Toledo’s weird, weird cathedral

Of all the churches and cathedrals we visited in Spain, Toledo’s was the absolute weirdest, which is saying a lot.

Where other cathedrals were about worship and sacrifice, this one was all about getting eaten by monsters, mutilated by mutants and having things done to you with knives by women who were either saints, doctors, ¬†or evil incarnate. It was kind of difficult to separate the good from the bad here. But it wasn’t hard to get the point: scare the crap out of the peasantry; obey your betters or get ready for hell. (Text continues below thumbnails.)


The cathedral was dim, and it was cold. The big Spanish cathedrals, like this one, are no mere churches such as we know. They cover an area about the size of a medium-sized shopping centre and its parking lot, and their ceilings seem hundreds of feet high. No point, therefore, in trying to heat them. In late November/early December, the stone held the cold and the damp seemed to seep into our bones. A monk trapped in here for hours every day would probably develop arthritis, not to mention all sorts of agues, catarrhs and fevers.

The cathedrals we saw were kept dim, much as they must have been in the 12th-14th century, when they were built. In Toledo, this was especially the case. It was easy to imagine being a peasant in those times, awed and frightened by the sculpture and paintings of hellfire and damnation.

I would have liked to make a complete photographic catalogue of all the weirdness we saw inside the Toledo cathedral, but it was just too cold and creepy, and people were looking at me strangely as, chortling, I bent closely over the dozens (maybe hundreds) of grotesque carvings in the choir area to take the photos in this gallery.


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