The Royal Cathedral serves as an intersection between Spain’s royal legacy and its people’s devotion.
Madrid’s Cathedral of La Almudena is officially known as the Cathedral of Santa María la Real de La Almudena. It is known as “la real” (the royal) because it is adjacent to the Spanish Royal Palace. A relatively young building, its construction began in late 1883, and continued for over a century, until it was consecrated and officially opened in 1993 by Pope John Paul II.
Blending typical Spanish architectural styles (including Neo-Gothic, Neo-Romanesque, and Neo-Classical), the cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin Mary under the title of La Almudena – the patroness of Madrid. Tradition explains that during the Moorish siege of Madrid in the 9th century, the Virgin Mary appeared to the city’s defenders, inspiring them to resist and successfully repel the invaders.
As it happens with plenty of Marian names in Spain, the name “La Almudena” derives from the Arabic al-mudayna, which means “the walled city” or “the citadel.”
Other traditions explain that in 1083, when King Alfonso VI of León conquered Madrid and expelled the Muslims from the city, he became obsessed with finding a valuable icon of the Virgin Mary that centuries earlier had been hidden within the walls of the citadel for safekeeping. Unable to locate the lost figure, Alfonso VI devoted himself to prayer until a section of the walls collapsed and revealed the image, the candles with which it had been buried centuries before still lit. The site of the miraculous and legendary event is marked on the outside of the cathedral by a niche with a statue of the Virgin.
As the patroness of Madrid, La Almudena holds a special place in the hearts of madrileños. Her annual feast, on November 9, is celebrated with great fervor, attracting locals and visitors alike.
The interior of the Cathedral is surely stunning, with a grand main nave, a soaring vaulted ceiling, and tall stained-glass windows. The chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, with its ornate decorations and intricate goldwork, is the focal point of devotion. As is the case with most grand churches, La Almudena also houses numerous chapels dedicated to various saints, providing spaces for prayer and reflection.
One of the highlights of the cathedral is the Crypt of Alfonso XII, where the remains of several Spanish monarchs are interred. This crypt adds to the historical significance of La Almudena Cathedral, as it serves as a link between the royal heritage of Spain and the religious devotion of its people.