FOUNDATION OF THE CHURCH
The parish church must have been founded after the Christian Reconquista of the city by Alfonso VI in 1085, as the first news that we have of its existence is from 1142. From the first Mudejar building, it has kept the large multifoil arch superimposed upon the main arch that separates the main nave from the presbytery together with the sturdy buttresses of this part of the nave and a small trefoil arch on a brick frieze arranged in Mudejar style that survives in the high part in what used to be the semicircular sanctuary of the original single nave church.
A GENEROUS GENTLEMAN
Don Gonzalo Ruiz de Toledo, main notary of Castile and Lord of the villa of Orgaz, was known for his generous works of charity. He contributed to the reconstruction of the parish churches like this one, San Justo and San Bartolomé. He built the church of San Esteban for the Augustinian convent. In his will, he had ordered an annual donation to this church of pledges consisting of 2 rams, 2 skins of wine, 2 loads of firewood, 16 hens and 800 Spanish maravedis to support the priests and the poor living in the parish. This had to be collected from among the inhabitants of his estate of Orgaz. He also ordered that he be buried in this church in the most humble spot: the last of the chapels in the epistle nave. Since the works had not been concluded when he died in 1323, he was temporarily buried in the neighboring church of San Esteban. When his body was moved to his chapel of Santo Tomé in 1327, the admiring attendees tell that, when the liturgy of the deceased was being celebrated, everyone recognized St. Augustine himself and the young deacon, St. Stephen, who appeared in the church. They placed him in the tomb with their own hands as a reward for his life of charity. At the same time, they heard: "such a reward is received by he who serves God and his saints."
The historian Dr. Francisco de Pisa in his description of the Imperial City of Toledo (1605)
"And the sermon refers to and tells of a notable miracle that came to pass during the time that they were going to bury the body of this holy gentleman in this very church: that the glorious ones, St. Stephen protomartyr and St. Augustine (to whom he was particularly devoted in life), visibly descending from heaven; with their own hands, they buried him, saying these words: Such a reward is received by he who serves God and the saints."
The first medieval improvements
It was notably rebuilt in the early fourteenth century, at the expense of the Lord of Orgaz, don Gonzalo Ruiz de Toledo. So they had to add to the two lateral naves with a flat sanctuary.
This is the surviving element from the first church. It was devoid of a sanctuary. Set into its walls are pieces carved in the Visigothic era. It has a square floor and follows the scheme of the Islamic minarets. On the inside, it preserves the main buttress, around which are arranged the stairs. On the lower brick body, two brick bodies are superimposed, in which windows with horseshoe arches open to shelter the belfry. Between the two bodies, the frieze of multifoil arches are of remarkable beauty. It is sustained by green and ochre glazed ceramic columns. This detail links it with the towers of San Román and San Miguel.
The final improvements
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, it was decided to improve the sanctuary by expanding the main chapel and covering it with complex groined vaulting from the last gothic period. The family of the Counts of Ayala had been using this place as a funeral chapel as evidenced by the numerous black slate tombstones preserved in the presbytery walls. It is even believed that the current chapel of la Dolorosa was originally the passageway that linked to the Fuensalida palace, this lineage's main home.
In the early 17th century, it was proposed to improve the naves due to their poor condition. Furthermore, it was decided to restore walls, reinforce the pillars with granite foundations and change their octagonal profiles with square ones, chisel the arches until their profiles were converted into half point and add a line of impost beneath the central barrel vault. The construction work commissioned in 1614 would be concluded around 1661. Then the entrance colonnade was improved, until 1972 when, in order to not alter the church's liturgical life, together with the church's last bay, it was turned into a museum of El Greco's paintings, with a separate entrance for visitors.
The temple holds major groups of sculptures, beginning with the oldest one, next to the side door: the so-called Virgen de la Sonrisa (Virgin of Smiles), a precious specimen of a gothic virgin with almond-shaped eyes and a wide smile that gazes at the Child while he caresses her chin with intimate tenderness. In the main chapel, there are important seventeenth century baroque sculptures. The powerful figure of St. Elijah, lost in deep sleep or a prophetic vision, lets the inner force in his bearded face, his tense hand and the angular folds in his ample robes show through. Across from Elijah's restraint, the expansion of a John the Baptist that opens his arms and fingers in a show of technique without losing an ounce of naturalism. In the silver work episode, the gilded silver monstrance stands out. It is the neoclassical work of Claudio Vegué in 1883.
The first news about the construction of the current gothic style main chapel date back to 1483. This was when Juan Gaus, a few meters away was beginning construction of the San Juan de los Reyes monastery in the style called gothic of the Catholic Monarchs. This was a symbiosis of Flemish gothic with Castilian Mudejar. The mastery of building solutions is also demonstrated here: a complex eight-pointed star vault whose ribs are gathered by corbels that are decorated with the images of the four evangelists.
The first altarpiece having been lost, the current one from the nineteenth century displays a good painting by Vicente López, a chamber painter of the monarchs Ferdinand VII and Isabella II, with the portrayal of the Incredulity of St. Thomas. The harmonic composition of sculpturesque figures of academic drawing and pure colors lead one to raise Thomas' doubt and resolve it through the masterful sleight of hand and gestures.
Chapel of the Conception
Founded by Pedro de la Fuente, it served as a burial pot for the Lord of Orgaz. It was improved by the architect Nicolás de Vergara el Mozo in 1586 to hang the El Greco painting.
Chapel of the Sorrowful
Its narrow floor with a strange orientation with regard to the naves makes one suspect that it conceals a passageway joining the Fuensalida Palace. Among other processional images, it keeps two good baroque carvings of the Virgin and St. John belonging to a Calvary.
Chapel of the Incarnation
Presided by the altarpiece commissioned in 1556 to the architect Nicolás de Vergara the Elder, with sculptures by Diego de Velasco de Ávila and paintings by Hernando de Ávila. The painting that stands out among them is the main one of the Presentation of Jesus at the temple, and above it, a penitent St. Jerome.
Chapel of the Virgin of Monte-Sion
Well into the sixteenth century, in 1559, according to the inscription on the entrance gate, the gothic style chapel was built next to the tower. Today it is called the Monte-Sión chapel, as it keeps the image that was the property of the San Bernardo monastery, disentailed. Its two narrow sections are covered with two groined vaults similar to the main chapel's. On the outside is the Renaissance font brought here from the foot of the nave. It is the habitual place for receiving catechumens who have not yet received communion from the Church. Marble and scallop shaped, it is decorated with acanthus leaves and with a Latin inscription that says: “Qui crediderit et bautizatus fuerit salvus erit, qui vero non crediderit, condemnatibur.”
Toledo Tourist Bracelet
The best way to save on your visit. Discover for only 9 euros seven of the most important monuments in Toledo.
Thanks to the tourist bracelet you will save on the tickets to the 7 monuments to which it gives you access.
You make the route
The closest to your hotel, the one you most want to know ... you choose the order.
If you like ... repeat
While the bracelet is on your wrist, you can visit the monuments as many times as you want.
Travel with the whole family
Children under 11 years old are free in all the monuments.
More information about the tourist bracelet...