San Isidoro Basilica was built between the years 1054 and 1067, commissioned by Fernando I and Sancho I. Both kings decided to dedicate this new temple to the cult of San Isidoro because the relics of the saint had been brought to this church. It also contains the remains of San Vicente of Avila, since 1067. The Basilica stands over the ruins of a former church dedicated to San Juan Bautista and San Pelayo of Cordoba.
It has been restored twice: the first under the reign of Doña Urraca, around 1101; and the second around 1149 under Alfonso VII´s reign. There is a legend that explains the present location of the remains of the saint. It states that, one day, during a plague, people took San Isidoro´s body in procession to a village called Trobajo del Camino, near Leon.
All the people who carried the body walked barefoot while they sang hymns in order to repel diseases. Then, the body became heavier, and nobody could carry it or even raise it. The King of Leon fell into a rage and ordered them to build a church over the remains. But the Queen prayed to San Isidoro, and some children were able to take the remains back to Leon, where the people built a chapel.
The French Romanesque style predominates in the church. The temple, Royal Basilica of San Isidoro, consists of a Latin cross shape with three naves and three apses crowned by a square tower, the Cock´s Tower.
The basilica contains many Renaissance paintings. Many illustrate the life of Christ, and motifs and details from nature. The capitals in its interior are very interesting. They represent scenes from nature and the beast. The themes illustrated by the capitals are similar to those represented by the cornices in the church of San Martín of Fromista. Both are related to nature, but San Martín´s cornices are located on the exterior, while San Isidoro´s capitals are in the interior. The capitals include magnificent plants of different sizes, grotesque figures of animals, men and a combination of both.
On the ceiling and walls of the Royal Pantheon is one of the most beautiful examples of the Spanish Romanesque frescoes. The ceiling is divided in three parts. The frescoes cover it completely, and border the upper part of the capitals. On the center is represented the figure of Christ, followed by the four Gospels : San Mateo represented as a winged man; San Lucas as a bull; San Marcos as a lion; and San Juan as an eagle.
The composition produces an impression of movement when looked from below. The colours are not as bright as the frescoes included in the church of San Clemente, another masterspiece of its kind. In fact in the basilica just a few colours can be found: white, brown, blue and some ochres, but the combination of those, however modest, achieves an atmosphere of estability and serenity that extends to the viewer.