"Pulchra Leónina''. Light and Stone

Category: Edad Media

The architectonic precedents of the Cathedral Santa María de León, known as "Pulchra Leónina", unveil many centuries of history from the city. The Cathedral stands next to the eastern part of the old walls that made up the ancient legionnaire camp, in a plot were there existed some Roman thermals, the palace of the kings Ordoño I and Ordoño II; the first major church from the medieval city, that was destroyed by the Arab commander Almanzor during the Xth Century, and a Romanic temple dated on the late XIth Century.

Catedral de noche

León Cathedral stands to heaven as the monumental manifesto of that Kingdom built over many battles, bitterness, love, intrigues, heroic deeds and prayers. It grew over the upheavals of the city during the centuries. The Cathedral has also a long story plenty of architectonic problems, collapses and reconstructions.

In the year 1255, the king Alfonso X El Sabio allowed the Bishop of León, Martín Fernández, to start the construction of the Cathedral over the foundations that already existed half a century ago. The project was assigned to the master Enrique, that had already built the Cathedral of Burgos. Enrique clearly inspired on the Gothic French style from the Cathedral of Reims The Pulchra Leónina was open in 1302, although it was not finished yet. The construction of the cloister started during the XIVth Century, and in the XVth the north side was completed with the polychrome door of the Virgin of Dado. Symptoms of ruins started already and they have not stopped yet, because of the poor quality of the stone, the mistakes during the foundation process and the fragility of its architecture.

First disaster came in 1631, when the transept failed and was substituted by a dome which did not make a good solution. During the XIXth Century, the central nave collapsed and a great restoration work had to start then.

One of the problems of the Cathedral comes from its lightness. The wall has been substituted by stained-glass windows and pillars, which makes the group of panes of the Cathedral to extend up to 7000 squared metres, meaning both a luminous magnificent spectacle and a constant danger.

León’s Cathedral provokes a huge impact on those who visit its interior, as a result of a risky and remarkable combination of light and stone. That is probably the most particular artistic creation and the most enduring in the visitor’s memory. Best glass specialists from Spain worked from the XIIIth Century to design the stained-glass windows. The result brought almost 200 windows, eye-windows and rose-windows with stained-glass windows.

Interior de la catedral

The towers are separated from the rest of the Cathedral, which allows the flying buttresses of the main frontage to be seen. Then North frontage shows a front with the Virgin of Dado in the mullion and a tympanum with the Pantocrator surrounded of figures. In the South frontage, which has been restored, are three fronts, and the one in the middle shows a tympanum full of religious images,

Including San Froilán, León’s patron Saint. The front of Poniente has a beautiful gate with three arcs and a beautiful collection of images, amongst them the one of Nuestra Señora la Blanca (which is a copy, the original may be found in the central chapel).

Inside the Cathedral (with three naves that have transept, clover and the naves surrounded by the apse), we can see, in the major chapel, the coffer with the relics of San Froilán. The choir has carved stalls from the XVth Century, and the ones from the back choir are from the XVIth Century. Other chapels in the Cathedral contain the tomb of Ordoño II and many nobles from the XIIIth Century. The cloister has many sculptoric details. The Cathedral’s Museum is full of Gothic sculptures, documents and medieval codices, (such as the "Lex Romana visigothorum") apart from valuable artistic objects, such as a fantastic wardrobe from the Mudejar style. A collection of paintings adds to the one of marble and crucifixes.

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