Day 6 – León to Mazarife (24.8 km)
As was the rule in most albergues, we had to leave the monastery in León by 8 am and, being a Sunday, the city was still fast asleep. I did not want to miss two important places on my way out of this city and, as they opened only later, I had time on my hands. Once again I walked around the perimeter of the cathedral and admired the very slender buttresses stabilizing the graceful columns. They looked so fragile and it is not surprising that sections of the nave had collapsed twice in the past. I hoped the roof was now supported well enough and entered the church for a last glance at the windows. Unfortunately the day was overcast, just as it had been the previous day and I had to imagine how amazing it must be to see the interior with sunlight streaming in – brightened up in a most colourful way from the rays shining through the stained glass windows. I hoped Uta would be more fortunate when she passed through here on her way to Santiago. Maybe she would be able to describe the effects of the fully illuminated church.
I then visited San Isidoro, an 11th century Basilica with the remains of St Isidoro buried beneath. I sat in the pew for a while, alone and quiet. The burial chambers of the kings of León only opened after 10am and so I strolled to San Marcos Plaza adjoining San Marcos monastery. This famous Renaissance building had originally been a pilgrims’ hostel and hospital dating from the 12th century and it was beautifully embellished when it became one of the offices of the Knights of Santiago. The sweeping staircase at the main entrance indicates the grandeur the Knights of Santiago maintained in their days.
During the 15th century it was converted into a monastery, in the 17th century, under Napoleon, it was used as a prison and during the Spanish Civil War in the 20th century it served as army barracks. Today this imposing structure is a Parador, one of Spain’s most impressive and expensive state-run hotels. A cloister, surrounded by Renaissance arches on both the ground and first floors, is situated on one side of the Parador and the ground floor arches facing the hotel are glassed in so that the guests of the Parador are able to look into the cloister with its beautiful garden.
A very tired-looking pilgrim with his sandals lying next to him and his satchel nearby sits on stone steps opposite the entrance to the church of St Marcos. He is one of very many statues to be found along the entire Camino and demonstrates the importance of the pilgrimage route in the past as well as today. Thousands of scallop shells adorning many buildings along the way to Santiago bear further testimony and in this historic square they were particularly evident, with hundreds moulded onto the façade of San Marcos Cathedral.