The Casa de las Chimeneas (House of the Seven Chimneys) is one of the rare intact dwellings in Madrid that dates back to the sixteenth century. Until almost a century ago, a dark legend surrounded this building, which today houses the Spanish Ministry of Culture.
It is said that an illegitimate daughter of King Philip II once lived here. She married a captain who was killed fighting the French at the battle of St Quentin (1557). She died a few months later, from grief or perhaps murdered, the circumstances of her death having never been made clear. Some say that the widow was walled up in one of the rooms of the house, and later occupants apparently heard her footsteps. Neighbours even claimed to have seen a woman wearing gauzy white garments in the room, which a torch in her hand.
The House of the Seven Chimneys, commissioned by Pedro de Ledesma, was built between 1574 and 1577 by the architect Antonio Sillero. In 1583, the Genoese merchant Baltasar Cattaneo bough it and carried out the first modifications, including the roof with four gables and the strange seven chimneys. The house then became the property of Francisco Sansi y Mesa and the Colmenares family until 1716, and then passed to the counts of Palentinos.
Due to its character as a residence for the Nobility (the Marquis of Esquilache also occupied it at one point), the building was the object of various renovations. During the last century, it became the headquarters for several banks. Neither the work carried out nor the succession of owners, however, has managed to dissipate the legend of the ghost walking among the seven chimneys.
But there is another beautiful ghost story which deserves to be told and that is about the ghosts of the church San José (St Joseph) at No. 43 Calle de Alcalà, just a short walk from the House of the Seven Chimneys.
The first ghost story associated with the church took place in the nineteenth century shortly after the expulsion in 1838 of the Discalced (barefooted) Carmelite monks of St Hermenegild who lived in the monastery to which San José church once belonged. They left behind only empty buildings and the ghosts of former residents.
But a strange thing happened on New Year’s Eve. After dining with his family, a young man made his way to the ball which was being held in a palace owned by one of the capital’s noble families. He had been observing the guests for some time when, at three o’clock in the morning, he saw the most beautiful girl he had ever laid eyes on enter the ballroom. He hastened to greet her and the pair danced for the rest of the night. It was almost morning when the girl said she had to go home. The couple walked hand-in-hand through the streets until they arrived at the church. “I stay here”, the girl said. The young man thought she must be mistaken, but when she insisted he thought she was making fun of him, so left in a huff.
The following day at noon, the young man again passed in front of the church and saw that a funeral was in progress. Driven by curiosity, he entered the church as approached the coffin to find out who had died. To his great fright, he saw lying there the girl with whom he had danced all night. Feeling faint, he left in a hurry but heard someone following him out of the church. It was another girl who wanted to know what had happened to him. When the young man told her his story, she said, “That girl was my cousin. She had always been in love with you, but she was too shy to approach you and speak to you. Yesterday, at three in the morning, she passed away…”
There is another version of this Madrid legend, although the names of the main characters are different: the boy is called John and was English, she was Elena de Mendoza and belonged to a noble family. The pair met at a costume ball during Carnival on 12 October 1853.
This story is the starting-point of many stories that take place in and around the church of San José involving supernatural sightings, including those at the House of the Seven Chimneys.
Whatever legend you choose to believe, I love the tragic romance of the first story of the ghost of church of San José.