This is the most important Romanesque ensemble in Spain, although it is in fact a synthesis of styles, the most recent being the Baroque. Built at the orders of King Ferdinand and Queen Sancha, it was once home to a major school of ivory, jet and precious metalwork.
A 9th-century church dedicated to St John the Baptist replaced a Roman temple dedicated to Mercury. When the remains of the boy martyr St Pelagius were brought here from Cordova, the name of the church was changed. It was destroyed by Al-Mansur and later rebuilt in bricks and poor materials by Alfonso “of the Good Laws”, and the present church was erected at the behest of Ferdinand and Sancha in the 11th century by Petrus Deustamben.
The Lamb Doorway is Romanesque, splayed with three pairs of shafts supporting three archivolts. The tympanum shows the Ascension of the Lamb carried up with the cross held in one of its legs. It follows the rules of adaptation to the frame. Also represented is the scene of Abraham and Isaac, this being the first tympanum to show more than one scene. The intrados is decorated with geometric shapes and the arch is surrounded with a checkered moulding. On the right is the image of St Pelagius, which used to be on the previous church. On the left is St Isidore, Doctor of Spain. There are also scenes showing King David and musicians.
This 18th-century Baroque piece is by the Valladolids and shows the Royal Shield of Spain and an equestrian statue of St Isidore, victor of Baeza.
The Doorway of Forgiveness:
Situated at the end of the south transept, it is by Master Esteban, who would later work on the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The tympanum shows three reliefs: the Descent from the Cross, the Three Marys before the tomb and the Ascension.
The Quiñones Doorway:
Visible from the interior, it is by the Master of the Serpents. It has marble columns with capitals and a tympanum with a chequered border.
The nave is higher than the side aisles and is roofed with a barrel vault, while the aisles have groin vaults.
Transepts: Multifoiled arches of Moslem influence, with side apses roofed with half-domes.
Nave: Built by Juan de Badajoz the Elder in the Hispano-Flemish style and roofed with a stellar vault, it is situated at the end of the 15th-century choir. There are about two hundred capitals decorated with various topics: burlesque, vegetable motifs, Biblical scenes and anecdotes.
Sanctuary: The reredos comprises twenty-four Renaissance panels and is by Pazuelo. The tabernacle is by García Crespo and St Isidore’s reliquary casket is by Rebollo.
Royal Burial Vault:
Built at the beginning of the 11th century, it was originally the portico of the church dedicated to St John the Baptist and St Pelagius. In it lie the remains of 23 kings and queens, 12 princes and 4 counts. Among those buried here are Alfonso V, Ferdinand and Sancha, Bermudo and Urraca the Zamoran. It has a square groundplan, made up of three halls with two columns in the centre dividing the space into six bays with polychromed vaulting. The palæo-Christian capitals are decorated with Biblical and anecdotic subjects and floral patterns. The paintings, on white stucco, were done in the second half of the 12th century and were outlined with black lines and filled in with ochre, yellow, red and grey. There are New Testament scenes (the Assumption, Visitation, Annunciation, Nativity, the Tidings told to the Shepherds, the Adoration of the Magi, the Last Supper, Christ’s Arrest, Calvary and scenes from the Revelation) and the Tetramorph. One of the best known pieces is the Farming Calendar, where the months are illustrated with the different agricultural tasks carried out in them. It shows influence of Mozarabic liturgy, which, though abolished at the Council of Castile, was deeply rooted in León.