“La Constitución se fundamenta en la indisoluble unidad de la Nación española, patria común e indivisible de todos los españoles, y reconoce y garantiza el derecho a la autonomía de las nacionalidades y regiones que la integran y la solidaridad entre todas ellas.” According to its Article 2, the Spanish constitution is based upon indissolubility of the union of the nation, while granting the right to autonomy of each region and solidarity among of them. Well, ish. Ask the Catalans. Or ask anyone else. On a second look, it seems like no one really wants to be too closely associated with anyone else in this country. Hard feelings seem to be the case in Spain’s largest autonomous region, Castilla y León, too, as some enthusiast went through the hassle of spraying off “Castilla” from literally every “Junta de Castilla y León” road-sign in the northern part of the region. Gigantic graffiti painted over barely accessible mountain peaks that state “León solo” (Leon alone, calling for the dissolution of the junta) are not an uncommon sight, often visible from all the way down in the valley, but they are really destined for the inhabitants of the plateau of Castilla. In hatred united we stand, regardless what the constitution suggests.
León, the provincial capital, has a lot to be proud of: founded in the first century BC to house the Roman legion Legio Sexta Victrix during the Empire’s campaign on the Iberian peninsula and has been inhabited ever since. Future Roman emperor Trajan served as high-ranking official in the Legio Septima Geminia permanently stationed in León (then called Legio) about a hundred years later. In 1188 the city has also seen the birth of modern-day parliamentarism (yes, almost 30 years before the English came up with a similar idea; sorry, lads). Do not get too excited, we are not talking general suffrage here, God forbid some poisonous ideas about equality of all men. It was what it always is: family disputes, struggles for power and empty treasury (especially that) forced the nobility to involve the lower-born but financially better off classes in some decision making processes. The same money also partly paid for León’s greatest jewel: La Pulchra Leonina, the House of Light, one of the most beautiful examples of high Gothic in Spain.
León city centre offers many more points of interest from the various periods of its long and rich history: from the Roman walls, the Romanesque basilica of San Isidoro, to the modernist Casa Botines by Antoni Gaudí. It’s not a particularly extraordinary Gaudí, and to me the building is much more interesting from the construction point of view rather than architectonic, as Gaudí was in his neo-gothic period (and those of you who read this blog regularly know that I am not a big fan of neo-gothic, or neo-anything), however this is the architect’s first building that features a frame of cast-iron pillars, thus allowing for an airy open-plan interior without any need for load-bearing walls.
Obviously the magnificent cathedral should be visited and admired, but take a closer look at what surrounds it. Adjacent to the cathedral and partly integrated into the Roman walls, you will notice a monumental façade of a (Church-owned and privately ran) hospital, Nuestra Señora de la Regla. Now, about that name. In my limited and largely self-taught knowledge of the language, “la regla” only means one thing – a woman’s period. And it had occurred to me as highly unlikely that an organisation as profoundly misogynous as the Catholic church would come up with a Marian cult dedicated to those rather unpleasant 5 days that periodically accompany the life of every woman of child-bearing age. They in fact did not, as a brief Google search swiftly revealed. Well, the Bleeding Virgin would have been a tad blasphemous (apologies). “La Regla”, in this case, means simply “a rule” (which would explain the lack of that word in my Spanish vocabulary, as the rules in this country are merely suggestions) refers to the Rule of Saint Augustine, a brief document from 4th century AD, that outlines religious life in a community and serves as a rulebook of the monastic life of the Order of Saint Augustine (that, according to the legend, the Virgin herself dictated to the future saint). But it is not the name (or my ignorance of its meaning) that makes the hospital interesting, but rather the story if its baroque facade.
I came across the story by complete chance. One day during my stay in the area I went swimming to the lagoons of San Martín de Valdetuejar (about that later) and I started chatting to some elderly gentleman and he mentioned an old and destroyed noble palace in a nearby village, Renedo de Valdetuejar, to which I enthusiastically confirmed that I know the place as I had cycled through there (about this also later). And he said that the palace used to have a beautiful façade that has been dismantled and partly transferred to León to adorn the newly constructed hospital of NS de la Regla. Obviously, there is nothing on the website of the hospital or on the building itself that would mention this, but I have found (not without difficulties) an article from a local newspaper that confirms the gentleman’s story. Apparently the Prados, a local noble family, lost their fortunes and started selling whatever possession had any value, including, in 1905, the magnificent baroque façade of their home. Pieces of it went lost, or were integrated in local construction, and what was left of it was in 1950’s eventually reassembled to what is today the main entrance to the hospital of Nuestra Señora de la Regla in León (the first photo in the following gallery). It would be a great idea to place an information panel somewhere, so that the story is preserved for future travellers. After all, there is (mostly) nothing wrong in recycling or displacing architectonic jewels in order to preserve them (as is for example the case of the Egyptian temple of Debod in Madrid that would have otherwise been flooded by the Aswan reservoir).
Also not to be missed is a little bit of tapeo (bar-hopping) in Barrio Húmedo, with its winding narrow streets and colourful houses, and many many bars. After the months of confinement, sipping wine at a terrace of any bar at Plaza del Grano felt almost normal. More from the region will follow soon (as soon as I overcome my writing block, but my head is elsewhere at the moment). In the meanwhile, thank you for reading.