The Royal Basilica of San Francisco El Grande, usually known just as San Francisco El Grande, is one of the greatest churches of Madrid. Not only because of its size, but also because of its history and art.
Until the construction of the Almudena Cathedral, San Francisco El Grande was considered the most important Catholic temple of the capital. That’s why the Spanish kings decided to build Bailén Street: to connect the Royal Palace with San Francisco El Grande, where they used to observe mass.
The best way to get to San Francisco El Grande is by Metro: the nearest station is La Latina (Line 5), but it is easily reachable by foot from the historic centre. Several buses pass by the facade of San Francisco El Grande in their way to Calle Mayor and the Royal Palace.
History of San Francisco El Grande
In the Middle Ages, there used to be a convent-hermitage right where San Francisco El Grande rises today. In fact, legend tells us that the founder of that temple was Francis of Assisi in 1217, but this has not been proven with documents. That’s why San Francisco El Grande is named as such.
The construction of San Francisco El Grande started in 1761 and finished in 1784, and the architect that designed the original plans was Francisco Cabezas. But the project was modified a couple of times, among others, by Francesco Sabatini, a Crown’s architect that also participated at the Royal Palace. San Francisco El Grande presents a huge dome, whose diameter is the third biggest of the Christian world, only behind the Agrippa’s Pantheon and St. Peter’s Basilica, both temples located in Roma.
The duration of the works is the reason of the style of San Francisco El Grande mixes Baroque and Neo-Classicism arts. The round facade is a typical feature of Baroque, while pilasters and pediments remind us of classical structures.
Important paintings in San Francisco El Grande
San Francisco El Grande is also famous because hosts paintings by some of the most important Spanish artists, among others, Goya and Zurbarán. The painting by Goya is ‘San Bernardino de Siena predicando ante Alfonso V de Aragón’, dated in 1780, so it belongs to his youth period. Besides, Goya painted several landscapes of Madrid in the late 18th century, in which the shape of San Francisco El Grande can be recognized.
The painting by Zurbarán kept in San Francisco El Grande is ‘San Buenaventura recibe a Santo Tomás de Aquino’, dated in the late 17th century. And of course, one of the greatest attractions of San Francisco El Grande is the paintings of the dome, dated in the late 19th century by several painters, such as Salvador Martínez Cubells.
San Francisco El Grande, in a religious borough
The borough where San Francisco El Grande stands is a very Catholic place. The headquarters of the Archbishopric of Madrid are located just close to the temple, as well as other offices and a religious school. In fact, the municipal government is driving along the Church a project called by the people of the city as ‘the Vatican of Madrid’. This project would urbanize the surroundings of San Francisco El Grande with several buildings that would host a library, a residence for priests and other offices, deleting the Cornisa Park that is nowadays there.
Anyway, the surroundings of San Francisco El Grande are also beloved by Madrilenians because another park is the central place of a popular festivity: the Verbena de la Paloma, which takes place in the Vistillas Gardens every August 15th and combines folkloric music with pop concerts.