Standing in León cathedral, multicoloured ribbons of light tumbled down from the stained-glass windows, flickering over my body and onto the floor. As the purple, yellow, pink and green spots danced across the stone slabs, the handful of visitors looked as if they had inadvertently stumbled into a provincial disco, their sombre, practical outfits briefly transformed into shimmering party clothes.
Leading Spanish writer Julio Llamazares has said that “entering León cathedral is like dreaming while you are awake,” and I certainly knew what he meant as I looked around the vast gothic structure, which was begun more than 700 years ago and seems to be built of more glass than stone. His father had taken him there when he was seven or eight, showing him how the light from above rippled through the water of the font, and the cathedral has held a powerful fascination for him ever since.
Llamazares’ latest book, Las Rosas de Piedra (The Stone Roses), is a journey around the cathedrals of northern Spain. In fact, this is just the first volume, as he plans to work through the whole country, ending up in the Canaries. He explains that “a cathedral is an enormous architectural rose, which has to be stripped petal by petal, stone by stone, in order to find the soul, the very essence of the people who built it.”
The same could be said of Castilla y León itself, not just its most important buildings. Although it is the largest region in the country, stretching for almost 100,000 square kilometres between Madrid and the Cordillera Cantàbrica mountains in the north, it is surprisingly little known outside Spain, despite its rich history and wealth of monuments, several of which have World Heritage status.