I loved the Basilica of San Isidoro and popped in several times at the end of the day. It is situated next to, and attached to, the Roman Walls, on the site of a Roman Temple and in a quiet, residential area of Léon inside the walls. There is a good café on the square of San Martino, near the church and I enjoyed sitting there with coffee, tea, or a beer – all served with a little something extra – chocolate sponge cake or savoury tapa.
The first church was destroyed when the Arabs conquered the town; today’s church and monastery were established by King Alfonso V in the 11C. The church was important because it was situated on the Camino de Santiago and even today pilgrims can have their certificates stamped at the church. Alfonso’s daughter, who became Queen Sancha, established the Royal Pantheon in the church, and this can be seen during a visit to the museum, but no photographs are allowed of the extraordinary wall paintings. A later king, Alfonso IX, summoned the first parliament in Europe in the Church and his statue stands in the square.
The main door, the Puerto de Cordero, shows the sacrifice of Abraham, and was carved before 1100.
Inside the church it is calm and beautiful.
The Main Cloister can be visited on a ticket which also includes the Museum, but only the Cloister can be photographed. The Cloister was built in the 11C (the rounded ground floor arches), but another floor was added in the 16C. There is apparently a second cloister, but I think this is part of the attached hotel, and not open to the public. Do take the Museum visit if you are in the area! The interior of the Monastery and the Pantheon, with paintings of 1,000 years, are extraordinary and will stay in your mind.
This Church felt like a religious building, which seems an odd thing to say, but quite often the crowds of tourists disturb the calm. There was the odd incident, like the tourist who walked in, walked up to the altar, and flashed her iPhone in the face of people sitting and praying – almost unbelievable, but sadly true. In this church people came to pray, or reflect, and the atmosphere remains calm – do go in if you are in Léon.