Granada City - San Miguel Alto

San Miguel Alto

by Lawrence Bohme

The church of San Miguel Alto overlooks the city from a gap in the highest part of the great 14th century wall, built by the Nasrids to protect Granada and the Alhambra. In this view, the church in the foreground is the Colegiata de San Salvador, once the Great Mosque of the Albaicin.

Here stood a fortress and the Mosque of the Olive Tree, the only reminder of which is the fountain, once used for the ablutions of the faithful, and still called, in memory of its original purpose, La Fuente del Aceituno. The old Moorish castle was destroyed by Napoleon's troops and the church was built on the ruins, in 1816.

The granadinos call the church La Ermita de San Miguel Alto, Saint Michael the High, to distinguish it from another shrine to Saint Michael in the Albaicin, called, in turn, San Miguel Bajo, Saint Michael the Low.

The church is usually closed but on the last Sunday of September, the Day of Saint Michael, the church is opened and the santo - the theme of one of Lorca's most charming poems - is paraded through the streets of the Albaicin and then back to his home on the hill, in a popular romería.

The effigy used in the parade is a replica of the original statue, which can be seen above the altar, at the back of the church.

Saint Michael has been a popular saint in Spain since the Reconquest. His slaying of the dragon was likened to the destruction of heresy and, in particular, the war against the Mahommetans.

This is why the dragon lying at his feet has been made to resemble a fallen Moor...

...with the flames of Hell in his hand

San Miguel Alto soars above everything else in Granada, providing us with a view of both the Alhambra and the Albaicin. From the left, we can make out the pointed steeple of Santa Maria de la Alhambra, the Tower of Comares and the Alcazaba. On the right rises the old Moorish medina, which I have enlarged below.

In the foreground we see the Colegiata de San Salvador. The arches of the cloister peek over the roof to the right of the church, and were built by the Moors in the 12th century as the courtyard of ablutions of the Great Mosque. Above the Colegiata we see, successively, the minaret of Granada's new mosque, the Church of San Nicolás, and the Cathedral with its single steeple.