We set off from the hotel and quickly discovered a chill wind blowing through the narrow streets of the old city. But the hotel is very centraly located and within moments we were in a square looking at a Gaudi building. The work of Antonio Gaudi we normally associate with Catalonia and especially Barcelona. But he did three pieces of work in northern Spain and the Casa Botines, built in 1893, was one of his first commissions. It is built in a mediaeval revivalist style with fairy tale turrets at each corner and over the door a statue of St George slaying the dragon – except that this dragon looks more like an alligator!
Gaudi’s building is next to a former palace and down the street from the Cathedral. Whereas the cathedral in Burgos was the work of many centuries, the Cathedral in Leon is a pure gothic structure built over a relatively short period of time. As we had been told, its glory is the stained glass which stretch to the vaulted ceiling. From windows at the lower level depicting nature to the upper levels depicting characters on the north side from the Old Testament and on the south side from the New Testament, the place is ablaze with colour. The windows meet in a glorious east end and there are rose windows, west, north and south. There is a great deal of restoration work going on and a large new organ being installed.
On the north side of the church are the cloisters, gothic but with renaissance ceilings – a rather curious combination. Finding a shaft of sunlight and shelter from the chill wind we said Prayer during the Day. The portion of Psalm 119 we used contained verse 175 with the line
Let my soul live and it shall praise you.
This Cathedral was a visual statement of the soul alive and full of praise. It raised the spirits to heaven simply through the use of colour and light.
Coffee followed and then we walked to the Royal crypt of Saint Isidoro. At the side of the church is the royal mausoleum. But it is the decoreated ceiling that is the absolute jewel in the crown. The 11th century frescos are as fine as when they were first painted. The colours are vibrant and the depictions of scenes from the life of Christ, of the months of the year, of the seven churches of the book of Revelation and, most wonderfully, Christ Pantocrator surrounded by the four evangelists are staggeringly beautiful. I don’t think I have ever seen anything quite as wonderful in such a small space.
So the wind may be chill but this city on the Camino holds a warmth of rich treasures.
If I was a mediaeval pilgrim arriving here it would have lifted the spirits and made the soul sing with praise. And you would need it, there is still a long way to go to Santiago!