A hospital for pilgrims. The San Marcos Convent

Category: Edad Moderna

The wave of travelers who used to go on a pilgrimage to Santiago throughout the whole Middle Age involved a great cultural enrichment for the Kingdoms crossed by the route. The Pilgrimage to Santiago was a determining factor for the development of the Romanesque Art. The architecture, the sculpture, the painting, the industrial arts, or the literature, and others know-how and disciplines circulated along the route, through the artists themselves and the wise pilgrims, and left their mark in towns they crossed, like León.

Detalle de la Fachada de San Marcos
Detail from the front or façade of the actual San Marcos Hostel

The governors of the time made sure that the pilgrims were protected, by building monasteries and hospitals along the route to Santiago. Military orders, as the Templar, erected houses at the edge of the Route in order to assure its defense. The urban expansion in several places was planed to find solutions for this wave of people.

In the XII century, the Caballeros de Santiago (Knights of Santiago) took care of an hospital for pilgrims, which had been built in the outskirts of the city of León, on the left bank of the Bernesga river, known today as the San Marcos Convent. Here, they put the Casa Mayor de la Orden en el Reino de León.

At the beginning of the XVI century Fernando el Católico decided to improve the old hospital, almost ruined by that time, and during two centuries one of the most remarkable samples of the Spanish Renaissance had been built.

The large frontage of the San Marcos Convent is the refined expression of Plateresque style, with a magnificent Baroque façade. There is a tower at one end of the façade and, in the other one, we find the entry of the church, with a big round arch that lays between two unfinished towers. The part of the façade, located between the Baroque door and the church, built during the XVI century, exhibits the best decorative elements, belonging to the exquisite Plateresque style: medallions, niches, columns… The wall of the frontage between the Baroque façade and the tower of Poniente was finished at the beginning of the XVIIIth Century.

The wandering origins of this old hospital, declared National Monument of the XIX may be seen in the big Cruz de Santiago that stands in the tower, or in the elements that garnish the façade: next to the sculpture of San Marcos writing the Gospel, there is a relief which illustrates the Apostle James during the battle of Clavijo, as well as the shield of Santiago’s Order and the insignias of the Kingdom of León.

The Christ of Carrizo (XIth Century)

The Church is built like a basilica, with only one nave and has chapels in both sides. The grilles, the retable and the chorus, with magnificent stalls sculpted in walnut, are striking due to its beauty and elegance. The cloister is garnished with sculptures and beautiful medallions, and works belonging to real masters of Arts, as Juan de Juni.

The Museum of León is located in San Marcos, which stores up historical and artistic masterpieces, like Cristo de Carrizo, a small work done in ivory (only 33 centimeters of height), from the XIth Century, a simple and moving jewel. The Museum takes up several rooms and part of the cloister and it preserves interesting sculptures, paintings, coins and prehistoric objects, from the Roman era or the Middle Age. There is an important collection of Roman epigraphy in the cloister.

One of the most original genies of the Spanish Golden Age, Don Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas, was kept in captivity in the convent between 1639 and 1643. The political passion of the great poet and writer determined him to fight against all-powerful Conde Duque de Olivares. It seems that a satirical poem - -"No he de callar por más que con el dedo..."- against the favorite of the King Felipe IV was the cause of the imprisonment of Quevedo in San Marcos, overnight and without any trail.

During the XIX century, the convent had been used for various activities and it even was about to be destroyed. Today, it is a unique hotel, belonging to the National State-Own Hotels Chain.

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