History Rewritten in Stone: The Revival of Castile’s Visigothic Past in the Funerary Chapel of Cardinal Gil de Albornoz in the Cathedral of Toledo

    • Cover Photo
    • Presentation speakers
      • Aleksandra Rutkowska, Somerville College, University of Oxford, UK


    The purpose of this paper is to consider the revival of the Visigothic past in the funerary chapel of Cardinal Gil de Albornoz in the cathedral of Toledo. The construction of the chapel was undertaken in the middle of the fourteenth century by de Albornoz during his pontificate as the archbishop of Toledo (r. 1338-50), and was continued thereafter by the executors of his will. Like all sepulchral complexes, it was a tribute to the memory of its patron, but, even more importantly, its stone medium also allowed it to articulate as true its own version of the long history of Christianity and episcopal power in the city. Within this space, the Visigothic revival was enacted as de Albornoz and later on his successors hoped to cement his ecclesiastical power by celebrating the past glories of the ancient archbishopric, and grounding the present in the pre-Muslim history of the region. This was enacted on two interconnected levels. First, even though de Albornoz was never canonised, his treatment in the monument, principally his alignment with Saint Ildefonso, amounted to a quasi-sacralisation. Second, the mausoleum played a substantial role in the re-inscription of Christianity as the primary religion of Iberia. De Albornoz’s chapel thus emerges as a prime manifestation of art’s ability to create and shape identities through grounding the present in imagined historical narratives. It demonstrates that objects necessarily exist, or are made to exist, in constant conversation with the past, which, rather than being stable, is constantly forged by them. Sources referred to in the course of the argument comprise both primary documents, consulted in the cathedral of Toledo and in the Spanish National Library, and secondary literature on the arts and social relations of medieval Iberia. Theoretical issued considered include history making, multitemporality, and inter-religious and inter-cultural contact.