WITH well over 22 churches and convents in Jerez de la Frontera, finding time to visit them all can be tricky.
Since the conquest of the city by Alfonso X, the pressure to construct fine churches for growing communities or indeed on top of mosques has been insurmountable. The results are a mind boggling array of gaudy altarpieces, fused styles and a maze of colours. Below are listed the top three churches in Jerez. To miss them is unforgivable.
Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Carmen Coronada
Location: Just behind Plaza de la Asuncion
Opening times: Monday to Sunday 09:00 – 12:00 and 7:30
This Basilica comes top owing to its secrecy and breathtaking atmosphere. It is truly off the beaten track.
From the outside, it looks like nothing too impressive. A few baroque facades adorn a generally grimy brick wall.
Step inside, however, and you’ll be gasping for air. The whole place is a patchwork of colour. Not a single surface has been left untouched. Exquisite gold leaf adorns the wall borders and dome interior, surrounded by a sea of metallic green swirling graciously across the walls.
The Basilica’s heart is filled by an iridescent altarpiece of Carmen The Virgin reaching out at you from within an orb of light. All around her gold studded saints peer from their holy enclaves. At the sides hang rose pink banners embroidered with the symbol of Christ.
The eloquent fusion of colours seen within the Basilica’s body is enough to stop even the fastest in their tracks.
Dating from the 17th century, the Basilica is still owned by the first order to enter Jerez following its reconquest. Part of it is made with the bricks from the first monastery of Jerez. In its heart, the Basilica is divided into three naves, each sporting its own Retablo dedicated to divinity.
This Basilica is, without a doubt, my favourite holy building. I cannot impress on you enough how utterly awe-inspiring it is.
Location: Next to the Police Station off Plaza de la Asuncion
Opening times: Monday – Saturday 11:30 – 13:00 and 18:30 – 20:00, Sunday 11:30, 13:30, 19:30 and 21:00
Price: Jerezanos – free, adult 4 euros, student and children 2 euros
The sheer scale, exquisitely detailed carvings and magnanimous reputation earn the Cathedral of San Salvador second place on the list.
Begun in 1695, construction took 80 years – every day of waiting was worth it. The structure sings of eloquence upon approach. The facade around the door enshrines some of Spain’s favourite saints, echoing the Baroque style.
Next to it towers the minaret turned steeple, the last vestige of the old mosque that once crouched on the same spot.
Stepping inside you find yourself engulfed by an avenue of columns, leading you forward as if guiding you to heaven. The interior is a dynamic blend of Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical styles streaming together to sanctify the Holy Space. Much like the basilica, but without the colouration, stones brim with intricate carvings.
It is a building that in my opinion trumps the cathedral in Seville hands down.
It contains five naves, and a large maze of rooms at the rear showcasing some of the most treasured possessions housed in this Holy place. Eager tour guides will beckon you to the back to see a portrait of the Virgin Mary by Francisco Zubarán. Fascinatingly, viewed from any angle the picture appears to be 3D.
The age, synergy of styles and size make this building completely unmissable on any trip to Jerez.
Religiosas Enclavas de Santísmos y de la Merced
Location: Nestled in the old quarter, Calle Chancineria
Opening times: Monday to Saturday 10:30 – 12:00, 19:30.
A more modern take on Jerez religion with an extra canonic dash of character from its nun inhabitants, push this Iglesia onto the list. The spotless red brick edifice of this building marks it out as a newer addition to the old quarter.
The entrance is framed by two grandiose towers, reaching up to the heavens. Upon entrance you are immediately struck by the simplicity and yet holiness of the place. The walls are simple and bare, yet compensate with their fresh red colour. At the end of the church stands a faultless retablo, with a great dome hanging overhead. The retablo glistens with gold and silver, rising together up to the heavens.
What really makes this church a must-see, however, is the presence of the nuns. Whenever you visit there will always be at least one worshipping the divine power in front of the altar. Their whisper-less mouths answering only to God.
The presence of nuns makes this Church extra-special to Jerez, as they are an increasingly rare sight across Spain.