Basilica de San Francisco El Grande, Madrid

The church of San Francisco is one of Madrid’s most important buildings and offers a fascinating tour. With a dome larger than that of St. Paul’s Cathedral it is an architectural marvel. Filled with paintings and sculpture, it is also an art lover’s treat.

Located in an older part of Madrid, the church has an imposing edifice in three sections with neo-classical facades. Inside, visitors can see the imposing 108 foot (33m) dome and the barrel vaulted ceiling. Covered in a dazzling array of frescoes and with extraordinary stained-glass windows, the basilica is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe.

Completed in 1760 under the auspices of Carlos III, the basilica was erected on the site of a Franciscan convent, purportedly founded in 1217 by St. Francis of Assisi. There are seven main doors elaborately carved out of walnut, leading to several chapels filled with art treasures.

Three of them are adjacent to the circular interior, one of which – the San Bernardino de Siena – holds a Goya painting depicting the saint. To the right of that Goya is another painting, a self-portrait of the artist himself.

Though the church was built in the mid-18th century, many of the contents are considerably older like for example, the Gothic choir stalls from Segovia, dating from the 16th century.

Within the chapels are dozens of paintings and sculptures by major and minor masters. Besides Goya, the church houses paintings by Zurbarán, Cano and Maella as well as marble sculptures by Bellver and Benlliure.

The church, though, is not merely an art museum, but a functioning cathedral. Visitors are shown through by a guide and are requested to maintain a respectful silence.

Located in the Plaza de San Francisco el Grande, there is a nearby Metro stop at La Latina or Puerta del Toledo and several buses have stops at or near the church.

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