Leon is a city of about 200 000 people but it’s footprint is actually much smaller than you might imagine. The entire city is very walkable and by now it seems as though we’ve been from corner to corner at one time or another. We’ve learned that it’s rarely necessary to travel very far to get what you need.
Every small barrio has very similar stores restaurants and even churches. The perfect recipe for a barrio here seems to be 0.25 grocery stores, 1 Catholic church, 3 farmacias, 4 restaurants, 5 fritangas, 6 street food venders, 7 shoe stores and 10 knock-off clothing stores. I know that the 0.25 for grocery stores may seem odd, but there are 15 Catholic churches in the city of Leon and only 4 grocery stores that I know of. This ratio and the sheer number of churches in a city this size inspired Elisha and I to go on a mission to get a picture of each one.
We started with the biggest and most famous, La Catedral de Leon. It’s the largest church in Central America and is located in the heart of the city. This church was actually meant to be constructed in Lima, Peru but the plans were switched on the voyage over from Spain in 1747. There are underground tunnels that lead from this church to many of the surrounding churches. It has recently been recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site and there are plans to revitalize the church, as well as the park and buildings surrounding the church.
We walked north toward the professional baseball stadium to find San Filipe. It is another large church that occupies an entire city block. It’s construction started in 1685 and was originally build for blacks and mulattos.
San Jose church is only a couple of blocks SE and was originally constructed in 1751. It was once used as a jail for indigenous rebels in the late 1800s, then rebuilt to its current glory in 1917 by Franciscan friars.
In the NW corner of the city we found San Juan church, built in 1625. The original train station is only a block away, a park is directly in front and a bustling market is right around the corner. It looks and feels like a second city centre.
4 blocks south is the El Calvario church. It was built in the early 18th century by the Mayorga family and looks brand new compared to most of the other churches.
Backtracking a little bit we walked 4 blocks NW to La Recolección church. Construction started in 1786. It is considered by most to be the most beautiful church in the city and is found in a number of tourist brochures and websites that feature pictures of this church instead of the main church La Cathedral de Leon.
Our last church of the day was Church La Merced constructed in 1762. It is home to Leon’s patron saint, La Virgen de La Merced.
The next day we went to the beach but we stopped to take in a few churches on our way home. Our first stop was one of the most interesting churches in the city. It is the oldest church and is located in the barrio Sutiaba. Sutiaba was its own village before Leon relocated a kilometre East. Now it is just another neighborhood of Leon. This church was built in 1530 and features artwork and symbols that pay homage to deities predating the Spanish conquest.
Just 2 blocks east lies Ermita de San Pedro constructed in 1706. It is a very plain church that is only adorned with three brick crosses.
Our longest walk between churches so far took us 8 blocks NE to the Zaragoza church constructed in the late 19th century. It is by far the most Gothic looking church that would make a perfect backdrop for any vampire movie. It was fitting that we arrived here as the sun was going down.
Day 3 of our quest left us with only 5 more churches. We started close to home with the San Francisco church dating back to 1639. It is one of the oldest churches in the city and a national heritage site.
San Juan de Dios is only a block and a half directly south. It was build in 1625 and is one of the least impressive from the outside but the inside is considered one of the most beautiful.
4 blocks SW brings us to Laborio church. It was constructed some time in the 17th century but the exact dates seem to be unknown.
San Sebastian church is 4 blocks east was built in the late 17th century and rebuilt in the late 18th century only to be bombed in 1979 during the siege of Leon. It was constructed of adobe so it did not fare nearly as well as the churches built of brick and stone.
With our mission nearly complete we strolled 4 blocks south to Guadalupe church. It is unique for two reasons. It is the only church on this side of the river and it is the only church oriented north to south. Maybe the compasses were all broken in 1743.
…and this friends concludes our church mission.
Have a mission for us? Send us an email; we’d be happy to take on the challenge!