Guadalupe means “hidden river” and the name applies to the Virgin, the river, and a town of the same name. The legend dates back to the 8th century when a sheppard named Gil Cordero saw an apparition of the Virgin who led him to a spot where her image had been buried at the edge of the river. It had been buried there for over five centuries after clerics fleeing the Moorish invasion submerged it in the river to prevent it falling into enemy hands. A hermitage was built on the spot and a small community began to form around it. The first mention of the name came from 1340 when Alfonso XI granted the community a township and in 1347 uttered the phrase “the town located in Santa María de Guadalupe.” Today, the town has 2,500 inhabitants and daily life revolves the monastery. The monastery itself has been occupied by the Franciscans since 1908 and their amazing work in renovating the monastery led to it being declared a World Heritage Site in 1993. Visitors can only access the monastery with a guide. At the end of the tour, the guide hands you over to a Franciscan monk who leads you to the chamber of the Virgin, a super-ornate octagonal room done in the Baroque style where you can go to see the image of the Virgin. She’s mounted on an ingenious rotating system so we can still see Her although She is normally facing the altar. Believers can touch the image and the monk will bless rosaries and other religious objects that visitors bring. La Reina de Hispanidad (“The Queen of Spanishness”), a title given to the Virgin of Guadalupe, is an object of widespread devotion throughout Latin America and many of the visitors were Latin American, Mexicans especially, as Mexico is the country which most reveres the Virgin of Guadalupe.
This was the first time I visited a GeoPark and I really did not know what to expect: it sounded nothing like a theme park. But, to my amazement, a GeoPark is a territory that encompasses one or more sites of scientific importance not only for geological reasons but also for archaeological, ecological, and cultural ones as well. Well, all this can be found in the newly appointed Villuercas – Ibores – Jara GeoPark.
Exploring this extensive area of incredible interest has been an experience I will not forget. I have to admit that I’ve basically memorized all the explanations from the guide because I found the GeoPark so interesting! You can’t imagine the diversity of landscapes, flora, fauna, picturesque villages, and cuisine condensed into this natural area in the province of Cáceres. It’s worth visiting slowly and quietly, respecting the environment and absorbing every sensation you can.
So put on your boots and head for Extremadura to enjoy gems like Guadalupe or the Castañar Cave. We did a route on 4x4 and had the opportunity to see herds of deer.
I’d recommend comfortable clothes, good shoes, water, and hat!! The sun is intense here and, if you can, I’d also suggest hiring a local professional guide to accompany you.
La Plaza de Santa María de Guadalupe is the epicenter of Guadalupe, the town’s most popular attraction, and where you can find the main entrance to the Basilica and Royal Monastery of Guadalupe.
The square is surrounded by typical mountain homes which rest on supports housing small businesses, souvenir shops, bars, and restaurants with terraces. In the center of the square, there’s a historic stone fountain that serves as a sort of makeshift rotunda.
This fountain was where the first natives brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus were baptized and the origin of the Virgin de Guadalupe’s popularity throughout Latin America. The Tourist Information Office is located on the corner of the square with Calle Sevilla.
One of the museums we found in the interior of the monastery was the Museo de los Miniados. There’s an exhibit of 86 choirbooks and they all measure around 73x90cm and date back to the 14th-17th century. They are part of the monastery’s Scriptorium.