300 hundred years of charity works

Category: Edad Moderna

The XVIth Century opened a slow decadence of León. The city stagnated in its development, lose economical strength and its population descended under the 5000 inhabitants, because of the economical crisis and the horrible epidemias happened at that time. The hardship extended to the XVIIth and most of the XVIIIth Century.

The Plaza Mayor on a market day

However, both civil and religious works went on, such as the Town Hall, placed in the known Casa de la Paridad. The project was made in 1548 by Juan del Rivero and Baltasar Gutiérrez. The new Main Square (Plaza Mayor), a monument that serves as the Baroque’s best evidence in the city. It started from the fire that destroyed the ancient Plaza Vieja in 1654, and its design and shape reminds to the Plaza Mayor de Madrid. As in many other main cities, the Plaza Mayor was the meeting point par excellence, a place where took place fairs and markets, spectacles and civil and religious solemnities, the official proclaims and the popular gossiping.

Joseph Townsend, a British traveller from the XVIIIth Century, made in his book “A Journey Through Spain” in 1791 a strict description from the city: “it has 13 parishes with 420 priests, a cathedral, the two real foundations of San Isidoro and San Marcos, 9 convents, a place for the nuns that are not restricted to vow, several hermitages and some hospitals”, and he ends: “León lacks from commerce and stands thanks to the Church”.

Churches, hospitals and convents constituted most of the Leónese urban landscape and survived to the decadence. The crisis did not affect the clergy, taking into account that from the middle of the XVIIIth Century, the register Catastro del Marqués de la Ensenada showed that half the houses registered in León were properties from the Church or its institutions. In 1786, the city had 1500 families and 6170 inhabitants.

Frontage detail of the Hospital de Regla

The church Iglesia de San Salvador de Palat de Rey is the oldest of the city. It is thought that it was founded by the king Ramiro II in the middle of the Xth Century. The king ordered to build this church next to his palace to give to his daughter, Elvira, a place to pray. Nowadays there is only a part of the primitive Mozárabe church, which was modified several times. It is a National Monument, just as the church Iglesia de Santa María del Mercado, built from the XIIth Century in the placed known as Burgo Nuevo medieval, in the square Plaza del Grano. There are some other interesting churches, such as San Martín (XIIIth Century) and Santa Marina (XVIth Century).

From all the hospitals from León, the Hospital de Regla, next to the Cathedral, deserves to be mentioned. It was a palace of the family Prado de Valdetuéjar. The beautiful Baroque front and the door with the coat of arms from the Prado family are quite remarkable.

Palaces and domains resisted the crisis and even increased their number during the decadence’s worst years, in the XVIth and XVIIth Centuries. Apart from the palaces Palacios de los Guzmanes and Palacio de los Condes de Luna (the Quiñones), there are some other domains such as the Casa de los Manriques, opposite the Town Hall; the Casa del Cardenal Lorenzana, in the square Plaza de Torres de Omaña; the Casa de las Butcherys, in the square Plaza de San Martín; the Casa de los Marqueses de Villasinda, or the Casa Torreada de los Osorio, in the street Fernández Cadórniga. During a walk across the old streets of the city, one can discover many doors with cottas of arms anywhere. Those are the stone witnesses from the influence of illustrious surnames such as Acuña, Osorio, Pimentel, Escobar, Cabeza de Vaca, Velasco, Villafañe, Quirós...

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