Modern Caravaca has developed around its Castle which, with the magnificent Church of the Vera Cruz, dominates the surrounding lands and the main area of the town below. It is the events associated with this church and fortification which have given Caravaca its present importance. The Museum of the True Cross to the left hand side of the Church is well worth visiting to understand Caravaca’s history.

When we were there in January 2013, it opened every day from 10am to 2pm except Mondays (closed), but for full opening hours throughout the year do consult the tourist office.

clive-Church-and-MuseumThe entrance ticket (4€ when we went, or 3€ if retired) included an excellent English audio guide which enables you to stop as you go around and listen to a detailed commentary about exhibits.

To commence your tour, a 10 minute video introduces you to Caravaca and the “True Cross”. If you are the only visitors at that time, or there is demand for it, the video will be in English. This video recounts the legend and history of the Double Cross of Caravaca. According to tradition, the then King of Valencia and Murcia, one Abu-Ceyt, was residing in Caravaca and determined to find out more about the Christian prisoners held there. The curious King requested that one, a priest, hold a mass in the castle and the necessary vestments and materials were sent for.

clive-Outside-the-WallsOn 3 May 1232, the priest began his mass before the King and his court. He stopped when he realised that he had no cross on the altar. At this moment, two angels came through a window in the room with what became known as the Cross of Caravaca. The King and many of his court converted to Christianity. It was believed that the cross was made from a fragment of the cross upon which Christ had been crucified, which had, in turn, been discovered in Jerusalem in the 4th Century by Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine.

Eleven years later, Murcia came under Christian control, with Caravaca a bastion thereafter against the Moors to the south in Granada. In 1344, Alfonso XI gave Caravaca, to the religious-military Order of Santiago, under whose control it remained until such orders were abolished in the 19th Century. Clearly, in these early times, the Caravaca Cross, and the story behind it, would have held a significant unifying and rallying function among the Christian population of the area and have helped to justify the building of the Fortress and Church of the True Cross on top of the hill above the town. There is much more about the cross in subsequent years.

After the video, take a moment to look out into the patio below the hall in which you have been sitting. The arches, cloistered walk and trees at the far end give it a very tranquil air. These cloisters were constructed in stone after a fire in 1772 had destroyed the earlier wooden buildings.

clive-Paintings-of-the-StoryThe first room after the video contains panels which further illustrate the history of the Caravaca Cross and its diffusion throughout the world. There are also reproductions of 16th Century paintings chronicling the appearance of the cross and the conversion of the Moorish King to Christianity. Another case in this room contains a silver-gilt box used to house the cross for around 600 years and dating from 1390. There are also texts of the 17th Century and thereafter about the Cross of Caravaca.

Afterwards, you go all the way down the steps to the basement which is now the “Archaeology Room”, where you can see the remains of part of the old inner wall and three of the towers in situ. The original Christian castle was built on the site of the earlier Arab fortifications, together with a Church dedicated to St Mary. The inner castle was largely demolished in the first quarter of the 17th Century to build the current Church and ancillary accommodation. One other remnant of the past is the open dungeon once used to house Moorish prisoners awaiting ransom. From here, you ascend to the ground floor to a room containing a host of artefacts such as silver and gold objects from the 16th to 18th Centuries, including work by goldsmiths in the later Middle Ages. There is a monstrance donated in 1536 by the Marqués de los Vélez, and various items from the 17th and 18th Centuries, including some made for the opening of the rebuilt Church in 1703 – the Altar Cross of white silver and gilding, some grand sceptres of office and silver candelabras.

clive-To-the-Water-DepositsYou now leave the museum buildings past the impressive front of the Church to turn down its left hand side and descend steps to the vaulted location of old water deposits for the Castle. The Medieval Fortress had three deposits which held a large volume of water. The rainwater was collected from the roofs and conveyed in canals through holes in walls to the deposits. This underground area also contains information about the later history of the Castle.

clive-Patio-and-CloistersThe final part of the tour is the Church itself. Externally, it is an impressive building with a facade of red Cehegin marble. You do not, of course, have to purchase a ticket for the museum to enter the Church, but if you have done so, you will at least have the audio guide to give you some useful information about what you are seeing. Construction of the present Church began at the start of the 17th Century, though it was a century before it would be completed. The inside of the Church has a raised gallery round its perimeter and the main altar at the front is under a golden scalloped ceiling, all contained within a high dome. As you might expect, the whole altar area is intensely gilded and is sited on the original Chapel of the True Cross. There are numerous other altars and statues around the Church. To the right hand side of the altar is the Chapel of the True Cross which holds the relic in its box at one end. It is normally opened every half hour or so during the day for visitors to enter.

clive-Outer-Walls-and-TowersOn leaving the Church, take some time to walk around the fortified area. You can walk all around the courtyard area and even to the top of some of the small towers to gaze out into the surrounding countryside and town below.

Article by Clive and Rosie Palmer who have written several guide books on towns and regions in Murcia. These can be seen at, and obtained from,, or contact

Clive and Rosie’s most recent book, “Exploring Murcia, Days Out” is now available to buy from the Costa Cálida Chronicle office on Camposol B, Best Wishes (who also stock other of their books) or phone Patti on 968 433 978.