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Granada City - Convent of Santa Isabel la Real

Convent of Santa Isabel la Real

by Lawrence Bohme

The Convento de Santa Isabel la Real was founded by Queen Isabella of Castile after Granada was conquered, on the site of the Moorish Palace of Dar al-Horra, a small part of which still exists.

It stands on the Camino Nuevo de San Nicolás, the street which crosses the top of the Albaicin, from north to south. The steeple on the right belongs to the convent, and the one on the left to the Church of San Miguel Bajo.

The church has a fine door in the late Gothic style, so favoured by Isabella and Ferdinand that it became known as el estilo isabelino - the "Elizabethan style". Next to it, the the Moorish-style belltower, which may have once been a minaret, seems strangely plain and unassuming.

The door bears their respective coats of arms, the yolk and cord of Ferdinand, and the cluster of arrows of Isabella.

The nave is covered with fretted woodwork, in the mudéjar style of Granada's Moorish craftsmen. You can hear the nuns singing here, behind a heavy iron grill, every evening at 7, except on Sunday, when Mass is sung in the morning.

The Virgen de la Estrella, or "Virgin of the Star" is paraded through the streets of the city in Easter, on Good Thursday.

The cloister and its adjoining rooms were closed to outsiders until recently, but special groups are now admitted. I joined one in the summer of 2003 and was able to take this photograph of the beautiful courtyard.

The nuns make their own pastries, which visitors can buy through a revolving window. Here is my old friend Paco Cano, from Montefrío, waiting for a bag of madalenas to come out...

The nuns, it was explained to us, carry these rough wooden crosses around the cloister when they enact the Passion of Christ, every year at Easter, in the presence of no mortal but themselves...