We had been staying in pilgrim refugios for most of the way from Pamplona and it was decided to enjoy some luxury. Not normally being the luxury type, I was eventually convinced to stay overnight at the magnificent Parador of San Marcos in Leon.
Leon was originally a Roman military garrison and its name was a derivation of the word “legion”. It was the capitol of Christian Spain in the eleventh century.
The Parador was certainly worth it. Here we could relax in our private room and also explore the old palace. Crossing the threshold into the five-star tourist experience was a jolt. We toured the huge reception rooms and marvelled at the traditional Spanish furniture and light fittings, luxurious rugs scattered over rich timber floors, exquisite tapestries and magnificent paintings.
Then through the ancient stone cloisters which opened off these rooms and across an internal courtyard to stand in silence within the hushed interior of the lovely church of San Marcos.
Although originally a monastery, during its history San Marcos has also served as a hospital for pilgrims and a prison for some poor recalcitrant knight who was locked in the dungeon for four years. It was also the headquarters of the knights of Santiago.
The knights of Santiago began as a small military brotherhood.Their initial purpose was to provide protection for the pilgrims travelling to and from the Apostle’s tomb at Compostela, the most important pilgrimage site in Western Europe.Various bandit groups frequently harassed pilgrims.The knights of Santiago made vows similar to the members of the Hospitaller and Templar orders. They were not only required to provide hospital services, but also had to enforce the Christian doctrine on the citizens in their territories.
Leon is a good city in which to spend a few days recouperating after some long hot days on the Camino. And we needed a break before walking the next 300 kilometres to Santiago.