A visit to the St. John of God Basilica in Granada

To completely misquote the Prince of Morocco in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, "All that Glisters really is gold" - at least it is with a visit to the Basilica of St John of God - or San Juan de Dios -  in the Andalucían city of Granada.  You might still need to keep your Ray Bans firmly in place, as you step out of the bright Granada sunshine - and into the glittering gold interior of this breathtaking building. Take an hour or so and discover it for yourself...

basilica san juan de dios

Granada in the afternoon

With no idea why it took us so long to visit this magnificent building, we took advantage of a sunny afternoon in Granada city, and detoured inside the Basilica of San Juan after a leisurely lunch in the nearby Plaza Romanilla.  Long Spanish lunches are fabulous but it's imperative to walk them off afterwards unless you also plan a long siesta! Weekend and city visits are for moving around and discovering all that those cities have to offer - so sleeping isn't really an option.

basilica san juan de dios

Architecturally pleasing

Granada is a wonderful city for seeing by foot - the cobbled streets and narrow lanes all have something to show you, and architecturally it's a treasure trove - it's certainly a camera-friendly spot.  Several times in the past we have strolled on past the Basilica de San Juan, admiring the outside, as the Basilica is deemed to be one of the main Baroque churches in Granada. But on that sunshine-filled April day we turned inside and walked through the cool courtyard to see what was on the inside.

basilica san juan de dios

About St John of God

A long and illustrious history and interesting life, which can be summarized as follows: Born in the 15th century in Portugal, Joao Duarte Cidade was first a homeless orphan, then a soldier, a bookbinder and bookseller, and later a health worker, who devoted his life to the care of the sick, the mentally unstable and the homeless. His travels took him around the world and he finally settled in Andalucia via Gibraltar, where he had was said to have a vision of the infant Jesus and then changed his name to Juan de Dios, settling in Granada.

Today the buildings attached to the Basilica bear his legacy, there's a daily soup kitchen and various clinics and a hospital to aid the less fortunate of the city.

basilica san juan de dios 

How to get to the Basilica

You'll find the Basilica of San Juan de Dios on the street of the same name, Calle San Juan de Dios 19, 18001 Granada, close enough to the Monasterio de San Jeronimo, which might also be on your sightseeing list.  It's open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 1pm and 4pm to 7pm and Sundays from 4pm to 7pm. The entry cost is just €4 and worth every cent.  They also give you a hand-held audio guide which is available in 5 languages, and tells you the history of the building through numbers points as you follow the route inside.

basilica san juan de dios

Inside the Basilica

The interior and design of the Basilica de San Juan is arranged around the layout of a Latin cross.  Step into the cool interior where you pay the admission fee, and pick up your audio guide.  Then pass into the Sacristy, where the audio guide in your language will inform you about the furniture and paintings there. Admire the painted ceiling.  When you've finished listening, step inside to the main church, you're coming in from behind the altar...

basilica san juan de dios

The main church

Often you'll hear the phrase that a first sight of something can take your breath away.  Well, this building, and in particular, the main church, does exactly that.  Gold.  It's everywhere.  Ceiling, walls, paintings, side-altars, it's simply dazzling.  

There are four side-chapels, each worth a visit and a few minutes of contemplation.  Look over the transept - see the two altarpieces dedicated to St Raphael and St John of God.  These are by the leading representative of the Granada Baroque school, Bernardo de Mora.

If you're lucky, a guide will tap your arm and whisper you to follow her.  A lucky few visitors a day are invited through the velvet curtain to the right of the main altar.  Up the winding stone staircase, past the first railed balcony with views over the whole church interior, eventually taking us to a high vantage point behind the ornate altar - the centrepiece is the the silver urn holding the relics of St John of God.  It's quite special.  

basilica san juan de dios

Back into the sunlight

Back into the bright Granada sunshine, which didn't seem quite so blinding as earlier - and a quiet coffee in one of the side-streets to mull over the spectacle we had been treated to.  Right opposite the main entrance, on the other side of the street, we discovered a fabulous book shop with a huge selection of titles on Granada, with lots in English too. Lots of ideas for more places to visit...and proof that there's always something new to see in this Andalucían city of spires and palaces - a special place for a weekend away, and a reminder to come back soon.

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