 1085 allowed the Muslim population to continue using it as the main mosque of the city.[5] In the twelfth century and at the request of his wife, Alfonso VII converted the mosque into a Christian church with the invocation of the Savior and, in fact, the Christian church appears since 1180 in Mozarabic documents.[5]

The current church is built on the mosque, so it is oriented southeast in direction toward Mecca. For which construction, different elements of the previous Visigothic building were reused, because of that a horseshoe arcade supported on Visigothic pilasters has been preserved with sculpted decoration of figurative themes, unusual in this type of remains. The Pilaster of El Salvador, shows in one of its faces various Visigothic miraculous scenes from the life of Jesus: the Cure of the Blind, the Resurrection of Lazarus, the Samaritan and the Hemorroísa, as well as other themes of eucharistic hue that alluding to Christ as the salvation. Its crude treatment shows the abandonment in which the work had fallen on the stone.

As a means of legitimizing the building, both the interior and the surroundings, it began to be used as a funerary space from then until the 15th century; also there are other two tombs from the 19th century. There are numerous remains of medieval tombs, embedded in architectures in the way of a pantheon.

Although it conserves the shape of the minaret, that carries incrustations of borders, in 1159 it made several Christian modifications, and the construction in the end-15th century of the Gothic chapel of Santa Catalina. The tower corresponds to the minaret of the mosque, with a Baroque brick addition at the body of the bells.[3]

It is dedicated to St. Savior. The church suffered a fire in the 15th-century, which forced an important restoration. Álvarez de Toledo was commissioned to the restoration and he adds new chapels highlighting the chapel of Santa Catalina.

In the Main Chapel there is a small altarpiece of the mid-16th century, made by Nicolás de Vergara the Elder and Bautista Vázquez.

In the nineteenth century the Napoleonic troops stole the silver lamps that lit the temple, and other valuable pieces. The parish was suppressed in 1842, giving its liturgical objects to the ecclesiastical vicarage and to other parishes and convents of Toledo and the towns.

Description and remains[edit]

In the remains under the church was found this arcade of the first mosque, composed of three columns with Roman and Visigothic capitals[1]
Remains of a Christian medieval cemetery

The Visigothic pilaster, for some early Christian, is one of the oldest pieces in which are represented 4 scenes of the life of Christ, who despite the scraping of the faces by the Muslims, could be distinguished: Blind, Resurrection of Lazarus, Christ and the Samaritan woman in the well and Hemorroísa Healing.

The level of excavation has not gone deep into the Visigoth or Roman substrate. However, already surprised the great amount of Visigothic reliefs forming friezes and Roman cornices embedded in the walls.

In 2004 the Consorcio group discovered the remains of the first (Ummayad) Mosque buried several meters under the church, the archaelogists have recovered and valued.[5]

The remains of the Ummayad arcade of horseshoe arches with a limestone in the keystone, characteristic of Caliphate art, next to the minaret whose brickwork resembles the first minaret of the Mosque of Córdoba, show a dating to the first half of the 9th century.

Later, as an inscription in the Chapel of Santa Catalina attests, in the 11th century, during the Taifa period a nave was built, it is believed that it was an extension of the space because it had become a main mosque. In 1950 this arcade of horseshoe arches that support on 6 reused Roman capitals and a Visigothic pilaster, was reconstructed on the original arches of the ends.

In the 2000s the recovery of the tower's original wall, they removed the covering of a medieval and baroque reforms, it was discovered the original floor of the primitive 9th-century mosque, with its surrounding area containing a courtyard with cistern and its doors, as well as the verification in foundations and walls of the extension documented in the 11th century and consisting of addition of a whole nave whose base is in the current arches of horseshoe arches.[1]

In the courtyard, located at the head of the apse, is an arcade, composed of three columns with Roman and Visigoth capitals, which support four horseshoe arches, brick, framed by alfices and topped by a cornice of corbels, similar to the mosque of Cristo de la Luz. On the ground, on the late-Roman stratum, there two structures: a maḡ[a]rah and a closing wall from the 9th-10th centuries, similar to a musalla, or element to delimit a sacred space, or an area of respect around the mosque.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Cada una de las civilizaciones y pueblos que han pasado por Toledo han dejado en esta Iglesia su huella.", 
  2. ^ "Iglesia del Savador (ARQUEOLOGÍA Descubrimientos arqueológicos)". 
  3. ^ a b c "Iglesia de El Salvador de Toledo", 
  4. ^ Roger Collins, Spain, An Oxford Archaeological Guide, ed. Oxford University Press, 1998 ISBN 0-19-285300-7, p. 277
  5. ^ a b c "El Consorcio descubre la milenaria Mezquita del Salvador, enterrada durante siglos bajo la iglesia", Valle Sánchez, ABC, July 7, 2004 
  • Matilde Revuelta Tubino, Inventario Artistico de Toledo (Madrid, 1983–89) p. 307


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 39°51′24″N 4°01′36″W / 39.8566°N 4.0267°W / 39.8566; -4.0267