Walking day in and day out for hours on end a Pilgrim experiences the intensity of the sun. It is so strong that a Pilgrim must keep drinking water to avoid dehydration, and applying sunscreen, which offers protection. However when I walked into the cathedral at Leon all of a sudden the sun took on a mystical dimension. The cathedral is built on an east-west orientation with the altar at the eastern apse so priest and people alike face the Risen Lord at the celebration of the Mass. They literally pray ad orientem facing the rising sun. The sun draws the whole universe in the praise of God who dwells in Inaccessible Light. Therefore the light from the sun is the closest things to the Celestial Jerusalem where God lives in inaccessible light, hidden from human eyes. As the day moves forward the sun then illuminates the southern wall of the nave with the warm colors of the saints and doctors of the church. The light from the southern side figures illuminates the north wall of the nave where the prophets are depicted with dark blues because the prophets did not experience the Light but advanced towards the Light because their prophecies held the mystery of Christ the Light revealed in these last days in the mystery of the Incarnation. Each morning as we start our walk in the darkness we anticipated the beauty of the eastern skies. Lumen Christi! Light of Christ! Deo Gratias
The construction of this magnificent cathedral is also a symbol of the flourishing of a new urban culture after the European crisis of the feudal period. With the development of a middle class, cities grew and contributed to a luminous culture full of vitality.
After the collapse of Muslim power in 1212, King Alfonso promoted science and the arts which made his court a cultural center. This is truly an example of Spanish exceptionalism. Oftentimes we think of the 13th century as a time of darkness and superstition but it was a time of a cultural fullness that far exceeds modern culture, in that in the 13th century the Catholic faith brought forth beauty in over 200 cathedrals in Europe. That is true exceptionalism!
The simplicity, elegance and purity of lines of this cathedral lifts the spirit to the heights and brings to earth the divine world and thus brings us to heaven during the sacred liturgy.
Spending hours in the cathedral helped me come to a profound understanding of how exceptional the 13th century was in the history of western culture. I was filled with wonder and awe as I explored this artistic jewel.
We prayed Morning Prayer on a medieval bridge in Larrasoaña. We had a rest with other pilgrims at Zuriain and befriended Andrew and he walked with us the rest of the day. We stopped in Trinidad and said a prayer at the 13th century Church of the Holy Trinity.
From Father Mattingly: “We were grateful that the rises and falls of The Way were not nearly as severe today. We continue to bond with pilgrims who no longer seem like strangers. Had to say good bye to a French couple we were quite fond of who ended their Camino here. We are staying at the Albergue of Jesus and Mary near the cathedral.”