The Church of Sant Nicolau: Valencia’s Sistine Chapel
The Church of Sant Nicolau is one of the most visited religious buildings in Valencia together with the Valencia Cathedral, which is just five minutes away by foot. From the outside, the building could pass as any one of the many Gothic churches dotted all over Spain. Inside, however, is an authentic Baroque treasure: magnificent frescoes spanning almost 2,000 square metres painted by the Valencia-born artist Dionís Vidal. It is for this reason why it has been dubbed Valencia’s Sistine Chapel, and now, thanks to recent restoration work, it is a must-visit for fans of art.
The Sant Nicolau Church’s history
The sacred function of the site of the Church of Sant Nicolau goes back many years, as it was once the site of a temple and cemetery in Roman times. The space was then occupied by a mosque, before it was ceded to the Dominicans by the monarch Jaume I, shortly after the reconquest of Valencia.
The Dominican Order later dedicated the church to Saint Nicholas, as founder of the congregation—Saint Domingo de Guzmán—was at the time writing the Constitutions of the Order at the Italian Convent of Saint Nicholas in Bologna. However, the parish was also dedicated to another saint: Saint Peter Martyr. Records show that the church already had an altar dedicated to the latter saint and that, when the miracle of the salvation of a new-born baby took place, Saint Peter began to be worshiped even more, which led to the church being dedicated to him also. That said, most Valencians refer to the church simply as or Sant Nicolau (in Valencian) or San Nicolás (in Spanish).
The building’s current appearance was greatly influenced by the remodelling work that took place between 1419 and 1455, when the masonry was extended to the ground and its large ribbed vault was installed. Vestiges of the church’s Gothic past still remain by means of the ogee arch and the rose window on the austere front façade. In terms of its floor plan, the church has one single nave, which is flanked by lateral chapels (placed between the buttresses) with a polygonal chancel.
Valencia’s Sistine Chapel
If the Gothic remodelling was important in defining the current appearance of the church, without a doubt the most significant renovation took place between 1690 and 1693, attributed to the architect Juan Bautista Pérez Castiel. The renovation responded to the desire to equip the Church of Sant Nicolau with a Baroque interior, which was highly fashionable at the time when Spain was one of the main flag bearers of the Counter-Reformation, a time in which the persuasive effects that such settings had on the faithful were well regarded.
Thus, the Gothic ribbed vault was stuccoed to make it the perfect canvas on which to develop the great frescoes designed by Antonio Palomino, one of the most influential painters and writers of the Spanish Baroque. The narrative discourse conceived by the Córdoba-born artist aimed, as one would expect, to extol the figure of the church’s two patron saints: Saint Nicholas and Saint Peter Martyr.
The painter Dionís Vidal, responding to the instructions of his teacher, created frescoes that depict the key events in the lives of both saints, including, naturally, their most famous miracles, as well as certain passages related to their respective childhoods and deaths. Looking up, if you trace an imaginary line through the highest point of the vault, you can see how the scenes in the life of Saint Nicholas are on the lunettes on the right-hand side and the episodes related to Saint Peter Martyr are on the left-hand side. Nevertheless, the figures of both saints appear together in the celestial scene that presides over the chancel, accompanied by depictions of the Fathers of the Church.
Visiting the Church of Sant Nicolau: opening hours
The Church of Saint Nicholas is a place of great historical and artistic interest, but above all a place of worship. Its opening hours therefore satisfy both its worshipers and tourists:
- Winter opening hours (from October to June): Tuesdays to Fridays, from 10:30 AM to 7:30 PM. Saturdays from 10:30 AM to 6:30 PM and Sundays from 1:00 PM to 8:00 PM.
- Summer opening hours (from July to September) Tuesdays to Fridays, from 10:30 AM to 9:00 PM. Saturdays from 10:30 AM to 7:30 PM and Sundays from 11:30 AM to 9:00 PM.
Restoration work on the Church of Sant Nicolau, which cost 4.7 million euros and was entirely covered by the Fundación Hortensia Herreno, has returned Valencia’s Sistine Chapel back to the splendour of the seventeenth century when Dionís Vidal completed the magnificent frescoes. Don’t leave Valencia without seeing this Baroque gem right in the heart of Ciutat Vella!
Information of interest
- Telephone: (+34) 93 391 33 17
- Email: email@example.com
How to arrive
- By Metro: Pont de Fusta (line 4) and Colón (lines 3 and 5).
- By bus: Plaça de la Reina (lines 4, 8, 9, 11, 16, 28, 70 and 71) and Torre dels Serrans (5, 28, 47 and 95) stops.
- With audio guide: General, €6; reduced, €5 (for OAPS, the disabled, students, members of large families, the unemployed and Valencia Tourist Card holders). Children under the age of 12 enter for free.
- Guided tour: General, €7; reduced, €6. The maximum number of participants on guided tours is 25 people. They are conducted in the following languages: Spanish, Italian, French, English, German and Valencian.
- Guided tours for groups: €90, for a maximum of 15 people.
- Groups with private guide: €2.80 per person.