I ate a “Jesus loves you” snow cone in the Central Park. After finishing it I was no more enlightened as to its affiliation with Jesus, but it was refreshing. In addition to these icy indulgences, clothing, decals, keychains, and bible/religious paraphernalia stores signify the strong religious undercurrent in León. Walking around the city you may hear people gathered in homes singing hymns. You may pass something that looks and sounds like a pop concert and look up at the sign to find it’s a church. Or, as happened to me, you may stop into a liberería (translated as bookstore but functioning like a school supply store) to purchase some tape and be pointed towards the truth about God by the owner who discovers you are not from a very God-fearing country in his opinion. I should have asked him about the Jesus snow cones.
The prolific churches are the most pronounced reminder of religion here as you won’t walk more than a few blocks without passing one. León has 13 colonial churches and cathedrals, more per capita than any other place in Nicaragua, plus eight or so newer, more modest ones that blend in with surrounding homes and stores. The Catedral de León is not just the grandest cathedral in the city, but it is the largest cathedral in Central America. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and resting place of the famous, local writer and “Father of Modernism”, Rubén Darío. Constructed from 1747-1814, its robust structure has allowed it to survive earthquakes, nearby volcanic eruptions, and wars. Part of the Cathedral’s ability to withstand earthquakes comes from the seven cellars that were built underneath it to add flexibility to the framework. The cellars were also used to store and hide treasures and to access a system of underground tunnels that connect to other churches as a way of fleeing during attacks. It has been used for military purposes on occasion, including having cannons mounted on the roof at one point. These bountiful places of worship are beautiful feats of architecture with awe-inspiring and palpable connections to the city’s past.