Yesterday we arrived in the city of Leon. The approach was through the industrial outskirts of the city and may not have been the most scenic to look at, but it offered us a glimpse of the city that we would have missed had we arrived by train, bus, car, or any other means. We have come to appreciate these portions of the Camino as much as the “prettier” portions since they tell us much about the Spaniards that we would miss if we were just seeing one side of their world.
Leon is a large city with all the usual hustle and bustle, but we eventually made it to the inner, historic district where automobile traffic is severely restricted and pedestrians reign. We stayed at an albergue operated by the sisters of a Benedictine monestary. Along with a bed and dinner, we were treated to some quiet time with the sisters as they sang Vespers in their chapel. The short service was beautiful as they chanted the assigned readings for the day back and forth – half of them singing the first part of the verse from one side of the choir, then the rest of them responding by singing the remainder of the verse from the other side of the choir. Most of the sisters (about 15 of them) appeared to be 65 or older, but there were also two novices who appeared to still be in their 20s. The sisters really need these new, younger women accepting a call to vocation in order to keep the monastery viable.
We took time to visit the magnificent Leon Cathedral in the afternoon. This is another in the grand tradition of Gothic cathedrals found throughout Europe. This particular cathedral is noted for its stunning stained glass windows, with more than 1800 square meters of glass – some of the finest stained glass in the world. Because of this it is also known as The House of Light. Within the cathedral are many magnificently beautiful Gothic arches and chapels, making this a Leon landmark not to be missed.
Another building of interest, located close to the cathedral, was the neo-Gothic palace known as the Casa de Botines, designed by the world-famous architect, Antoni Gaudi.
Today we continued on to the small town of Villadangos del Parama. This was on an optional Camino route, but because of a missed turn we pressed on and are now happily ensconced in the municipal albergue for the night. Our route today closely followed a major highway. So, we were subjected to quite a bit of motor traffic noise. But the Camino has a way of exerting its presence even in the midst of such distractions. Tomorrow we will rejoin the “recommended” route as we wend our way ever closer to Santiago – now less than 300 kilometers away. Tomorrow will also be a short day, giving us some welcome time for our weary bodies to recuperate a bit, as we continue on to the town of Hospital de Orbigo.