Basílica San Francisco el Grande frescos cúpula exterior

San Francisco el Grande – Spain’s Largest Dome

In addition to Spain’s largest dome, the Basilica of San Francisco el Grande houses several artistic jewels and a lot of stories that make it a treasures in the capital of Spain.

Strolling through the authentic neighborhood of La Latina it is virtually impossible not to meet one of its main attractions: the Basilica of San Francisco the Great that apart fromo being a wonderful architectural and artistic work, it hides inside the largest dome of Spain.

Erected on the place where the legend says that Saint Francis of Assisi founded a hermitage dedicated to Santa Maria in the 13th Century, nowadays we find the monumental basilica.

The one tha can been nowadays it is not the original one. That hermitage was completely destroyed in 1760 to provide the saint a much more monumental temple.

The designers were the great architect Ventura Rodriguez, who designed a basilica highly inspired by San Pedro de El Vaticano, and a friar, Francisco Cabezas, who against all odds and projecting a never-before-seen dome in Spain was the one who finally skin the cat.

Ventura Rodríguez
Ventura Rodríguez
Fray Francisco Cabezas López

However, as the project progressed, things became complicated for the monk. The pressure exerted by Ventura Rodriguez and the difficulty of building the huge dome, made necessary for the monk to ask for help to the architect Antonio Pio, who finally  projected the impressive dome. A 58 meters tall dome (72 meters from the ground) and 33 meters of diameter that makes it the largest in Spain and the third largest in Christianity, only behind El Pantheon of Agrippa in Rome (43,4 m) Saint Peter of the Vatican (42,5 M),

Basílica San Francisco el Grande frescos cúpula exterior
San Francisco el Grande
Panteón de Agripa
Pantheon of Agrippa (Rome)
San Pedro del Vaticano
San Pedro of The Vatican (The Vatican)

The dome of San Francisco the Great is even bigger than that of the Santa Sofia Mosque in Istanbul (31,8 m). Yes, just as you hear it.

Santa Sofía Estambul
Hagia Sophia (Istanbul)

But beyond its dimension, this dome stands out for the quality of its paintings. And it is because the artists chosen to decorate it were elected among the king’s camera painters and the students of Fine Arts at the Royal Academy of San Fernando Among whom was a young and by then unknown Francisco de Goya.

Basílica San Francisco el Grande frescos cúpula
Fresco Paintings Dome
Basílica San Francisco el Grande frescos base
Fresco Paintings Basement

In fact, the basilic used to preserved his painting of Crucified Christ, which was the work with which he managed to enter the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in San Fernando and which is displayed in the Prado Museum today.

Cristo en la Cruz (Goya) – Museo del Prado

The architect who finally finished the exterior wase Francesco Sabatini, architect of the Royal Palace and the Puerta de Alcalá among some other wonders of Madrid, who will design the neoclassical facade that today looks the basilica.

Basílica San Francisco el Grande fachada
San Francisco el Grande – Façade

And so since its completion, the basilica of San Francisco el Grande (which was called so to distinguish it from the other basilicas dedicated to the Saint in Madrid), has had different uses: with the Napoleonic invasion of 1808 the temple was used as stables of French troops, so that later Pepe Bottle himself would like to make it unsuccessfully into the Courtes Hall.

With the end of the Napoleonic invasion, as well as becoming a place of worship and celebration for the nobility and royalty of the 19th Century, San Francisco el Grande hosted a project to become a Pantheon of Illustrious Men.

For this purpose, in 1869 the bodies of Calderón de la Barca, Francisco de Quevedo, Garcilaso de la Vega, Ventura Rodriguez, Juan de Villanueva, our Grand Captain Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba and some other illustrious were driven to the basilic.

Nevertheless,  this pantheon project never worked, so after a brief periple by the 19th Century Madrid, in 1874 it was decided that our illustrious men would return to the place they might never have left.

And after that, during most of the 20th Century it was kept closed to the public for doing an important construction remodeling and restoring the frescoes.

In 2001, the temple opened its doors again and the basilica regained its life. Since then it stands in our authentic neighborhood as one of the city’s greatest architectural jewels and a mandatory stop for all visitors to the neighborhood of La Latina.

Did you know these stories about San Francisco el Grande?

Well, if you want to know many more about the most iconic points of the Capital, don’t miss our Free Tour Madrid . We’re waiting for you with a lot of fun, curious and charming stories!

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