Commemorative exhibition of the V Centenary of the death of the Cardinal

More than one year of work. 1,200 square meters of exhibition with around 350 pieces from different entibies… All them well documented and collected in a detailed catalog with dozens of collaborations… Toledo’s Cathedral honors the one who was its bishop for 22 years with a
once-in-a-lifetime exhibition that will remain in the temple until next February. We summarize all keys of this great project for those who will immerse themselves in it and, above all, for those who want to do it through these pages, on paper, or through its digital version from any corner of the world. It is a simple and humble way of doing, if possible, the leading figure of Cisneros more universal and eternal.



Cisneros was born in a medieval, rural and poor Spain which was divided between the Kingdom of Navarre, the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, the Crown of Castile and the Crown of Aragon. And he died in a Renaissance country united by the Catholic Monarchs that, with the discovery of America, gave birth to a period of social and economic growth. Thanks to his work as primate archbishop and as regent, the eternal cardinal became the true protagonist of that historic transition.


Carrillo and Mendoza were two names that marked the life of Cisneros. Carrillo ordered his confinement in prison shortly after returning from Rome as archpriest of Uceda, a position that Cisneros got by a personal decision of Pope Paul II but that the almighty Archbishop of Toledo should not like. Mendoza, cardinal-counselor of Isabella I of Castile, released and rehabilitated him, first, as chaplain of Siguenza and, later, as confessor of the Queen. He was the mentor of Cisneros, who succeeded him both as Primate Archbishop and as royal counselor.


This part of the exhibition brings together numerous personal objects, paintings, sculptures and literary references about Cisneros. The quotes of Hernando del Pulgar (1) and Pedro Martí de Anglería (2) that illustrate this page draw his anthropomorphic features, his way of being and his way of living. All them reflect that simple friar who reached to mark the history of Spain and of the Catholic Church forever.


On November 8, 1517, at the age of 81, Cisneros died in Roa while traveling to Valladolid to meet Charles V and I, the future King and Emperor of Spain. A year before, after the death of king Ferdinand II, the Cardinal assumed again the regency of Spain for the second time. Therefore, Cisneros died exercising the double role that history had entrusted to him, that of statesman and that of churchman.


Coexistence of cultures and tribute to Mozarabic Christians

Cisneros ordered in 1502 to join the space of the old Chapter Room and of the chapel destinated to the Corpus Christi to build a space for the celebration the so-called Mozarabic or Visigothic Hispanic rite, whose practice had disappeared in almost all Spanish territory due to the Arab invasion. In reality, Cisneros wanted to keep alive the worship that the Mozarabs still practiced in Toledo – the Christians who kept their faith living in Islamic territory – due to its theological, liturgical and cultural wealth, in a city in which the coexistence of cultures was always usual. Two years later, the Mozarabic chapel began to celebrate daily masses in that ancient rite, a tradition that is still preserved in the Toledo’s Cathedral. The Cardinal also ordered the printing of the missal and the breviary of the Mozarabic rite, preserved in old codices, in order to make it last in time.


Cisneros was in charge to carry out of in Spain the religious reform that the Catholic Monarchs wanted to do in order to modernize the inherited Church from Medieval Spain. And he did it from the Toledo’s Cathedral, leaving in addition an undeniable mark in the universal catholic church. He began by reforming his own order (sending many Franciscan friars to evangelize in the new America with the aim to end with the settlers’ abuses and to encourage the spiritual movement of the so-called “observance” against the “conventual” one). He also continued with the modernization of the diocesan clergy and that of other religious and monastic orders.


Cisneros did not only left his mark in Toledo’s Cathedral, but in numerous social initiatives in Toledo and many other cities. In all of them, as in other aspects of his life, he showed his humility and special communion with the most needy. Too much has been written about the Cardinal’s facet of statesman but little about the profile of a simple friar who fled from pomp and kept on wearing the habits under the opulent archiepiscopal clothing.


Ancient baptismal fonts used for the conversion of the Arabs to Christianity after the Reconquest of Spain, documents on the expulsion of the Jews, a showing of weapons of the time or miniatures of the ships that crossed the Atlantic to discover America… All this accompanied by documents that demonstrate the benevolent influence of Cisneros in his evangelizing role, such as the precise instructions of Queen Isabella I of Castile so that the locals of the new land would be well treated.


The exhibition highlights that “(…) Cisneros, in more than twenty years, from his promotion to the Archbishopric of Toledo (1495), following his appointment as cardinal and general inquisitor (1507) and his performance as governor of Castile (in 1506-1507 and 1516-1517) and until his death in Roa when he was looking for the king and future emperor Charles V, impose his authority throughout the Kingdom, where he was the true “strong man” of politics and the Church, and where he made the main works that have earned him the recognition for posterity (…).


The two most emblematic undertakings of the humanist spirit of Cisneros were, without a doubt, the creation of the University of Alcalá de Henares and the printing of the first Polyglot Bible. With the first, he wanted to universalize knowledge for society and, with the second, to universalize the message of the sacred scriptures demonstrating, once again, the two facets that characterized his life and his work; the intellectual and the religious one, that of statesman and that of churchman.


It was common in the Middle Ages and even in the Renaissance that cardinals and religious took part in military conquest expeditions or against invading armies. But the importance of Cisneros in the battle of Oran and in the conversion’s campaign of Granada illustrated many paintings, carvings and sculptures of the time and has been reflected in numerous documents.


The final section of the exhibition joins together a spectacular collection of art objects linked to religious devotion. It is the best way to embark on the second part of the exhibition’s tour through the Cathedral’s places closely linked to Cisneros that ends in the Treasure Room with the Corpus Christi’s Monstrance (or Monstrance of Arfe, by the name of its author).

The mark of Cisneros in Toledo’s Cathedral

In addition to the Mozarabic Chapel and the enormous material and immaterial work that the exhibition includes, the eternal cardinal left an important mark on other Cathedral’s aspects. Among other initiatives, he expanded the Main Chapel with a new altarpiece, he ordered to build a new Chapter Room and a new Monstrance to house the original one of the Catholic Queen… Once finished the exhibition tour, we propose you some more stops to know the true legacy of cardinal Cisneros in the Primate Cathedral.

The Corpus Christi’s Monstrance, the greatest jewel of Christianity

Toledo’s Cathedral protects under its tower the Treasure Room, a room intended to protect and guard the most valuable works of the temple of St. Mary and of Toledo’s Church. In the middle, surrounded by some books, staves, chalices, and liturgical objects of great value, erects the Corpus Christi’s monstrance, the most important of the Cathedral, symbol of an era of splendor, fruit of the exaltation of faith and origin of a town’s tradition. Every year, the city of Toledo threw itself into its “Big Festivity”, tradition and popular religiosity around the Most Holy. Considered of international tourist interest, the holiday finds its raison d’etre in Jesus of the Blessed Sacrament, who travels the streets in one of the most important goldsmith works in the World.


The choir began to be built before Cisneros was elected as Primate Archbishop. Several scenes carved in the low chairs (made between 1495 and 1498 by Rodrigo Alemán) show the reconquest of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs (1482-1492). Cardinal Cisneros moved years later to Granada to personally assume the conversions’ campaign.


Cisneros ordered its extension by moving the so-called Old Kings (King Alfonso VII, his son Sancho III the Desired and Sancho IV the Brave) to a chapel on the side of the temple, and he commanded the master Petit Jean to design a majestic polychromatic wooden altarpiece. Its construction lasted six years (1498-1504) and, under the direction of Enrique Egas and Pedro de Gumiel, worked great sculptors like Felipe de Bigarny, Diego Copín and Sebastián Almonacid, and famous painters like Francisco de Amberes and Juan de Borgoña himself.


Built between 1504 and 1512, its anteroom has the walls covered by cupboards where the Chapter’s minutes are archived. The main space has a wooden bench that serves as seats for the prelates with the Archbishop’s chair in the middle. On the walls, they appear the portraits of all Cathedral’s Archbishops. The Mudejar-Plateresque coffered ceiling is characteristic of the so-called “Cisneros’ style”.