Since the Middle Ages, at a time when literacy was reserved for a few and predominantly practiced by the clergy and monks, the Gospel was revealed in pictures and often they formed the backdrop to sanctuaries in churches and other sacred places. Paintings were generally elaborately framed and in Spain they are frequently arranged as an impressive backdrop to altars. With the help of these pictures church goers were able to follow events in the life of Christ as described in the Bible and preached by the clergy. In this way the illiterate were taught the Christian narrative and were reminded of their duties to the church. The frescoes in the burial chambers at St Isidoro in Leon served a similar purpose. On leaving, I heard the organ playing in the cathedral of St Isidoro and entered the ancient Basilica. The final tune rang out and the priest that had earlier directed me to the pantheon carried the Sacraments into the sacristy. I stayed for a while longer and finally traced my way back to the Monastery of St Marcos, where I visited the museum exhibiting pictures by Leónese painters.
One large picture caught my attention. It portrays the Knights of Santiago receiving a bull – the written confirmation from Pope Alexander III granting the Knights permission to regulate and protect the pilgrims on their way to Santiago. The bull was signed on the 5th June, 1175, and was probably given in recognition of the services the Knights of Santiago had provided during the crusades and the wars against the Moorish forces during the re-conquest of the northern regions of Spain. It shows the Knights of Santiago in their white tunics with red, sword-shaped crosses embroidered on the chest. This same sword-like cross is also printed onto the scallop shells and water calabashes that pilgrims carry nowadays. The tunics of the Knights Templar were very similar in style, except that their emblem was a plain cross.
When I finally continued my walk after midday and realized that my planned destination was still twenty kilometres away, I had to change plans and find an earlier bed for the night. There were no other pilgrims in sight – they had all passed me long ago – but I was glad that I had taken the time to visit these places.
I have a confession to make and hope that Anna, if I ever see her again, will forgive me: a few hundred meters past St Marcos I hailed a taxi in order to avoid walking the boring stretch through the industrial areas out of León. This left me with a manageable fourteen kilometre walk to my originally planned destination. It led through deserted countryside with two small villages and I only came across two cars and a young couple sitting on a bench in Chozas de Abajo. I really enjoyed the walk and despite the heat of the day and my swollen ankle giving me some discomfort, I felt good.