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San Isidoro, where the Kings wanted to be buried

Category: Edad Media

During the process of the Reconquest developed by the Kings of León that lead the small advance towards the river Duero’s border and even further on, towards South, the County of Castilla accumulated an own identity and a feeling of independence from the Leónese Crown. At the end of the Xth Century, Fernán González unified all the Castilian counties under his control and he was recognized by his brother-in-law, the king Ramiro II, as Count of the whole Castilla ("Comes totius Castellae").

The Royal Family’s Mausoleum in San Isidoro

The last Count of Castilla, prince García, was killed in 1029 and left no descendants. The County turned into his sister’s inheritance. Her husband, Sancho III de Navarra, chose his son Fernando as the heir of Castilla. Fernando took the power in 1035 and he turned the ancient County into a Kingdom. Therefore, Fernando turned out to be the first King of Castilla and the first King of Castilla and León, last kingdom that he came to rule after marrying Sancha, the heir of the Leónese Crown.

Fernando I and Sancha decided to build a Royal Mausoleum to bury themselves and their heirs. As many other places in León, the one chosen by the Royal Family had an ancient architectonic history that came from the Roman time: in the IXth Century a church devoted to San Juan Bautista was built over a pagan temple devoted to Mercury. The relics from San Pelayo, the martyr child from Córdoba, where brought in 966 and a monastery was built to keep them safe. When Almanzor destroyed León in 988, the monastery was completely devastated and it was Alfonso V who rebuilt it in the middle XIth Century. The church’s new name was Nuevo Templo de San Juan Bautista and San Pelayo.

Fernando I succeeded in bringing to León San Isidoro’s body from Seville by asking this honour to the Moorish king Almotadid after defeating him. The temple was consecrated in December 22nd 1063 under the name of San Juan Bautista y San Isidoro, who was the patron Saint of the former kingdom Reino de León.

San Isidoro’s front

The oldest part of the ancient Basilica corresponds to the church door that Fernando I ordered to build during the XIth Century. The construction went on in the following century under the direction of the architect Pedro Deustamben, buried in the church. During the XVth-XVIIIth Centuries some renovations were operated in the basilica, which was sacked by NapoLeón’s troops in 1808.

The Romanesque is the main artistic style in San Isidoro, although we can also find Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. The church, with a latin cross floor, has three naves and three apses. The front door, Puerta del Cordero, is a beautiful Romanesque jewel, with a tympanum and a sculpture representing Isaac’s sacrifice. There are also remarkable columns, with filigrees and capitals, and also the statues of San Pelayo and San Isidoro. Over this group, there is a second sculpture, dated on the XVIIIth Century, with San Isidoro’s image riding a horse. A second Romanesque door, also on the south side, called Puerta del Perdón, includes sculptures of San Pedro and San Pablo and very interesting relieves. There is a third door on the North side, covered by the chapel of the Quiñones.

The Royal Mausoleum has a striking beauty. It is a squared floor room which is 8 metres long in each side. Two huge columns placed in the middle introduce six different parts with vaults painted in the second part of the XIIth Century. The extraordinary beautiful and captivating paintings at the Mausoleum are considered the best ones from the Spanish Romanesque. They represent scenes of the New Testament, The Annunciation, the Via Crucis and Stations of the Cross, the Visitation, the Birth, the Last Supper… Apart from Fernando I and his wife Sancha, whose body stays uncorrupted, in the Royal Mausoleum were also buried Alfonso V, Vermudo III, Doña Urraca and don García, the last Count of Castilla.

The mural paintings from the chapel Capilla de Quiñones, dated on the XIIIth Century, are also remarkable, and so are the chapel of Santo Martino, a mingled of the Spanish and Flemish styles, the chapel capilla de la Trinidad, and both cloisters, one from the XVIth Century and the other one, Baroque style, from the XVIIIth Century.

In the museum Museo de San Isidoro is kept a treasure with pieces of an inestimable,such as Doña Urraca’s chalice, from the XIth Century, the (s. XI), the Marble’s Ark (arqueta de los marfiles) from the XIth Century, the Relics’ Ark (Arca de las Reliquias) from San Bautista and San Pelayo, and the one from San Isidoro, also from the XIth Century, the Enamel’s Ark or Arca de los Esmaltes, from the XIIth Century, and medieval codices, a Mozarab bible, hispano- moslem textiles, jewels and Gothic objects, and many Roman pieces, amongst them the memorial tablet from the creation of the Legio VII.

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