The most French of all Spanish cathedrals
The Léon Cathedral – official name Cathedral Santa María de Regla of León – is located in the Castilian town of Léon in northwestern Spain on Plaza Regla. The Episcopal Church is located on the famous Way of St. James, which leads to Santiago de Compostela. There are also other interesting sights in the vicinity, such as the Roman walls, the bullring or the Duke’s palace.
This church is built in the Gothic style and impresses everyone just because of its monumental exterior view: gigantic towers, colorful glass windows that play with the light, impressive pointed arches and sculptures along with multifaceted decorations. The important French cathedrals of Reims and Chartres were used as models for the construction of the church – some sources also claim that of Amiens. Only the west facade seems to have been constructed without a model. The episcopal church of Santa Maria de Regla is dedicated to Our Lady
It is said that the church was built on the site of an ancient Romanesque cathedral, which on the other hand was on the site of the former Ordoño II palace and the Roman baths.
As early as 1254, Bishop Martín Fernandez was considering the idea of building a new church. Implementation of the project began just a year later. As with most large houses of worship, it was built in several stages and under various well-known architects.
The first master builder was a certain master Enrique. This was based on the plans for Reims Cathedral. In doing so, a certain boldness drove him to make the pillars no longer appear quite so powerful and to build a glazed triforium, a corridor that is only open to the central nave. This later turned out to be a fatal error, as the stability was not guaranteed. Several openings had to be walled up, and in the middle of the 19th century there was even a risk of collapse. Thanks to a lengthy restoration between 1859 and 1901, the cathedral has been preserved today
Special features of the cathedral
This Gothic church has gigantic dimensions of 90 meters long and 30 meters wide. The two corner towers, which are only connected to the nave on the ground floor, are around 90 meters high. The image of the sacred building is shaped by the main facade, where the two bell towers, the richly decorated archways and the rose window immediately catch the eye.
A walk around the cathedral is worthwhile, as it has three interesting, richly decorated portals and facade: The west facade – the main portal – with the door of the “White Virgin”, the door of San Juan and the door of San Francisco, the south facade with the door of San Froilán and the north facade with the door of the Virgin of Dado.
When entering the cathedral, one can marvel at the three-aisled nave, the three-aisled transept, a five-aisled choir and some chapels. Particular attention should be paid to the famous stained glass windows, which were created by unknown artists between the 16th and 20th centuries. There are a total of 125 windows, some of them 12 meters high. The three large rose windows, the high altar with the silver shrine that houses the relics of the patron saint of the city, St. Froilán, and the alabaster choir are also impressive. The tombs of the kings of the Léon region are housed in the chapels.
What remains is the large organ with 64 registers, which was built by a German company from Bonn and inaugurated in 2013. It can be found to the right and left of the choir room.
In the Museo Catedralicio y Diocesano, which is connected to the cathedral by means of a frescoed cloister, there are valuable church exhibits to marvel at and to learn a little more about the history of the cathedral.
Why is the cathedral worth visiting?
This question is very easy to answer: The Cathedral of Léon is one of the most beautiful sacred buildings in Castile and should definitely be viewed when traveling to this region. Study trips in particular like to offer detailed tours, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t decide to visit on an individual trip.
Those interested in art, especially those who are interested in sacred buildings, can spend hours and hours here and discover numerous details. In only a few other cathedrals in Spain you can find such an impressive interplay between the leaded glass windows and the light. And not just during the day! After sunset, the north facade is illuminated and on weekends and on public holidays from midnight to 2 a.m. it culminates in the fact that the glass windows are specially illuminated.