Guadalupe's monastery is one of the most inspiring sights in Extremadura. Whether you come from Madrid, Trujillo, or Cáceres, the last leg of your journey takes you through beautiful mountain scenery, with the monastery clinging to the slopes. The story of Guadalupe goes back to about 1300, when a local shepherd uncovered a statue of the Virgin, supposedly carved by St. Luke. King Alfonso XI, who often hunted here, had a church built to house the statue and vowed to found a monastery should he defeat the Moors at the battle of Salado in 1340. After his victory, he kept his promise. The greatest period in the monastery's history was between the 15th and 18th centuries, when, under the rule of the Hieronymites, it was turned into a pilgrimage center rivaling Santiago de Compostela in importance. Pilgrims have been coming here since the 14th century, but have been joined in more recent years by a growing number of tourists. Even so, the monastery's isolation—a good two-hour drive from the nearest town—has protected it from commercial excess. The town's residents number only about 2,000. Documents authorizing Columbus's first voyage to the Western Hemisphere were signed here. The Virgin of Guadalupe became the patroness of Latin America, honored by the dedication of thousands of churches and towns in the New World. The monastery's decline coincided with Spain's loss of overseas territories in the 19th century. Guadalupe is also known for its copperware, crafted here since the 16th century.
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