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(THE DIOCESE AND CIVIL PROVINCE OF LEON)

HISTORY

Probably before the time of Trajan, the Romans founded in the Asturias, in the neighborhood of the ancient Lancia, a military colony to which they gave the name of Legio Septima Gemina . From Legio (acc. legionem ) was formed, in accordance with the nature of the Romance-Castilian language, the name León , and the identity of this name with that of the king of beasts ( león , from leo , acc. leonem ) perhaps explains how, by what in German is called a Volksetimologie , the lion came to be considered the heraldic cognizance of the city and province of this name, and even of the whole Spanish people.

Very soon the original military colony admitted civilian colonists, as the ancient epitaphs prove. Within a few years after its foundation the Legatus Augustalis who governed the Asturias was residing in this settlement.

Christianity must have been introduced very early, for it had its bishops at least as early as the third century, and the names of Basilides and Decentius are known before the time of the Germanic invasions. These invaders do not seem to have established themselves in Leon — a stronghold of the imperial power — until Euric (466-84), or at least Leovigild (572-86), drove out the imperial garrison. In the Roman persecutions Leon had numerous martyrs, among whom were Sts. Facundus, Primitivus the husband and wife Marcellus and Nonia, with their sons Claudius, Victoricus, and Lupercus, Vincent, and Ramiris. The name of St. Facundus took, in the ancient dialect. the form Sa-hagún , which survives as a geographical name. A monastery was built in the fourth century, on the spot where Cladius and his brothers suffered martyrdom.

Leon fell into the power of the Mussulman invaders, but they did not long retain it; it was reconquered by Alfonso I, the Catholic. Destroyed a second time by the Mussulmans in the time of Abderahman II (846), it was again rebuilt by Ordoño I (850-866), who erected there a royal residence which Ordoño II afterwards transformed into a cathedral. Among the bishops of Leon at this period figure Siuntila, Frunimius, Maurus, and Vincent, and the great St. Froilan (900-05), who was followed by Cixila and Frunimius II.

However, as the Court remained at Oviedo during all this period, Leon did not attain any great importance. When Alfonso III (the Great) was dethroned by his sons (910), the eldest of them, García, took for himself the city of Leon, which then began to be the capital of a kingdom. García died early (914), and Galicia, which had been Ordoño's share, was united to Leon. Ordoño II, who vanquished the Moors at S. Esteban de Gormaz, and was routed by them at Valdejunquera reduced the Counts of Castile to submission and founded the cathedral of Leon (914-24). Leon now attained the chief place among the Christian States of Western Spain, but in the middle of the same century (the tenth) Castile began her efforts to achieve her liberation from Leonese vassalage. Meanwhile Leon succumbed for a brief period to the irresistible power of Almanzor (983). But Alfonso V rebuilt and repeopled the city, giving it its famous fuero , or charter, a collection of laws promulgated in the Council of Leon. This council which opened 1 August, 1020, had a politico-ecclesiastical character similar to that of the Toledan councils of the Visigothic period . Among other privileges, this fuero secured to the inhabitants of Leon inviolability of domicile, and it established the rights of benefactoría (whence the local term, be-hetría ), by which a vassal might bind himself to any lord who would protect him.

In the spring of 1029 the city of Leon was the scene of a bloody event which was of transcendent importance in Spanish history. Don García, Count of Castile, who was about to be married to Doña Sancha, sister of Bermudo III, King of Leon, was assassinated as he was entering the church of S. Juan Bautista, by the Velas, a party of Castilian nobles, exiles from their own country, who had taken refuge in Leon. Leon and Navarre disputed the succession to the Countship of Castile thus left vacant. Ferdinand, son of Sancho the Elder (or the Great), of Navarre, married Sancha, sister of Bermudo III, of Leon, and received the title of King of Castile, and when, the war being renewed, Bermudo was slain at the battle of Tamar n, the united crowns of Leon and Castile became the possession of Ferdinand I. From that time the hegemony which Leon had enjoyed began to pass to Castile. The causes of this change, which left so deep an impression upon the history of Spain, may be summed up as follows: (1) Ferdinand, first King of Castile, had vanquished Bermudo; (2) Ferdinand I at his death, divided his kingdoms between his sons; Sancho, King of Castile, then wrested the Kingdom of Leon from Alfonso, but, Sancho being himself assassinated before the walls of Zamora by Vellido Dolfos, Alfonso in his turn obtained possession of both the kingdoms. (3) The Kingdoms of Castile and Leon being once more separated upon the death of Alfonso VII (the Emperor — see below) Alfonso VIII of Castile notably advanced the reconquest of Spain by gaining the victory of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), while Alfonso IX of Leon pursued a dastardly policy of fomenting civil strife. (4) Ferdinand III, the Saint — who inherited Castile through his mother, Doña Berenguela, and then, on the death of his father, Alfonso IX, became King of Leon — transferred the centre of his activities to Castile. (5) Above all, Castile led the van of the reconquest beyond the Carpetan Mountains (Sierras de Gata, de Gredos, de Guadarrama), while Leon, by its separation from Portugal, found its expansion arrested at the boundaries of Estremadura.

The principal events which took place in Leon at this period were the following: The translation of the relics of St. Isidore to the ancient church of S. Juan Bautista, which was rebuilt and dedicated to the Sevillian Doctor, 21 December, 1063. Alvito, Bishop of Leon, went to Seville with an embassy to Ebn Abed, to bring the body of St. Justa, but, not finding it, brought that of St. Isidore. The Monk of Silos has preserved the history of this religious expedition. On 26 May, 1135, Alfonso VII was proclaimed, in the basilica of Sta. María, Emperor of Spain ( Ildephonsus pius . . . . . totius Hispaniæ imperator ) . In 1176 the Military Order of Santiago was installed in the hospital of S. Marcos. In the minority of Ferdinand IV, the infante Don Juan was proclaimed King of Leon; and in the minority of Alfonso XI, the partisans of the infante brought his son Alfonso into the city of Leon and fortified themselves in the cathedral, which was almost destroyed by the attacking party who tried to dislodge them. The Leonese opposed Henry of Trastamare, who had killed his brother Pedro the Cruel (1368). After his triumph, nevertheless, Henry showed himself favourable to Leon, confirming its privileges, and John I reformed the municipal government which had been established by Alfonso XI (1390). In the Cortes of 1406 and 1407 it was declared that the representatives of Leon had the second place in the order of voting ( segundo asiento ) after those of Burgos. In 1493, Ferdinand the Catholic, by his presence added solemnity to the translation of the relics of St. Marcellus.

GEOGRAPHY

The Province of Leon as it actually exists, situated in the northern part of the ancient kingdom of the same name, is bounded on the north by the Asturias; on the east by the Provinces of Santander and Valladolid; on the south by that of Zamora; on the west by Galicia (Provinces of Orense and Lugo ). Its natural boundaries are: the Cantabrian Mountains (which separate it from the Province of Oviedo on the north) from the peak of Guiña (6570 feet) to the Peña Vieja (8750 feet); its boundaries are continued on the east by the range which separates the basins of the Cea and the Carrión and are prolonged parallel to the course of both those rivers as far as Sahagún, turning thence to the south-east and following the course of the Cea, which bounds the Province of Valladolid. The southern boundaries are formed mostly by the range of the Peña Negra, while the western, beginning from Peña Trevinca, skirts Lake Baña, crosses the River Sil and follows northward the heights which mark on one side the basin of that river, towards the port of Piedrafita. Most of the province is within the great Castilian plateau, at an elevation of more than 1600 feet above the sea level, rising towards the Cantabrian Mountains on the north. From north to west it is drained by the Sil and its tributaries, which receive the waters flowing from the southern slope of the Cantabrian Mountains, from the Peña Rubia (6313 feet) onwards; from north to south by the Orbigo and the Bernesga, both affluents of the Esla (which, in turn, is an affluent of the Duero); and by the Cea, which forms the boundaries of the province on the east and south-east. Very mountainous in the north and north-west, it becomes more level towards the south-east, where it marches with the celebrated Gothic Plains ( Campi Gothici or Tierra de Campos ). From north to southwest it is traversed by the Mountains of Leon, which, joining the Cantabrian Chain, enclose the district of El Vierzo, leaving no other opening but that through which the Sil, a tributary of the Minho, passes.

The Province of Leon abounds in mineral resources. The carboniferous formation, which covers a wide area in the east, runs westward by the Valley of Ponjos, penetrates into El Vierzo, and, extending beyond Igue a, San Pedro de Mallo, and Villamartin, reaches as far as Fabero. The hollows on both banks of the Bernesga contain deposits of coal, with vast masses of carboniferous limestone, the exploitation of which undoubtedly promises great things for the future of Leonese industry. There are also iron, copper, and cobalt. mines (e.g. the Profunda, in the municipal district of Carmenes), and a great abundance of mineral waters — bicarbonate, sulphurous, etc. The climate varies considerably — cold in the mountains of the north, warm in the lowlands of the south-east. El Vierzo, sheltered by the mountains from the north winds, is one of the mildest and most humid regions; there the vine, the olive, and fruits of many kinds are cultivated. In the south great quantities of wheat and other cereals are grown, as well as pulse, beans, esculent herbs, and excellent silky flax. The forests are rich in beech, ilex, and oak. The livestock amounts to more than a million head of sheep, cattle, and swine. The mountainous character of the country, rendering communication difficult. is somewhat unfavourable to industry. which is confined to that of ironworks, mills, and the manufacture of flour. Leather and coarse cloth are produced; linseed oil is extracted, and chocolate and delicious cheeses are manufactured.

STATISTICS

Lying between 42°4'30" and 42°17' north latitude, and between 1—6' and 3°20' longitude east of Madrid (2°35'51" and 21'51" west of Greenwich), this province has an area of 15,377 square kilometers (5934 square miles). The land under cultivation amounts to 937,399 hectares (2,316,313 acres), of which 117,281 hectares (289,801 acres) are irrigated. The population, according to the census of 1900, was 401,172, whereas the census of 1887 gave a population of 388,830 — an increase of 12,342 inhabitants in thirteen years, and a proportion of 26.7 inhabitants to the square kilometre (about 10.31 to the square mile). The Report of the Instituto Geographico y Estadistico on the movement of population for 1901 gives for the Province of Leon 14,784 births, 10,131 deaths, and 2987 marriages, showing that the increase of population continues.

CIVIL DIVISION

The province is divided into ten judicial districts and 234 subdivisions ( ayuntamientos ). The judicial districts are: Astorga (an episcopal see ), La Bañeza, Murias de Paredes, Ponferrada, Riaño, Sahagún, Valencia de D. Juan, La Vecilla, Villafranca de Bierzo, and Leon. The capital has a population of 17,022 inhabitants.

ECCLESIASTICAL DIVISION

The Diocese of Leon belongs to the ecclesiastical Province of Burgos, though that of Astorga, which is in the same civil province, belongs to the ecclesiastical Province of Valladolid. It (Leon) consists of 345 parishes, grouped in 37 archipresbyteries, and comprises part of the territory of the civil Provinces of Valladolid and Oviedo. The lists of its bishops was interrupted by the Arab conquest. It possesses two ecclesiastical seminaries : that of S. Froilan and that of S. Mateo de Valderas. The college of S. Isidoro at Leon, for poor scholars, is incorporated with the seminary of S. Froilan. There are two chapters in the diocese : that of the cathedral, and the collegiate chapter of San Isidoro, with an abbot and sixteen canons. The present incumbent of the see, the Right Reverend Juan Manuel Sanz y Saravia, b. at Puebla de los Infantes, 30 March, 1848, was preconized 27 March, 1905. Religious Communities in the Diocese. At the capital there is a convent of Capuchins and a house of Augustinians who have charge of the pupils of the Instituto Provincial. There are also the Benedictine nuns of Sta. María de Carvajal, Franciscan Conceptionists, Augustinian nuns, and Discalced nuns of Sta. Cruz, besides other uncloistered communities of women, viz., the Sisters of Charity in the Hospital Provincial and the Chapter Hospital and in the Asilo Municipal, an asylum of the Little Sisters of the Poor , a college of Carmelites of Charity, Servants of Jesus for the aid of the sick, and a convent of Carmelite Sisters. At Sahagún three are Benedictines of Sta. Cruz, and a hospital and college of Sisters of Charity; at Mayorga (Province of Valladolid), a convent of Franciscan Fathers occupied in teaching, Dominican nuns, and a hospital of Sisters of Charity; at Castroverde de Campos (Province of Zamora), Franciscan Fathers; at S. Pedro de Duefias And in the monastery of La Vega, Benedictine nuns ; at Villalpando, Villalobos, and Villafrechos there are Poor Clares ; at Grajal de Campos, Disealced Chamelites; at Cuenca de Campos, Franciscan nuns ; at Gradefes, Bernardine nuns ; at Villal n, a hospital of Sisters of Charity; at Boadilla de Rioseco, a college of Tertiaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary; at Saldaña, a college of Servants of Mary.

Education

Besides the colleges of religious orders already mentioned, there are the Instituto Provincial at Leon and a local institute at Ponferrada. Leon is dependent upon the university district of Oviedo

The City of Leon

The City of Leon, capital of the civil province and also of the Diocese of León, is situated on the River Bernesga, at its junction with the Torio. It has a station on the Palencia, Coruña, and Oviedo railroad. A part of the ancient city walls are still standing, some of them being Roman fortifications dating from the third century and decorated with tesseraæ. The best preserved of these remains are in the "Carrera de los Cubos", on the north-west side of the City, between the cathedral and the Puerta del Castillo. The modern city extends beyond this enclosure towards the railroad. The most notable monuments are the cathedral, the collegiate church of S. Isidoro, and the convent of S. Marcos. The cathedral of Sta. María is one of the best examples of primitive Gothic in Spain. It is supposed to have been commenced in the middle of the thirteenth century, in the episcopates of Nuño Alvarez and Martin III (Fernández) (1245-80), and the façade was completed at the end of the sixteenth century. Its excessive weight caused the dilapidation which occasioned repairs under the direction of Madrazo (d. 1881), Demetrio de los Rios (d. 1892), and Lazaro. Its plan is a Latin cross, with three naves, a transept, a choir of five naves, and a chevet of chapels. Above the lateral arcade runs the triforium gallery, and above that again large ogival windows filled with stained glass of great value. The choir, in the middle of the largest nave, is magnificent Florid Gothic; the retrochoir, Renaissance. In the centre of the space behind the altar stands the mausoleum of Ordoño II. On the Gospel side of the main chapel is the tomb of St. Alvitus; on the Epistle side, that of Don Pelayo, the Bishop ; in the chapel of the Saviour, that of the Countess Sancha; in the chapel of the Nativity, that of Bishop Rodrigo. The cloister is in the Renaissance Transition ogival style. The exterior, uncovered in front and on one side, is dominated by the spires which crown the two lofty and massive towers; it is sustained by pinnacles and buttresses, strengthened with supports and abutments, and surrounded with cornices and pierced parapets. There are two orders of ogival windows and, opening to the west and south, a triple doorway which is profusely ornamented with magnificent carvings, and gives access to a spacious vestibule paved with marble and closed by an iron grille. The two towers, of unequal height, stand apart from the nave of the church from their bases up, but are connected with it by means of abutments. The northern tower, which is the less lofty, is crowned with a parapet and an octagonal spire. The southern is taller and more ornate; its octagonal spire is of exquisite pierced work. Here, in large Gothic characters, may be real: María—Jesús Xps—Deus homo ; and higher up: Ave María—Gratia plena—Dns tecum. The porch consists of three arcades, corresponding to the three entrances; upon the pillar which bisects the middle portal stands the large and beautiful statue of the Blessed Virgin called la Blanca (the White). Towards the north of the city is the basilica of S. Isidoro, predominantly Byzantine in architecture, but with the addition of later constructions. The church has three lofty naves. In the north transept may be read the record of the consecration, performed by eleven bishops, 6 March, 1149. In the crypt of this church is the burial-place of the kings, which was desecrated by the French of Napoleon's army. The convent of S. Marco stands outside the city, to the west. It was once a residence of the Knights of Santiago. Its rebuilding was commenced by Ferdinand the Catholic and was completed in 1715. Its decoration is in the Plateresque style.


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