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 History of the Basilica
The Arabs destroyed the first church so today’s church and monastery were established by King Alfonso V in the 11C. The church was important because it was 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. You can see the Royal Pantheon when you visit the museum on a guided tour, but photographs of the extraordinary wall paintings are forbidden. A later king, Alfonso IX, summoned the first parliament in Europe in the Church and his statue stands in the square.
The exterior of the Basilica
The Puerto de Cordero is the main door into the Basilica and the carvings here show the sacrifice of Abraham. The carvings on doorway date from before 1100.
Inside the Basilica
The interior of the church is calm and beautiful.
To visit the main cloister you need a ticket. 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. With the ticket you also visit the Museum. 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. One tourist 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 into the Basilica of San Isidoro if you are in Léon.