The Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced is one of Ronda’s more curious churches, and is also a convent for the nuns and priests of the Discalced Carmelites of Ronda. La Merced is more correctly a basilica since it is home to a holy relic, the incorruptible hand of Saint Teresa of Avila and the story behind this is in itself worth telling even if you never visit the church, although if you come to Ronda you’ll most certainly see the church as you pass by.
Built by Mozarab Christians around the time of ibn Hafsun’s uprising during the Umayyad dynasty at the end of the 9th century, Virgen de la Cabeza (Virgin of the Head) is believed to have been primarily a chapel and hermitage for Christian Monks, and is a classic example of Mozarab rupestrian churches, although sadly one of the last remaining.
Also known as the Cuevas de San Antón, the church was originally the site of a small area of worship from shortly after the Arab invasion of Iberia, but during the Mozarab uprising, and while Ronda was nominally independent under ibn Hafsun, the original cave was enlarged to house a permanent hermitage of upto 10 monks. The entire church is not large in comparison to the other churches in Ronda, but is still 272 square metres in area.
Originally built in the 14th century as one of the muslim Mosques, the Church of Santa María la Mayor, known locally as the Iglesia de Santa María de la Encarnación la Mayor in Ronda’s Town Hall square, the Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, and is the biggest and most attractive of the churches. Its distinctive tower and front facade make the church look more like a city hall than a church, but don’t be fooled, entering the church soon puts these thoughts aside.
A formidable looking fortress, this is in fact the Holy Spirit Church, and is one of Ronda’s notable churches. It is unique in being part of the original fortified walls of the old city, in fact the church was built on the destroyed foundations of an octagonal tower used by the moors to defend the gate and walls in this part of Ronda.
King Ferdinand ordered it’s construction almost immediately after taking ronda and for a time after it’s completion in 1505 was the main church in Ronda whilst Santa Maria was completed. Owing to the political and military uncertainty of the times it was built in a very severe gothic style more reminiscent of a defensive tower than a church.
Espiritu Santo took 20 years to complete and was consecrated on Whitsunday 1505, also the year Queen Isabel died giving the church a particularly bittersweet celebration at the time, on one hand a celebration of the first completed church in Ronda after the reconquest, and on the other hand a sad day for the newly united Spain.
Iglesia de Espiritu Santo Opening HoursMonday to Saturday 10am till 2pm then4pm till 7pm (10:00 till 14:00 then 16:00 till 19:00)
Latitude: 36.735230 (36° 44′ 6.83” N)
Longitude: -5.164057 (5° 9′ 50.61” W)
Price of Entry
1€ for individuals
0.60€ if part of a group
Ronda is famous for it’s churches built after the reconquest as Catholic Spain asserted it’s control over the formerly Muslim city. Four of the many churches in Ronda are especially noted for their architecture or the story behind them, and all are part of every great tour of Ronda.
Christianity in Ronda began with Visigothic control of Iberia after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, and quickly became the dominant faith. Arab invaders entered Iberia and overran the Visigoths beginning in 711 AD, and until 1485 Ronda was a Muslim stronghold alternating between liberal interpretations of Muslim faith and the more conservative Sharia versions.
At times Ronda was a centre of enlightenment with many Islamic poets and scholars born in Ronda although most found fame and fortune in other cities such as Córdoba, Baghdad, Cairo, or the Berber courts in North Africa.
Despite nearly 800 years as a Muslim city, Christianity in Ronda was never fully extinguished, and if you have a bit of time to spare, a trip to the Mozarab cave church ‘Virgen de la Cabeza’ is well worth your time though it is never open to the public.
None of the Muslim mosques of Ronda survived the reconquest, all were destroyed and Christian churches built on their foundations. Part of a minaret from one of Ronda’s mosques still stands, the San Sebastian Minaret, the lower third is Moorish, whilst the top two thirds are Christian.
Inside Santa Maria la Mayor it is possible to see part of the original Mosque which stood in its place. A single column from the mosque is located behind the alter. This same church was the original location of Julius Caesars Temple of Diana, which subsequently became a Visigothic church prior to the Muslim invasion.
Rondeños are often quite proud of their Catholic faith, and many will make the sign of the cross against their chests when passing a church entrance, as too will nuns walking through town, although you may also see a nun stop at the entrance to a church she is passing and briefly bow before continuing on her way.
There are several convents in Ronda, all of which are still home to nuns. There are also private convents for retired priests and nuns, though these are strictly off limits to all but family of the residents. The most famous convent in Ronda, The Convent of Santo Domingo, is however no longer used as such. In fact the building is owned by the Ayuntamiento and used as the city exhbition centre.