Cathedral of Toledo

Written By:  Jessica Friedrich ’25 (Session 2)

On July 8th, we took our first trip outside of Madrid to Toledo. Toledo is thirty minutes south of Madrid and is rich in history and sights showing the mixing of the religions, cultures, and the influence the government has on a civilization. In the afternoon of July 8th after exploring Toledo, we went to the Cathedral of Toledo. Overall, the amount of detail that is encapsulated in the Cathedral greatly exceeded my expectations. Taking over two centuries to build, most of the town work effortlessly dedicating their lives to their work to make such a stunning monument. The Cathedral of Toledo is dedicated to Mary and her being crowned queen of heaven with a statue of her surrounded by lions, a symbol of power and courage, near the front entrance. 

While inside of the cathedral, we were given a guided self-walking tour with two hours to explore all that the cathedral has to offer. In my exploration, there were a few things that stuck out to me. First, upon entry through the main door directly to the right there is a painting of Saint Christopher standing at about thirty five feet tall!!

 Saint Christopher is seen in the painting holding a child. During his life, Christopher carried children across the river. One day when carrying a child he felt the weight grow heavier and heavier, until he realized he was carrying Christ; thus getting the name Christopher, meaning the one who bears Christ. Because of his actions, it is said that if someone sees Christopher they would avoid death for that day. This painting struck me because of the story behind it and made me feel the presence of God in the Cathedral. 

During the tour, my attention was drawn to the architecture of the Cathedral, specifically the ceilings. The Cathedral of Toledo is the first to use double ambulatory architecture meaning there were alternating x and y beam patterns on the ceiling. The y pattern allowed a curve in the ceiling and allowed for a circular shape that was very stable. Because of this architecture, it also became possible to direct natural light as seen in the cathedral with light shining onto El Transparente, the architecture in the back of the Church.

       El Transparente is located in the back of the Cathedral behind the altar and has a dome shaped hole to allow light to pass from the window to the altar and connect the theme of the Eucharist to the Last Supper painting in the El Transparente to the Tabernacle on the altar. 

The area that stuck out to me the most for the artwork is the Sacristy. Upon entering the main room of the sacristy there is a The Disrobing of Christ from the famous artist El Greco. In this painting Jesus is seen in a red robe surrounded by his tormentors. Jesus is seen with his left hand on his heart and his right hand pointed to a tormenter, begging God to forgive them. Jesus is seen without the crown of thorns and is depicted in a godly sense. 

Next to the painting from El Greco is a painting of the Crucifiction of Jesus from Goya. In stark contrast to the Greco, Jesus is very humanized. These two paintings next to each other reinforced the idea that different artists from different decades will have different ideas of religion because of forces from politics and culture. 

Finally, at the end of the two hours the tour ended behind the choir. On the right side the architecture shows the story of the beginning from Adam and Eve to Cain and Abel. This, stemming from the Hebrew scripture, connecting with the influence of Muslim architecture, tied together into the Christian literacy perfectly summarizes the convivencia the religions had together while the Cathedral was being built and demonstrates how a civilization is stronger when cultures blend. 

This being my first time in Europe I had only seen Cathedrals from later periods in the United States such as Saint Francis Cathedral in New York City. The Cathedral of Toledo absolutely took my breath away with the amount of detail it holds and now I cannot wait to see what other Cathedrals and monuments have it store. Stay tuned to hear about what other trips and amazing sights we see!!

Exploring Madrid

Written By:  Tabitha Torres ’25 (Session 2)

Exploration is a subjective and dynamic terminology; it encapsulates a feeling evoked under different conditions and by different experiences for each individual. Within the past week that we arrived in Madrid, every member of our group has explored and sought out experiences and places within the city in their own ways.

El Parque Retiro 

A beautiful park only 0.75 miles from our Hostel Persal, El Parque Retiro is large in scale and scenery. Our first exploration was on  July 2nd when we first arrived jetlagged in Madrid. Since then, I have visited El Parque Retiro to see more. The park seems to be popular for dog owners and avid runners- most people in Madrid do not run on the streets but rather contain their exercise within the park gates. I went for a run in El Parque Retiro, and it was easy to see why; the dense shrubbery provides an enclosure of shade from the hot sun. Additionally, it serves as a private space that feels surprisingly safe. Each time I go, I attempt to explore further within the large area and challenge myself to navigate through the park and back to Hostel Persal.  El Parque Retiro has significance beyond its beautiful scenery; the  space hosts Feria del Libro from May to June, where authors can sell their books. Additionally, the royal families of Spain have a home in the park where they used to spend their summers. 

El Museo del Prado 

El Museo del Prado houses works by Francisco Goya and Pablo Picasso; this museum requires more than one trip to fully appreciate the totality of its content. After taking Professor Amanda Luyster’s Art History Course in Spring 2022, I was extremely excited to be able to see the works of art that I had done research on within her class. Specifically, Francisco Goyas Tres de Mayo 1808, or Third of May. Being able to physically interact with a piece of art is an amazing experience; seeing it in juxtaposition to other works by Goya felt like an exploration. Wandering through the expansive halls of the museum (and sometimes getting lost!) allowed me to step back into the past and the depiction of the history of Spain and Madrid. In this way, exploration goes beyond simply wandering; exploration can happen nonlinearly and through the consumption of knowledge on the history of Madrid. The entirety of our group of 18 people made the trip to the museum; it was a great experience to explore the museum and get to know my classmates as well!

Within a week, it is difficult to truly explore the city of Madrid. However, the utilization and exploration of public spaces, such as parks and museums, serve as a way to efficiently learn and gain exposure to the rich culture and history that exists within this city. In the case of the Prado and Retiro Park, both places serve as a cumulative overlay of the history of the city and how it develops over time. The constantly evolving purposes and content of these spaces build a narrative of Madrid from the ground up; I have really enjoyed utilizing them to broaden my knowledge and exposure to this city!

The Royal Palace: Spanish Monarchy

Written By:  Julia Wadolkowski ’26 (Session 2)

This Friday, we took a class trip to tour the Palacio Real, or Royal Palace. I had passed the palace a few times already just on walks with my friends, but I couldn’t wait to actually see the inside and learn all about its significance, both past and present.

The palace had originally been a Moorish fortress used to protect Toledo, but was slowly turned into a castle by the Kings of Castile. Charles III was the first monarch to live in the palace, and later Philip V led the renovation of the fortress to better match the decorative qualities of Versailles, where he grew up. The entire former alcázar was destroyed by a Christmas Eve fire in 1734, which allowed for the castle to be reconstructed into what we see now

The castle as it stands now is nothing short of incredible. Upon entering the main room, you look up to see the gorgeous fresco of Religion Created by Spain, created by Corrado Giaquinto, which immediately sets the tone of the grandeur of the rest of the palace. The rest of the palace was exquisitely decorated, with extreme detailing of different themes using plaster, paintings, and porcelain on the walls and ceilings in each room. 

Currently, the palace is not lived in by the royal family. The family is part of the House of Bourbon, which stems from France. The current royal family includes King Felipe VI, Queen Letizia, and their two daughters Leonor and Sofía; Leonor is the Princess of Asturias and Sofia is the Infanta of Spain. Now, the palace is used as a tourist attraction and for state ceremonies. 

My personal favorite part was all the amazing paintings, which included some by famous artists such as Goya and Velazquez. Overall, visiting the palace was an amazing experience; it is so majestic and beautifully decorated that you could stand there and stare at each room for hours, and it will definitely be one of my favorite memories.

Jews in Spain

Written By:  Sami Cavanaugh ’25 (Session 2)

This past weekend, our class traveled to Toledo to explore the various identities that make up Spanish history. To do this, we visited various places of worship that helped our understanding of the weaving between Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religions. In previous classes in the days prior, we studied the deep history between the three religions, which display their overlapping influence and prominence in Spain. We learned that these groups were able to tolerate each other for many years in “convivencia,” a term to describe the coexistence between the religions. Yet, this tolerance of other religions fluctuated and depended upon the King in charge. For example, rulers such as King Peter of Castile, exemplify the acceptance of the Jewish community in his allowance of the Synagogue of El Tránsito’s construction in around 1357. Less than a hundred years later, extreme intolerance of other religions emerged under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella’s reign. In 1492, they expelled all Jews from Spain and forced them to either convert to Christianity or leave Spain completely. Homes, businesses, synagogues and entire communities were abandoned. Empty synagogues such as the Synagogue of El Tránsito were transformed into churches, hospitals, military barracks, and museums. Aspects of the Christian religion can now be seen in this synagogue through the architecture.

While visiting the Synagogue of El Tránsito this past weekend, Professor Juan, gave us a detailed description of the architectural meaning and history of how this synagogue has evolved over the years. He explained that King Peter of Castile allowed this synagogue to be built in appreciation of ha-Levi Abulafia, his treasurer. Inside, crests line the walls in Hebrew to thank Peter for allowing the creation of the synagogue. Wood roofing, infinity horseshoe arches, and ceramic tiles reflect the influence of Muslims and Jews that stayed after the conquest. This type of architecture is known as Mudéjar art. Many of the churches, synagogues, and mosques of Toledo display this architecture due to the overlapping of religions across centuries. It was not until 1964 that the Spanish government retook the museum to return it to the Safrarid people. The Synagogue of El Tránsito is now a part of the Sefardic Museum in order to preserve religious history. 

This past weekend was my first time entering a synagogue. Growing up Catholic, I could not help but compare it to what I was most familiar with, churches. I noticed that there were no saints or people lining the walls. There were no pews or stained glass windows lighting up the altar. Instead, the walls were less flashy designs and often made with plaster. Professor Juan informed us that this is because Jews do not wish to portray fancy or luxury in their place of worship, but instead, a commitment to divinity. The temple is meant solely for praying and practice. He described how there used to be different places for men and women to worship in the synagogue. Another detail I learned was that all synagogues face east towards the promised land, Israel.

Overall, looking at the origins of Jewish history has given me a deeper respect for the culture and traditions.

Madrid in Medieval Times

Written By:  Edgar Roman Almànzar ’24 (Session 2)

Before visiting historical landmarks such as the Royal Palace of Madrid and some of Madrid’s important neighborhoods today, we had discussed the topic of national identity in Spain. Spain has had much strife and struggle with finding its own identity and modernizing itself time over time. Through its many different periods in history, we have seen processes such as romanization (Rome conquering this region/territory) and Germanic invasions as well. When walking throughout Madrid today, we can see much of the influences of these prospective cultures in contemporary Spain, with cultural legacies such as architecture, roman theaters, and the foundation of many important Spanish cities all around the country; these cities include Barcelona, Cordoba, Mérida, and Zaragoza. There is also much religious influence in the country, considering the fact that it had been under the influence of Jews, Muslims, and Christians at least once each throughout the different eras of history that this country has had.

There is much Roman influence in the architectural style that Madrid has, which only makes me ponder about this giant influence on the rest of the country. As well as the Romans and Germanic tribes establishing influence, we can see how there was also a period in time of power from Islam; the expansion of Muslim presence in Spain lasted from 711-1492. We can see that much of Spanish language also derives from Arabic langage; much of the Iberian Peninsula has areas such as Andalucia which is derived from the name the Muslims gave the southern region of Spain, Al-Ándalus. To understand the many different art styles found in Madrid, we must also take a look at the historical context of the cultures that have existed on this land long before this city was created.

The image below is street called “Calle del Codo” joining two of Madrid’s plazas, the Plaza del Conde de Miranda as well as that of the Plaza de la Villa. It is supposed to mimic an arm,  starting off wider at the shoulder and getting narrower when arriving towards the opposite end of the street, which is supposed to symbolize the wrist. At the entrance of this street, we see the door of Torre de los Lujanes. It is said to be the oldest civil building in Madrid, hailing from the 15th century, showing the importance Madrid has of preserving historical buildings all the while making its cultural heritage last longer.

First Impressions of Madrid

Written By:  Shane Bridges ’25 (Session 2)

Having never been outside the country, or even on a plane by myself, I was honestly very nervous for this trip. I feared the whole thing would be an overwhelming experience from finding my baggage to trying new foods and navigating new places. However, I was pleasantly surprised upon my arrival in this beautiful city and country. 

After landing in Madrid at 6:10 in the morning with a classmate, we step off the plane into a beautiful and spacious airport, with plenty of signage in both English and Spanish directing us to our baggage. We had to take a mini train to a different terminal for our luggage! Once more people arrived we rode taxis to our hostel, when I realized how special this trip is going to be for me. All of the colorful buildings, balconies, and open spaces were so welcoming, even from the back seat of a car.

Walking around the city in the morning and afternoon, I could not believe I was in a place halfway across the world! It felt like a typical US city, but was still a very fresh and vibrant area like I have never experienced before. I also enjoy the abundance of nature that surrounds areas of the city, like trees lining a street or greenery atop terraces. 

All of the fears I had about this trip are quickly disappearing. Madrid is full of great food options, and I have found trying new “gastronomy” to be very rewarding so far. As a terrible navigator, I can say that Madrid certainly is a walkable city, and easy to get around. I am already finding myself recognizing certain corner shops or plazas and remembering where to go. We have also noticed that fashion tends to vary widely among the people here, with everything from ripped jean shorts to long and elegant skirts and dresses. I was surprised to see so many people wearing jeans in the hot weather!

The pivotal moment for many of us was the welcome dinner. By the time this lovely, almost 3-hour-long, 3-course meal wrapped up, we already felt bonded to each other. It was nice to enjoy a large meal as a full group in an amazing restaurant right next door to where we are staying. As I was getting ready for bed that first night, I realized I was no longer scared or sad like when I first left home. Though it has only been a couple of days, the city and classmates I will continue to study with have started to make me feel comfortable in Madrid. After meeting great people, having cellphone-free dinners and spontaneous shopping trips, I can tell we will make so many more great memories together this month.

El Flamenco. Mi Flamenco: Flamenco Lessons in Madrid

Written by: Ailish Dixon (Session 1)

Today our Maymester group went to take Flamenco lessons in Madrid! A few days ago we went to see a Flamenco performance in a cave in Granada and the experience was incredible. We were right up close to the performers so we could really see every slight movement and facial expression of the dancers. We could really feel the music and

movement as it enveloped the room. The performance had such a huge impact on me and everyone in our group as we had never seen anyone dance with such skill, passion and emotion before. Although learning Flamenco ourselves for the first time was definitely not going to come out looking like the breathtaking performance we experienced in Granada, everyone was very excited to learn some Flamenco. 

I am a dance minor at Holy Cross and have been dancing since I was little. Having a dance background was definitely very helpful in the class. However, Flamenco was very different from any style of dance I had ever learned before. I found that the

most difficult part of Flamenco for me was the difference in the tempo of the music and the shifting rhythms. Most of the music that I have danced to in the past is in basic 4/4 meter and is based on consistent counts of 8. The rhythm or beat in Flamenco is called the cómpas and dancers use palmas, which is clapping hands and stomping feet, to keep to the rhythm while dancing. The class started with us learning basic cómpas and the corresponding palmas. This compas served as the basis for the rhythm of the dance combination that the Flamenco instructor taught the group. 

Before Flamenco class we spoke about Lorca and his explanation of the concept of duende in our class lecture. Duende is a feeling 

or self-expression that comes directly from one’s soul. Duende is expressed in the arts through passion, moving the audience and demonstrating an intense personal connection between the artist and their art. Although we only had an hour to learn some very basic flamenco steps, the class and the performance we experienced gave me a glimpse into the meaning of duende in Flamenco dance. From the short Flamenco combination, I discovered a contrast between movements exuding passion and movement that established strength or power. There was also a contrast between tension and release in the Flamenco choreography. Many of the movements required intense muscle control, making the movements very precise. Everyone had a lot of fun learning some basic Flamenco steps. I hope to get the chance to take another class and learn more Flamenco in the future!


Written by: Mikaila Lupoli (Session 1)

We traveled from Seville to Granada for the final leg of our Southern Spain tour. I have been so excited to return to Granada since I saw on the syllabus that it would be a destination. As a 17-year-old girl, I fell in love with the beauty of the Alhambra; however, at 22, my adoration expanded. After exploring the city, we headed to the Alhambra and Generalife for an evening tour. Throughout the course, we have discussed the Spanish identity’s different components. At the Alhambra, I was able to see firsthand the intersections between the Muslim and Christian presences in Spain. Even though the Christians took over Granda in 1492, the presence of the Muslims is still prevalent throughout the city. As taught by Professor Juan Iso, the name Alhambra means “ the red one” because of the color of the stones. The Alhambra is positioned at the city’s highest point, on top of a hill, with many walls and towers to protect from enemies. Something that the guide pointed out during the tour that I found fascinating was the ability to feel like you are in different places while standing in the same position but looking in different directions. Overall, I think I was able to appreciate better and understand the magnificence and beauty of the palace and gardens this time, as I had a general lay of the land. 

We went to the Royal Chapel and a Flamenco show during our second day in Granada. In the morning, during our visit to the Royal Chapel, I was taken aback by the grandiosity. Before seeing the tombs of the monarchs, there is a huge grill. For the tombs themselves, I could not believe the intricacy of the marble carvings, especially the angels on the sides of the tombs. Queen Isabella of Castile, King Ferdinand of Aragon, their daughter Joanna and her husband Philip, and grandson Miguel are all buried in the Royal Chapel. If Miguel had not passed away, he would have been the King of Castile, Aragon, and Portugal, uniting European crowns. Their coffins are underneath the tombs, with a viewing window which I found to be so interesting. Although the Catholic monarchs were originally supposed to be buried in Toledo, they chose to have the Royal Chapel built in Granada instead as a result of the reconquest. This day was wonderful, as we went to the Flamenco show later on, which was a surreal experience. Although I did not know much about dance, I could see and feel the story of the Flamenco show. Thus far, Granada is one of my favorite cities that we have visited, and I am already itching to return. 


Written by: Mikey Mitrokostas (Session 1)

After our week-long tour of Southern Spain, visiting Cordoba, Sevilla, and Granada, by far the most stunning city of them all to me was Sevilla.

The city holds a unique beauty. From its people, culture, architecture, and deep-rooted history, Sevilla gave off a vibe and vibrant energy that was different from any other city we have traveled to so far. My only complaint was that we only got to spend two nights there. 

Sevilla is the perfect encapsulation of Spain, and we took full advantage of it. From the moment we dropped our bags off at the hostel, we were off. We started the day off by visiting the Royal Alcazar Gardens. The picturesque city of Sevilla is a seamless mix of Moorish, Christian, and Jewish history, and the Alcazar of Sevilla is the perfect representation of those traditions. The royal palace was one of the most beautiful things I’ve witnessed in Spain so far. The distinct Muslim and Jewish influence on a palace that housed a Christian King is another reminder of the preservation of culture and prioritizing beauty throughout Spanish history.

I am a big fan of when we all get the chance to share a meal together, which we had the chance to do on our first night in Sevilla. Maybe it was the good food & drinks, or Profe’s tear-jerking toast, or perhaps it was the fact we got to sit overlooking the beautiful river that runs through Seville, but this meal was one of the most fun and memorable moments we’ve had as a group on the trip so far. 

The next morning we woke up early and toured the Archivo de Indias, which as a building has served many purposes over Sevilla’s history but was originally created to centralize the city’s rich trading industry. The tour served as the perfect all-encompassing history of the city’s history.

Afterward, we hurried over to the Cathedral of Seville for mass. This cathedral is an architectural masterpiece, and to be honest, it was hard to focus on the mass while basking in awe of its beauty. (If it wasn’t for our visit to the Mezquita-Cathedral in Cordoba just a couple of days before, I would say it was the most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever seen.) The Cathedral of Sevilla is the world’s largest gothic cathedral and I cannot nearly describe its sheer size through this blog, but hopefully, this picture helps:

After mass, we got to climb the Giralda tower attached to the cathedral and take in amazing views of Sevilla from over 300 feet up!

Later that day we visited the Plaza de Espana. Profe Juan explained to me that this park-like place and surrounding buildings were created in the early 1900s when Spain hosted an Ibero-American expedition for the world fair. Influenced by the Spanish Renaissance, the Plaza’s large marble columns, colorful patterns, and intricate tower designs serve as a beautiful representation of the country.

Profe Juan told me that usually buildings created for world fairs in other countries get destroyed, but the architect did such an impressive job with the Plaza that the city had to keep it; yet another example of Spain’s tradition of preserving beauty. 

During our visit to the Plaza, I got the honor of rowing Profe (& perrito Mambo) around the surrounding river in a small row boat, a personal highlight of my trip so far.

Before coming to the city, Sevilla already had an important place in my heart. When my sister was in college, she studied abroad at the Universidad de Sevilla, which became one of the most fulfilling and special times in her life. Being able to finally see the city that she (constantly) talks about, was a blessing. I am forever grateful to have had the chance to share just some of those similar experiences with her.

After this trip, I think I may have to petition the study abroad office for the creation of a future May-Mester program based in Sevilla. 



Written by: Callie Nairus (Session 1)

Córdoba was our first stop on our six-day trip to the South of Spain. Our first impressions were hindered by the downpour of rain that greeted us as we got off the train from Madrid, but after taking a few hours to recover in our beautiful hostel, we were ready to explore the city. Donning rain jackets and umbrellas and hopeful for some sun, we first visited the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos. The palace’s beautiful mosaics and fountain-filled gardens veil its dark history. Formerly inhabited by Isabella I of Castille and Ferdinand II of Aragon, the fortress was the site of Catholic monarchs’ planning for the reconquest of Granada and where they granted Columbus permission for his expedition to India. Nearby the Alcazar was the Judería de Córdoba, where we visited the Córdoba Synagogue, one of three medieval synagogues left in Spain. Jews could practice their faith under the Muslim rule of Spain, but the building became a hospital when they were expelled by the Catholic monarchs in 1492. While exploring, we were struck by the architectural contrast from the streets of Madrid we were used to: Córdoba’s white buildings with floral accents made us feel like we had been transported to Greece.

The following day we were lucky to see the sun again with no rain in sight. We started the day at the Palacio de Viana, a medieval palace surrounded by twelve gorgeous patios filled with greenery and colorful flowers decorated with mosaics and paintings. After, we went to our most anticipated stop: the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba. Its combination of Islamic and Christian architecture captivated us after learning about the conquests and reconquests of Spain over the past several weeks. The structure was originally a mosque until the Christian Reconquests, during which Christian elements were added to convert it into a Cathedral. As a result, a Renaissance-style Cathedral sits at the center of the building, surrounded by red and white Islamic horseshoe arches. After admiring the mosque for several hours, we ended our day with a lighthearted olive oil tasting. We learned about different types of olive oil and their uses, ending with us all buying olive oil to bring home to our families. After two great days in Córdoba, we were ready to continue exploring the South of Spain.