Sampiro tells us that in the middle of the 10th century, a very religious period of the monarchy from León, when many, many temples and monasteries were being built in the city of León and its surroundings,
founded, not only by kings, as it usually had happened until then, but also by bishops, Mozarabic abbots and private people. Ramiro the Second ordered the building of the Monastery of San Salvador in the middle of the town, very near his palace. It included a church, a monastery and a convent to shelter women of the royal family. There, his daughter Geloria took the veil and years later it became the residence of the Infanta Doña Elvira, who conducted the destinies of the kingdoms as regent with firm hand during the minority of Alphonse the Fifth, by the end of the 10th century. It seems that -as Sampiro also adds- Ramiro the Second wanted to be buried in his church, turning it in a royal pantheon, where also the rests of Ordoño the Third and Sancho el Gordo would also be buried. Later on, the three of them were moved to the Crypt of San Isidro. The ensemble was devastated in great part by Almanzor. For that reason the church was repeatedly modified in the Middle Ages and later, in the 16th century, although the transept square of the Mozarabic church, including its covering, are still preserved.
In the last years, archeological studies have been made allowing the rebuilding of its original plan, demonstrating that the zone had been occupied since the Roman period; also rests of the ground of the church of Roman tradition have been found, a mixture of brick and lime, and burials from the 12th through the 19th centuries.
Its plan had the shape of a Greek cross, of 14 by 12m; the eastern and western sides of the cross have a horse shoe
shaped plan in the interior and flat in the exterior, that recalls the churches with opposite apses; the lateral compartments are somewhat smaller and with a square plan, both, internally and externally. From its original structure, only the base of the walls of the main apse have been preserved as well as the central zone of the crossing including all of its covering system, formed by the four stone pillars, the round arches that join them and the dome that rests upon them. Its plan is sqaure and the dome, where rests of paintings imitating ashlars are preserved, is formed by twelve segments (gallones) with groins that stem out from the diagonals and built in tufa stone and rubble
The structure of the building, both, for its plan and measurements and for what is known about its elevation, is very similar to San Fructuoso de Montelios, that has also the shape of a Greek cross, with a central tower much higher than the rest and with several sides of the cross with inner horse shoe shape, and flat walls to the outside, wheras the rest -two in Palat and one in Montelios- are square and with the door in
one of them. It is also interesting to notice that in both cases they were built as funerary monuments. The main apse communicated with the rest of the church through a great triumphal horse shoe arch upon columns and capitals that, although it had disappeared, it has been rebuilt in a way that perfectly identifies it as added material. Bearing in mind the proximity of León and Braga, and that this area at the north of Portugal had already been conquered in times of Ramiro the Second, it seems reasonable to think that this monarch or his architects inspired themselves in a very meaningful monument, the moment of designing the building with a similar purpose, although utilizing for its structure the new techniques in coverings brought from Al Andalus.
The final result, according to what has reached us so far, is a structure that is much more related with the last Visigothic architecture than with the Mozarabic one, in spite of the vault, of clear Cordovan influence, that seems to have two opposite apses. From or point of view its clearest precedents are in the funerary cruciform churches built in the 7th century following the model of the Mausoleum of Gala Placidia in Rávena, imported around the year 660 to build the one of San Fructuoso in Braga, and that
it would be applied in a whole series of churches of that period, like Santa Comba de Bande or San Pedro de la Mata.
The building, declared Monument of Cultural Interest in 1931, has been completely restored in several attempts during the last years on behalf of the Fundación del Patrimonio Artístico, the Junta de Castilla y León and the Diputación Provincial de León. Keeping all what existed from its original construction and rebuilding some elements in a recognizable way but without using any materials or colours that would distort its general appearance, its structure has been improved and the necessary services for the utilization of its interior have been created, like an explanatory lecture room where a mock-up in methacrylate has been installed to describe the original shape of the church, highlighting in different colours the elements preserved and those belonging to a later period, as well as a system of posters that explain the history of the building and the initial structure of the church and the different transformations up to the present state. The ensemble is an example of how many Spanish pre Romanesque monuments should be treated, since in some cases they have been subject of such little attention whereas others have suffered very unlucky”design” restorations.
We cannot but recommend a visit to this monument that, in spite of the limited remains of its original structure, it is of great artistic and historical interest, and in which all the effort deployed for its preservation and to spread out the knowledge of its features, added to the sound criteria shown by its restorers in the treatment of this building and to the information of the same, turn it into a very interesting experience about Spanish Pre Romanesque Art. To all that has been said we must add that Palat del Rey is located in the middle of “Barrio Húmedo” in León, surrounded by other important monuments. The wide offer of its excellent gastronomy of the region is also a first rate cultural element that we recommend to all visitors.
Other interesting information
Access: Downton León, between the streets Conde de Luna and Del Pozo. GPS Coordinates: 42º 35′ 50.9994”N, 5º 34′ 5.0016”W
Information telephone: Oficina de Turismo: 987 23 70 82. Obispado de León: 987 21 96 80.
Visiting hours: Working days from 11 to 13 hours and from 18 to 20 hours. Saturdays from 11 to 13 hours. Sundays and holidays closed.
Historia de España de Menéndez Pidal: Tomo VI
Historia de España de Menéndez Pidal: Tomo VII: Claudio Sánchez