Queen Letizia was accompanied by Prince Charles on the visit. / REUTERS

Queen Letizia opens a new gallery of Spanish art in the north of England

The Spanish queen and Britain's Prince of Wales showed their support for local cultural projects on a visit to Bishop Auckland, Co. Durham


Spain's Queen Letizia and Prince Charles visited a gallery of Spanish art together on Tuesday this week, in the town of Bishop Auckland, in the northeastern English county of Durham. The queen was opening the Spanish Gallery at Auckland Castle, an exhibition space filled with Spanish art from the 16th and 17th centuries, known as The Golden Age.

The visit took place a week after the two royals had both attended the memorial service for the Duke of Edinburgh, husband to Queen Elizabeth II and father of Charles, in Westminster Abbey.

Adults and children alike filled the small town's main square to greet the royals, waving Spanish flags and Union Jacks and shaking Queen Letizia's hand.

The Spanish queen was warmly received by the heir to the British throne. They then both greeted representatives from the local authorities before heading into the Spanish Gallery to get to know the local multi-site cultural initiative known as The Auckland Project, of which the gallery is a part.

The Auckland Project

Bishop Auckland suffered the same economic decline as many industrial cities in the United Kingdom in the latter half of the 20th century, as coal mines were gradually abandoned.

The Auckland Project is an ambitious scheme founded by Jonathan Ruffer, a local philanthropist and patron of the Spanish Gallery. Using "art, faith, and historical heritage to create long-term change", the project aims to not only boost the town's tourism industry, but also to generate a cultural and spiritual rebirth.

Ruffer acquired ownership of the town's castle and all of its contents in 2012, which include eleven paintings from Francisco de Zurbarán's Jacob and his Twelve Sons series, created between 1640 and 1645 in his Seville studio. These pieces supplement the collection in the Spanish Gallery, which opens with the life size portrait of Benjamin.

According to his art dealer and adviser, Jorge Coll, Ruffer's acquisitions make for "a collection which aspires to be encyclopaedic, with all the artists of note from the 16th century to the end of the 17th century, and it will continue to grow".

The collection includes pieces by El Greco, as well as other lesser known artists such as Juan Bautista Maíno. Unfortunately, due to recent disputes with Durham County Council, Ruffer has taken a step back from the Auckland Project.

Prince Charles kisses Queen Letizia's hand. / E.P.

At the end of the visit, Queen Letizia and Prince Charles unveiled a commemorative plaque, signed copies of the museum's guidebooks and met local schoolchildren and representatives of different community organisations and businesses from the area.

With the Spanish Gallery and the old bishop's castle, Auckland has a growing artistic collection which will fill the Museum of Faith.

There are various other Spanish art collections in this part of England, as well as an English stretch of the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, which Queen Letizia also paid a visit to.