The hidden jewel that conquered Emperor Charles V.

Autor Maia Hoetink
1557, Abdicated Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V of Spain (1500 – 1558) seated, with his son King Philip II (1527 – 1598) at the Monastery of San Geronimo de Yuste in Estramedura, looking at favourite portraits. Original Artwork: A painting by Alfred Elmore RA, ci (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Yuste Monastery is a calm place, as if standing still in time. That is how Luis de Ávila, Marquis of Mirabel, found it when it was a Monastery of the Hieronymites in the 16th century, and this is what led him to recommend it to Emperor Charles V as the perfect place for him to retire to. Located near Cuacos de Yuste, against the southern slopes of the Sierra de Gredos, the monastery is placed in a privileged environment in the middle of La Vera de Gredos lush nature. It is not surprising that Charles V would find it the ideal retreat to spend his last years.

Yuste Monastery
Monastery cloister

Built by the Hieronymites at the beginning of the 15th century, with help from the archbishop of Santiago as well as from García Álvarez de Toledo, third lord of Oropesa, and the Zúñiga family, the monastery became legendary when, in the mid-16th century, Charles V picked this modest building as the setting for his retirement and the spiritual preparation for his death. It was Don Luis de Ávila y Zúñiga, Marquis of Mirabel, a historian and Charles V’s court chronicler, who told him about this beautiful place.

“The Yuste Monastery became the property of the Marquis of Mirabel. One part remained a monastery, while Charles V’s chambers turned to ruins, and the latter my grandmother, Hilda Fernández de Córdoba, inherited.”

Bust of Charles V

The Emperor, who had until then spent little time in Spain, trusted his court chronicler to such a degree that he accepted his proposal and ordered his chambers, which are preserved until this day, to be built onto the monastery. He spent the rest of his days in calm contemplation, after a long life as ruler of the Holy Roman Empire and as one of the most powerful men in History.

The Marquis of Mirabel, who lived in the Palacio de Mirabel in Plasencia, was married to Elvira de Zúñiga y Guzmán, descendant of the family that had contributed to the initial building of the Monastery and daughter of the Duke of Plasencia. In the palace, the Marquis showed his admiration for the Emperor through paintings and frescos portraying the battles in which he had participated, as well as a bust of Charles V, a work by the Italian sculptor Pompeo Leoni. The short distance between the Palacio de Mirabel and the Yuste Monastery made it possible for the Marquis to visit the Emperor frequently until, on the 21st September 1558, Luis de Ávila witnessed the death of the old Emperor. Such was their close relation. “The Yuste Monastery became the property of the Marquis of Mirabel. One part remained a monastery, while Charles V’s chambers turned to ruins, and the latter my grandmother, Hilda Fernández de Córdoba, inherited”, explains Xandra Falcó y Girod, current Marquise of Mirabel and daughter of the late Marquis of Griñón, whom she succeeded as President of the prestigious Círculo Fortuny.

“My grandmother inherited the properties that came with the title: the Palacio de Mirabel, which she rebuilt since it had been turned into several houses, and the Yuste Monastery. She donated the monastery to the State, so National Heritage was in charge of the reconstruction”, she explains. About the story behind Luis de Ávila and Charles V’s friendship, little documentation remains. “The historic archive of Mirabel, which was very important, was in the Mirabel Palace in Plasencia. During the Civil War, it was brought to Madrid and kept in a house that was destroyed in a bombing, so that entire testimony was lost”, Falcó regrets.

Xandra Falcó Girod, actual Marquise of Mirabel

“The donation my grandparents made is not mentioned anywhere”, the Marquise of Mirabel ponders and assures she’s hoping to speak with National Heritage about it “because in Spain there’s a problem with giving patrons their deserved recognition.”

Mirabel Palace, Plasencia
Patio of Mirabel Palace

She herself has a close relationship with the area. “I spent my childhood here, on my grandmother’s land, until I was ten years old. We never went on a beach holiday”, she remembers tenderly. “The Mirabel Palace is a wonderful home for which I feel great affection, it is also where I got married” she adds, with emotion, although she admits she doesn’t spend as much time there as she’d like to anymore. Despite the area around Yuste and Plasencia having such a rich history and culture, Xandra admits it doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves: “It’s a region we need to give a boost. Plasencia is a jewel from an architectural point of view for its old town, its cathedral… For some reason, it isn’t as well know outside and even inside Spain as it should be”. But Xandra isn’t one to sit around doing nothing when she has a clear objective. “I’d like to get more involved and try to contribute to the area’s value and recognition”, she insists. With a bit of luck, her wish will come true, and the area will recover the legendary fame it once had