During the reconquest of Spain from the Moors the Duchy of Gandia in Aragon was liberated in 1240. The oldest parts of its Palace date from the end of that century and are probably built over the remains of the Arab Alcazar by the Knights Templar. The Collegiate Church (500 years old) was built when the mosque and the Church of St. John of Jerusalem were demolished during the reign of the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand of Aragon and Elizabeth of Castille.
The original rooms of the Ducal Palace have high towering ceilings typical of the Templar style. In the palace we can see many ancient documents, including St Teresa’s manuscript of Interior Castle and the book of the ‘fueros’ (rights and privileges of the people) granted by James 1 the conqueror. His son James the Just (1291-1327) gave refuge to his great aunt Constanza de Suabia, ex Empress of Constantinople. She came to live at the Palace and discovered ‘ unos curiosas pinturas mudejares’ some strange Arab paintings but unfortunately these have been lost, probably confiscated or destroyed during the Inquisition.
The Castle of Peniscola in Castellon is also the work of the Priest Knights Templars who claimed the castle as right of conquest after taking it from the Moors. It was rebuilt between 1294 and 1307 under the direction of Berenguer Cardona, Master of ‘Temple en Aragon y Cataluna y Visitador General en Espana’.
In 1308, after the persecution of the Templars in France by Philip the Fair, the Knights Templar in Spain became known as The Knights of Montesa. This order was formed largely from Templars, but also Hospitalers. The first Master of the Montesa Order was a Hospitaler who met with an untimely and mysterious death.
Jaques De Molay the last Templar Grand Master was burnt at the stake, but the curse he made on his persecutors meant that Pope Clement and King Philip of France, who ended the Templar order, soon met their own deaths. Successive Popes continued to be crowned in France but in 1377 Pope Gregory was crowned in Rome and Benedict XX111 in Avignon causing the schism of the Catholic Church. Benedict XX111 or Papa Luna was Spanish and his crest shows a crescent moon. He ruled in Avignon from 1394 until 1417 when he was deposed. He then returned to Spain to reside at the Castle of Peniscola retaining the support of many followers including St. Vicente Ferrer .
Papa Luna lived the rest of his life at the castle. His study (Torre del Papa) was a small room at the height of the castle with a narrow staircase giving direct access to the sea. Using this narrow stairway he was able to make excursions by boat unnoticed. He accumulated a vast library said to be the precursor of the Renaissance. Attempts were made on Papa Luna’s life but he survived all including a poisoning. Before he died in 1423 he named his successor, Clement V111, who also resided at the castle. However in 1429 Clement recognised the Rome Pope Martin V.
The castle of Peniscola in Castellon known as the city in the sea still stands as majestic reminder of the skill of the Templar builders and was the scene for the filming of El Cid.
The most famous Duke of Gandia is St.Francis Borja (1510-1572) grandson of the Borja Pope Alexander V1 (who presided at the beginning of the inquisition) he was also related to the Catholic Monarchs. St. Francis founded the Jesuits in Gandia (he became third general to Loyola and was one of the first seven Jesuits) he was also a knight of Santiago. He was priested in 1554 after the death of his wife in 1546. He is patron saint of Gandia and is credited with giving education to the people at the beginning of the Renaissance. As a young nobleman, during the War of the Germanies or Peasant’s Revolt, he took refuge at the Castle of Peniscola.
After the deportation of the Moors in 1609 St.Francis returned. He created a small chapel in the shape of a casket or ‘tomb of matter’ and this survives today. The chapel tomb was embellished after the saint’s death with rich decorations and its original walls and floor completely covered. The Jesuit Order was banished in 1767 and this caused the abandonment of the University, but they were able to return in 1776. During the Civil War (1936-9) The Jesuits hid many valuable artefacts and manuscripts which can be seen at the Palace today. One fine example at the end of the ‘Golden Gallery’ is a tiled freeze depicting The Creation. The Jesuits remain at the Palace and still run the school.