Above: Monastery of Santa Maria la Real de las Huelgas
It’s not easy to reign over a contested kingdom when you ascend to the throne at age two. Think of the royal intrigue that would trigger – all the scheming regents and relatives trying to unseat you before you can toddle down a hallway on your own.
But Alfonso VIII (1155-1214), King of Castile and Toledo, managed to ward off a legion of enemies to hold onto his throne – not without assistance and numerous defeats and victories on the battlefield along the way. And crusades against the Alamohads. To consolidate his power and secure a powerful ally while still a teenager, Alfonso gained the hand of 12-year-old Eleanor (Leonora) of England (1161-1214), a daughter of the contentious couple King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.
At Leonora’s behest, the young royals founded the Monastery of Santa Maria la Real de las Huelgas in 1187. She bore 11 children before dying less than a month after her husband. The couple and numerous of their children were buried in elaborately decorated chapels within the expansive monastery. Royal weddings held there included that of Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290) to King Edward I of England (1239-1307) while Eleanor was 12 and Edward still a duke.
Above: A putto cradles a skull in the Chapel of Santa Ana in the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Burgos.
Growing up Catholic in the United States seems to bear little resemblance to the experience in Europe. Even the basic images in a place like Star of the Sea in Virginia Beach are more than an ocean apart from what surrounds church-goers in an ancient church of Europe – for example, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Burgos, where these photographs were taken.