Group 1 — Brianna, Monica, Jessica and Trent
Once again we find ourselves waking up to a new destination ready for exploration. After our time in Burgos we had assumed we had a fairly good idea of what León would be like, but it proved to be a very different but equally stunning city. Something about its array of beautiful multicolored buildings, multitude of small shops and restaurants on every winding street, and the constant bustle of people always friendly and welcoming quickly earned the city a special place in our hearts. At the center of the city the large Gothic cathedral provided an apt allegory for León as, unlike Burgos, there is a feeling of antiquity on these streets. As if time had set aside large parts of León, preserving them for display in a modern context. Even so the remnants of the old Roman walls, a palimpsest of conflicting layers of stone work from across the millennia, offered an excellent display of just how long this city has very much so experienced the march of history. Unfortunately the path to the Roman sewers and baths were closed for the duration of our stay.
For many of us the highlight of the day was the basilica of San Isidoro, a site full of countless fascinating artifacts and dramatic historical narratives. While parts of it were undergoing restoration and closed off to us, the most important part was visible. The mausoleum to the old Kings of León housed the remains of kings, queens, nobles, and the royal children. Of the tombs, only that of Doña Urraca remains completely unmolested, her tomb preserved and her body still mummified. Her mark on the mausoleum is well documented and still evident on the walls today in the intricate ceiling which enshrined her family’s legacy amongst the sacred depictions of Christ’s lifetime. In one panel, a certain black chalice in the hands of Jesus at the last supper stands out from the rest in the murals. This onyx goblet, the supposed Holy Grail, belonged to Queen Doña Urraca and can be seen on display within the basilica. Its prominent inclusion symbolized her role in the artful masterpiece of the burial room as well as a direct role in a wider Christian heritage. The guide was more than happy to leave the group with the impression that the object might, in fact, have been connected to the earliest Christian communities and possibly to Christ himself. Our tour guide also made sure to stress how during Napoleon’s Spanish campaign, the French troops looted and destroyed many of the tombs, turned the royal pantheon into a horse stable, and used the caskets as troughs for his horses. But after leaving, Professor Sheffler made sure to mention the trend of treasured Spanish locations being used as stables for Napoleon’s horses is less fact and more a shared fiction serving as a metaphor for the disrespectful misuse of precious landscapes by outsiders.
After a full day of exploration, the city of León, once completely foreign to us, began to feel more like home. In the time between tours displaying the beautiful history of León, we sampled their small town cafes and sandwich shops. For a great price, you could purchase a drink and a random assortment of tapas. The small shops that were scattered about on every street corner provided ample opportunity for shopping whether for basic necessities or souvenirs. While short, our stay was just enough time for us to catch a glimpse and prime our palate for other quaint Spanish communities like our lovely León as we continue on our journey to Santiago. Let the weeks ahead be met with good fortune, good health, and good food.