The Monastery of Santa Paula, owned by nuns of the Order of San Jerónimo, is located in the heart of Seville, very close to the church of San Marcos and neighbor of another of the great convents of the city, that of Santa Isabel. It came to occupy a much larger area than the current one, since its orchards extended to the north, in what is now the area of warehouses around the Mallol Passage.
In its origin, two women of aristocratic origins played a fundamental role. The first of them was Ana de Santillán y de Guzmán, who, after being widowed and losing her only daughter, founded the monastery in 1473 after obtaining a bull from Pope Sixtus IV.
Barely a decade later, the modest facilities of the new monastery seem to have become too small due to the influx of nuns. It was then that Mrs. Isabel Enríquez intervened as a sponsor, who, also after becoming a widow, took charge of its remodeling and expansion. It was she who paid for the construction of the conventual church that has survived to this day, where we precisely find her tomb and that of her husband, Juan de Braganza.
The monastery complex presents a very complex structure, the result of its long history, and mixes the original Mudejar Gothic style, with Renaissance and Baroque elements, especially from the 16th and 17th centuries. Already in the twentieth century it would undergo another important remodeling, this time at the hands of the one who was its prioress for more than forty years, Sister Cristina de Arteaga, who promoted the idea of creating a museum remodeling some of the monastery's dependencies to expose part of the artistic heritage that had been treasured for centuries. To this patrimony was added the personal contribution of Sister Cristina, as heir to a notable aristocratic family.
The main access to the monastic complex is through a beautiful 16th century portal, made of brick in the shape of an ogee arch, following the Mudejar Gothic style. Above it is a tile panel representing Santa Paula, a work from the late nineteenth century made to replace the original set lost during the Revolution of 1868.
Along with this portal, the most remarkable exterior element of the monastery is its beautiful two-section belfry, made in the 17th century by Diego López Bueno. It is richly decorated with ceramic details, geometric motifs, attached pilasters and symbolic elements that allude to the Order of Saint Jerome.
Once inside, the doorway of the church opens onto a landscaped patio, which constitutes a true artistic jewel of the 16th century in Seville. It is built in two-tone brick that gives it a very pronounced Mudejar air, but at the same time has a marked ogival shape characteristic of the Gothic. It also includes clearly Renaissance elements, such as its exquisite ceramic decoration, in which we know that the Italian based in Triana, Niculoso Pisano, participated. Pedro Millán, the first Sevillian sculptor whose name we know, also worked alongside him, who collaborated with Mercadante de Brittany in the sculptural decoration of the doors of Baptism and of San Miguel de la Catedral. Framing the arch there are a series of clearly Renaissance tondos with the representation of various saints. In fact, the one in the center, with a representation of the Nativity, comes from the famous Florentine workshop of the Della Robbia and probably served as a model for the others. On the tympanum appears the coat of arms of the Catholic Monarchs, framed by two others with their characteristic symbols of the yoke and the bundle of arrows, alluding to the unity of the peninsular kingdoms that occurred during their reign.
Inside, the church has the characteristic shape of Sevillian convent temples, with a box plan, that is, with a single nave. The bulk of the church is covered by wooden coffered ceiling, while the head, the most sacred area, is covered by stone, with Gothic rib vaults. Inside, the sculptural and pictorial decoration is very rich, mainly from the 17th and 18th centuries, which gives the complex a very baroque air. We find works by such prominent authors as Alonso Cano, Martínez Montañés or Alonso Vázquez.
In addition to the church and the rooms dedicated to the museum, its two cloisters are noteworthy in the monastery. The oldest is the so-called small patio, with a square plan framed by a gallery of banked arches on marble columns of different heights, a symptom of its origin from previous constructions. The largest and main cloister of the convent is already a 17th-century work by Diego López Bueno, with a square plan with two levels of galleries with round arches, very banked, on marble columns.
We finish for now this small reference to a monastic group that would give for its artistic treasures to write several volumes. Simply recommend his visit, from which we can also take a sweet memory in the form of some of the exquisite products made by the nuns and put on sale in the monastery itself.