Like the cave painting has its Sistine Chapel in Altamira, the Romanesque is in León, specifically in the royal pantheon of San Isidoro, an unparalleled treasure found nowhere else. Here, the quality and quantity of the drawings is such that it has no comparison in any other place in the world, and there is no need to be an expert to realize it.
Southern facade of the Collegiate church
The Royal Collegiate Basilica of San Isidoro is a set of religious constructions that have been overlapping and adjoining over eleven centuries.
In principle it was a simple monastery that was built in the 10th century next to the Roman wall to house the remains of San Pelayo. Today it is a church, a cloister, a museum, a library, a tower … a group of Romanesque buildings with Gothic, Renaissance, baroque additions …
Despite its beauty, the south facade does not call too much attention when you just have seen the nearby cathedral, quite a Gothic wonder indeed. It was built inside the Roman walls which surround the Old Town. A separate entrance leads into the Romanesque Panteón Real (Royal Pantheon), the last resting place of over 20 monarchs. It is superbly decorated with carved capitals and 12th-century frescoes picturing a variety of biblical and mythical subjects, as well as scenes of medieval life.
The museum guards unique treasures, such as the Chalice of Doña Urraca (11th century), which some people identify with the Holy Grail, or the Ark of the Ivory (11th century).
The library keeps 800 parchments, 150 codices and more than 300 incunabulum (books written between 1453 and 1500), among which stands out the Visigoth-Mozarabic Bible of the 10th century.
The Romanesque cloister is the oldest in Spain. Inside here, the Cortes de León was held in 1188 and it was written the Magna Leonesa Charter, recognised by UNESCO as “the oldest documentary testimony of the European parliamentary system”.
Yet the marvel of wonders is very close at the foot of the church: the Pantheon. In a square of only 8 meters of side, dozens of paintings (experts say that not to confuse them with the frescoes) cover all the ceilings and walls.
On the graves of 23 kings and queens, infants and counties from Castile and Leon, the artists today unknowingly deployed a book of images that narrate the gospel as a comic, the only way for them to teach history to those who could not read, who were then the overwhelming majority.
The New Testament figures (from the Annunciation to the crucifixion) are dressed in medieval clothes. It can really give the impression that these are Byzantine mosaics, when in fact these are paintings on stucco.
Vivid colors that look just painted yesterday; lack of perspective; Geometric volumes, as it corresponds to the purest Romanesque style.
A marvel that astonishes. We always recommend this visit on our luxury travel experiences in Spain which are culture or history focused. Contact us for a customised luxury tour proposal.