Before discovering this hidden gem, I had walked past it numerous times without realising what I was missing. From the outside you wouldn’t be none the wiser (not even many locals know about it) but once you go through the door and past a small passageway you are met with the oldest church in Valencia; in fact it was built when the Cathedral was still a mosque. When James I the Conqueror conquered the city of Valencia from the Moors in 1238 and restored Christianity in this land he was helped by the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem. In return for their help, James I the Conqueror donated a palace and some land that used to belong to a Moorish Emir located near the Bab Al-Xaria (ancient Arab gate which gives its name to this district, La Xerea) to this Order of Knights so that they could establish a church there.
The church was built in the Late Romanesque style with later additions in the Gothic Style. The door located on the north façade is Romanesque; a small wooden cross helped to determine the age of the building. Above this Romanesque door, there is a Gothic ogival arch with an oculus in the shape of an eight-point Maltese cross. Romanesque architecture is rare in the Valencian Community but Romanesque mural paintings are practically unheard of except for the ones found inside this church. These 13th Century Romanesque mural paintings were covered in limestone when the Black Death swept across Spain in 1348 in an effort to disinfect the building from disease. They didn’t see the light of day until the church was restored and these paintings were rediscovered. The paintings represent the following: paradise on earth, mystical marriage of the church, the resurrection, the crucifixion and Judgement Day. Another rarity in this church is the presence of red Templar Crusader crosses painted on a wall in the passageway leading from the street to the church. Baroque is by far my least favourite of the classical architectural styles but even I was blown away by the Chapel dedicated to Saint Barbara built in the Baroque style. Here lay the remains of Constanza Augusta of Greece who was given refugee in Valencia by James I the Conqueror. Many relics of Saint Barbara were brought to Valencia by Constanza Augusta of Greece such as the column where the saint was tortured, a stone from which water poured out so that she could be baptised and a piece of bone of the saint’s arm. In the 19th Century, by Royal Decree, all Military Orders came to an end and therefore the church met many treacherous destinies: abandonment, invasions, fire and decadence. At one point in was in such a dire state that there were plans to knock it down but in 1967 Opus Dei came to the rescue and attempted to restore it to its former glory; a restoration which is still taking place.
Where: Calle del Trinquete de Caballeros, 5
Opening times: http://sanjuandelhospital.es/horarios/?lang=en
Entrance fee: Free