The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Escorial

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Escorial
Edition of 1920. See also El Escorial on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

ESCORIAL, or ESCURIAL, a royal palace of Spain, distant from Madrid about 24 miles (by rail 32 miles) in a northwesterly direction and situated on the acclivity of the Sierra de Guadarrama, the range of mountains which divide New from Old Castile. The Eseorial combines a monaatery, a church and a mausoleum with a royal palace. Everything about the Escorial — situation, plan and purposes — bears the stamp of the sombre temperament and unpractical mind of its originator, Philip II. Not the least remarkable of its peculiarities is its site. Away from cities, amid the seclusion of mountain scenery, it stands at a height of 2,700 feet above the level of the sea. It was built in commemoration of the battle of Saint Quentin, which was fought on Saint Lawrence's Day (10 August) 1557 and to whom it is dedicated. The building is a rectangular parallelogram measuring 744 feet in length by 580 in breadth. The interior is divided into 13 courts, the plan supposedly in outline of the gridiron on which Saint Lawrence was broiled. while a projection 460 feet in length contains the chapel and the royal palace. The building, which is in the Greco-Roman style, was begun in 1563 by Juan Bautista de Toledo, a Toledan architect, and finished in 1584 by his pupil, Juan de Herrera. It is irregular in its proportions and thus loses much of the effect which, from its great magnitude, it ought to have. The innumerable windows (said to be 11,000 in honor of the Cologne virgins) give it the aspect of a large mill or barrack. The doors are also numerous. The material of the building is gray granite found in the neighborhood, which preserves its fresh and clean appearance. The church, which dominates the entire design, fronts on a central court, which was formerly opened only to admit the king on his first visit and a second time to receive his dead body for burial. The characteristic is majestic simplicity. It is 340 feet long by 234 wide; the central dome, 70 feet in diaraeter, ia 320 feet high externally. Under the high altar is the Pantheon or burying-place of the kings of Spain. Its interior is lined with dark marble beautifully veined. One of the most interesting parts of the building is the cell of Philip II, from which the king in his last illness was enabled to witness the celebration of mass. The monasterial part of the building contains a valuable library, especially rich in Greek and Arabic manuscripts, and there was formerly a superb collection of pictures scattered through various parts of the building. During the French occupation the books, 30,000 in number, were removed to Madrid, but were sent back by Ferdinand minus 10,000 volumes. The Eseorial was partly burned in 1671, when many MSS. were destroyed. It was pillaged by the French in 1808 (when the books were removed) and in 1813. It was restored by Ferdinand VII, but the monks, with their revenues which supported it, have long since disappeared, and the building, which from its situation requires to be kept in repair at considerable expense, has fallen into some decay, though repairs are executed from time to time. On 2 Oct. 1872 it was struck by lightning and was in consequence seriously injured by fire. The monastery portion of it is now a seminary in which youths receive a secular education. Consult Calvert, A. F., ‘The Escorial; a Historical and Descriptive Account’ (New York 1907); Hay, John, ‘Castilian Days’ (New York 1875).