The Caminos de Guadalupe are the traditional pilgrimage routes leading to Guadalupe in Extremadura. The route had already been established by the Romans and remained important under Moorish rule. However, it wasn’t until the 14th century that the town of Guadalupe Spain became established as a religious centre after a shepherd discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary. The Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe was built on this site and became an important religious centre which attracted pilgrims from all over Spain during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Historically, the two main routes were the Camino Real de Madrid and the Camino Real de Toledo but there were many other Caminos de Guadalupe from all over the peninsula. Today there are 23 of these historic ‘caminos reales‘ (royal roads) which lead to Guadalupe.
Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe
The history of the Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe dates back to the early 14th century when a shepherd found a holy statue of the Virgin Mary. The site became a shrine known as Our Lady of Guadalupe where King Alfonso XI of Castile ordered the construction of a monastery in 1340.
The monastery was first entrusted to Augustinian monks but later came under the care of the Hieronymite Order in 1389. The Hieronymites expanded the monastery significantly, constructing a church, cloisters, chapels, and lodging for pilgrims in a mix of Gothic, Renaissance, and Moorish architectural styles.
Word soon spread of Our Lady of Guadalupe working miracles and answering prayers which attracted a growing number of pilgrims from all over Spain and beyond. At the height of its popularity in the 15th and 16th centuries, Guadalupe received over a hundred thousand pilgrims per year seeking healing and blessings from the Virgin.
Over the next centuries Guadalupe was visited by members of the Spanish Royal Family, including Queen Isabella I and Charles V, who donated generously to the monastery. The monastery became enormously wealthy and was renowned for its architecture, religious artworks and craftsmanship.
Another esteemed visitor was Christopher Columbus who visited the Monastery to pray at the shrine of the Virgin Mary before his maiden voyage to the Americas in 1492. Upon his return he made a pilgrimage to Guadalupe to give thanks for his historic voyage. He also brought a group of indigenous people from the New World to be baptized at Guadalupe Spain.
In the 17th century Guadalupe remained an active spiritual centre under the patronage of the House of Habsburg. However, the monastery was abandoned in the 19th century, after Spain’s monasteries were secularized in 1835, and fell into disrepair.
Restoration efforts began in the 20th century and slowly helped recover the monastery’s splendour. In 1993 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its cultural significance. Today the monastery is again active and inhabited by Franciscan friars who maintain its legacy as a place of pilgrimage, art and faith.
Other Tourist Attractions in Guadalupe Spain
Whilst the Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe is of course the main attraction in Guadalupe there are a number of other places of interest. The small town centre is characterised by cobbled streets and traditional architecture. Look out for the Gothic architecture of the town hall building and the lively Plaza de Santa María. The Museo de los Oficios which showcases traditional crafts and trades of the region is also worth a visit. The surrounding Sierra de Guadalupe mountain range offers beautiful natural landscapes and opportunities for many outdoor activities.
Parador de Guadalupe
If you’re planning on spending the night in Guadalupe, you should consider staying at the Parador de Guadalupe. Built in the 15th century, this 4-star luxury hotel was built on the site of the former St John the Baptist hospital. Alternatively, there are some simpler, but comfortable places to stay in town such as the Hostal Alba Taruta (Calle Chorro Gordo, 2) and the Hotel Hispanidad (Avenida Conde de Barcelona, 1).