From very early times in the Christian period, Madrid had a Cluniac monastery of Benedictine monks, the Monastery of San Martín.

The Benedictines chose a zone of low hills situated to the northeast of the "almudena", on the northern edge of the Arenal stream, which bends to the left as one leaves by the gateway of the Almudena, on the road to Alcalá de Henares or Guadalajara.

These lands, where the monastery was located, were low and fertile. Perhaps Alfonso VII was thinking they would be suitable for a rapid development of a town, when in 1124 and 1126 he decreed a series of conditions relating to the Monastery.



Sketch of a tent of the late Medieval period.
Simple compartments in which with great difficulty the artisan can fit in,
with little more furnishings than a shelf-board and a counter.
The one depicted here is of a dealer in cloth with his workshop in the rear.

The King gave to this Monastery and its community, control of various territories, including the villages of Balnegral, Villanueva del Páramo and Jarama, but he left their prior under the orders of the prior of Abad or of the prior of Sahagún. He arranged also that surroundings of the Monastery should be populated with people who would be subject to the prior.

These hard conditions to which the denizens of the hamlet of San Martín were to be subjected, resulted in only a slow growth of the community, and furthermore, that its inhabitants at some unknown moment but perhaps in the first third of the 13th century, should seek integration into the City.

The Hebrew community of Madrid must have been a small, humble group, having gone through their fortunes in agriculture and skilled trades, coming out in the course of the 14th century as money-changers and renting landlords. Jewish physicians became famous, some of them producing such surprising cures, that later on they would be accused of witchcraft or dealings with the devil.

In spite of there being no colective memory in Madrid of any clear, certain tradition of a local Jewish ghetto, possibly for its slight importance or outreach, it still is possible to locate it in a small group of enclosures existing between the Puerta de la Vega, and the Fortress-castle (the Alcázar), in a zone that was a starting point of city growth, and within the "almudena".



Costumed persons and musicians toward beginnings of the 15th century.
Popular fiestas on saints' days were great breathing spells
for a population ground down by wars and diseases.

But in the 14th and 15th centuries, with urban development always driving on to the east, the Jewish ghetto had clung to a marginal and barely tenable place, with houses and streets practically on the edge of the bluffs that separated the Fortress (Alcázar) from the Campo del Moro.

However, and since the synagogue at Madrid was not outstanding, Jewish people are on record in the most diverse and distant points of the City as well as in the outskirts.

The very considerable number of charitable and religious foundations shows clearly that the era of the Catholic Kings (Fernando and Isabel) was a time of renewal in the social and city life of Madrid.

Such that in those years, there were founded or in operation in 1484, the Hospital of San Lázaro, near the primitive Puente de Segovia (Bridge of Segovia), mentioned earlier; the Hospital de Peregrinos (Pilgrims' Hospital), next to the Puerta del Sol; the Hospital de Caballeros (Knights' Hospital), fronting on the parish church of San Ginés; and the Hospital de la Paz (Hospital of Peace), which some classic authors want us to believe was founded by Isabel de Valois, wife of King Felipe II, but which possibly was in existence from the end of the 15th century.



Butchers cutting up a beef.
Hygienic conditions were non-existent, and this caused
a great many infectious diseases.

Some religious foundations were created in this period. Already in times of Enrique IV, with the protection he dispensed for Madrid, convents were established, like that of Santa Clara, next to the parish church of Santiago, and that of the Jerónimos, on the road of El Pardo.

However, the Jerónimos, in view of the insalubrity of the place, sought pemission from Ferdinand and Isabel to install themselves on the heights of the Prado de Atocha, or on the ravine called Arroyo del Abroñigal, today known as Paseo del Prado, but which for a long time was called Prado de los Jerónimos, by reason of the vicinity of the Monastery.

The church, much modified in its exterior but not so much in its interior, served as scene for weddings, birthdays and to read proclamations from kings, princes and nobles. Today, the Monastery, almost a ruin, serves, as resting-place for monarchs.

Two foundations are very meaningful and are much respected by the people of Madrid. They were the convents of the Hieronymite and Franciscan nuns.



Wandering salesman or peddler, displaying his wares,
in this case tools of clay and ceramic, to two supposed clients.

Both dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, they were founded in the year 1499 by Francisco Ramírez, a military man known as "the Artilleryman," for his participation in the War of Granada. His wife was a celebrated lady of Madrid, doña Beatriz Galindo, known as "La Latina," (the Latin Lady), for her great knowledge of Latin Language.

The first-named convent, started somewhat late, raised its construction over part of the houses of the Ramírez family, in the outer suburb of Santa Cruz. In that church were those two magnificent Renaissance sepulchers of the founders, which today are in the Municipal Museum.

The second convent, joined to a hospital for the poor and needy, was located in the suburb of San Millán, next to the road to Toledo, and was known, until its destruction in 1900, as the Hospital de la Latina.

Until beginnings of the 20th century, when the Hospital was razed, and the façade dismantled, the age-old, archaic effect of this structure gave an intensely medieval flavor to this zone of the street called Toledo.


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