church of santo tome cover
Architecture & monuments,  Art stories

The Church of Santo Tomé in Toledo: the temple that houses “El entierro del Conde de Orgaz”, an El Greco masterpiece

The Church of Santo Tomé is a hidden gem that no one should miss when they visit Toledo. Nestled in the heart of the city’s historic quarter, this stunning temple is a true masterpiece of Spanish architecture and art. From its intricate Mudéjar-style decoration to its famous painting by El Greco, this church is a must-see for any art lover. 

  • This article will explore the history, architecture, and art of this beautiful house of worship and give you all the information you need to plan your visit. So, come along and discover the Church of Santo Tomé, a true treasure of Toledo.

“One will observe that all things are arranged according to their degrees of beauty and excellence, and that the nearer they are to God, the more beautiful and better they are.”

Thomas Aquinas

The history of The Church of Santo Tomé

Toledo has many architectural and artistic treasures. The Church of Santo Tomé, also called the Church of Santo Tomás Apóstol, is one of them. A fascinating blend of Mudéjar and Gothic flamboyant styles, famous for housing the renowned painting “El entierro del Conde de Orgaz” by El Greco.

This temple was built on the site of a former mosque after the city by King Alfonso VI of León reconquered the town in the 12th century. Like many other buildings, it turned into a Christian site without much change, as there was minor damage during the conquest of Toledo.

However, in the early 14th century, the church was in a state of ruin. It was entirely rebuilt by Gonzalo Ruiz de Toledo, Lord of Orgaz. And so, the old minaret of the mosque transformed into a Mudéjar-style bell tower. 

Henceforth, the 16th century, the Count of Orgaz gave it to the Brotherhood of Santo Tomé. Although the building has been renovated and expanded over the years, it retains its Gothic architectural features.

santo tome toledo entrance

Features of the church

The Church of Santo Tomé presents a simple, brick façade. Meanwhile, its interior features three naves with a crossing, covered by barrel vaults and a polygonal apse.

The main chapel is a blend of Mudéjar and Flamboyant Gothic styles. The Lord of Orgaz ordered the demolition of the original head. Consequently, a central dome in the shape of an eight-pointed star with painted ribs, took its place.

Near the main altar, a door leads to the entrance of the tower-bell tower.

The church also boasts two Baroque altarpieces, a plateresque one and a baptismal font from the 16th century. One of the highlights of the church is a 12th century marble image of the Virgin Mary. Furthermore, its main altar’s 19th century Neo-classical retable (replacing an earlier Churrigueresque one) is also very interesting.

The Chapels of the Church of Santo Tomé

The church itself is a Gothic-style building that dates back to the 14th century, and the chapels were added at various points throughout the centuries. The most famous is the Chapel of the Conception, which houses El Greco’s masterpiece, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz.

church of santo tomé toledo interior
Main altarpiece of the Church of Santo Tomé, Toledo.

The main chapel of the church of Santo Tomé. 

The main chapel is an example of the Gothic style of the Catholic Monarchs, a combination of Flemish Gothic and Castilian Mudéjar. Dating from 1483, it has a complex eight-pointed star-shaped vault with ribs supported by corbels decorated with images of the four evangelists.

The current altarpiece of the chapel dates from the nineteenth century. It features a painting by Vicente Lopez on the story of St. Thomas.

The Chapel of the Conception 

This chapel, founded by Pedro de la Fuente, served as a burial place for the Lord of Orgaz. In 1586, the architect Nicolás de Vergara el Mozo redesigned it to place the wonderful painting of El Greco.

The chapel of the Dolorosa 

A strange orientation and a narrow floor plan suggest that this chapel took advantage of an old passageway connected with the Palace of Fuensalida. There are several processional images in the space, including two baroque carvings of the Virgin and St. John.

The Chapel of the Incarnation 

It is an important place to visit in the church of Santo Tomé. It was built in the 16th century and features an altarpiece contracted in 1566 with the architect Nicolás de Vergara el Viejo.

There are several sculptures and paintings on the altarpiece. Some depict the presentation of Jesus in the temple and penitent saints. In addition, the chapel is decorated with great detail and possesses great artistic and historical value.

The Chapel of the Virgin of Monte-Sión

This is another important place inside the church of Santo Tomé. According to the inscription on the entrance grille, it dates from the year 1559. It stands next to the tower and houses the titular image of the former monastery of San Bernardo, later disentailed. This chapel is Gothic and has two narrow bays covered by two ribbed vaults similar to the main one. It illustrates the Gothic and Renaissance style characteristic of the church of Santo Tomé.

The entrance to the bell tower 

Towards the end of the Gospel, near the main altar, a door leads to the entrance of the bell tower and the steps to climb it. Inside, the stairs are arranged around a central core. The tower has a square base and follows the scheme of Islamic minarets.

Other artworks

Furthermore, the church features two Baroque altarpieces, one Plateresque altarpiece, and a 16th-century baptismal font. Other notable attributes include a 12th-century marble image of the Virgin Mary and a 19th-century neoclassical piece of goldsmith.

The two Baroque altarpieces

The first altarpiece is a baroque sculpture from the 17th century, located in the main chapel of the church. It depicts the powerful figure of Saint Elijah, immersed in a deep sleep or in a prophecy. This sculpture captures the inner strength of the saint, as seen in the bearded face, tensed hand, and angular folds of his clothing.

The second altarpiece is a sculpture of John the Baptist, also located in the church’s main chapel. The statue shows the figure of John with open arms and fingers in a display of technical skill while maintaining a sense of naturalism. This altarpiece is also from the 17th century and Baroque in style.

El entierro del conde de Orgaz 

The church houses beautiful chapels, altarpieces, and frescoes. However, the temple’s highlight is undoubtedly El Greco’s painting, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, one of the most famous works in Spanish art history.

This painting, created in 1586, is a true masterpiece and a must-see for anyone visiting the church. It depicts the miraculous burial of Don Gonzalo Ruiz de Toledo, the lord of Orgaz and the patron who commissioned the building.

According to legend, Saint Stephen and Saint Augustine appeared to help with the burial when his body was being lowered into the ground. The painting shows these two saints, dressed in traditional robes, participating in the funeral ceremony.

El Greco masterfully captured the scene with his characteristic use of elongated figures, vivid colors, and expressive gestures. The image is a striking example of his unique style, which combines elements of the Renaissance and Mannerism with the Byzantine art of his native Greece.

One of the most striking aspects of the painting is the use of light. The scene takes place in the church’s dimly lit interior, but the saints and the count’s family members’ faces shine with a bright and mystical light, making it feel like they are in another world. This use of light is a common feature in El Greco’s work and adds to the feeling of mystery and awe surrounding the painting.

El Greco: El entierro del conde de Orgaz (1586) Church of Santo Tomé, Toledo.
El Greco: El entierro del conde de Orgaz (1586) Church of Santo Tomé, Toledo.

In addition to its artistic merit, El entierro del conde de Orgaz also has significant historical and cultural value. It serves as a reminder of the rich history and religious traditions of Toledo, as well as the important role of the Church in the city’s past.

Visiting the Church of Santo Tomé  

The Church of Santo Tomé is not just a must-see destination for art lovers, but also for history enthusiasts. The building is close to other tourist attractions in the heart of Toledo’s old town.

It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to visit it, depending on the individual’s pace and level of interest in the artwork and architecture of the building. Visitors should take their time to appreciate the temple’s details, such as the Capilla de la Concepción, which houses the famous painting El entierro del Conde de Orgaz by El Greco.

Tip: It is advisable to check the schedules and the possibility of the church being closed on some days for religious events or renovations.

In summary, The Church of Santo Tomé is a must-see highlight for art and history enthusiasts. Visitors can admire the beauty of the church’s architecture and art and also explore the rich history of Toledo’s old town. So, if you’re planning a trip to Toledo, make sure to include The Church of Santo Tomé on your itinerary.

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