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Monthly Archives: November 2009

The Pyrenees represented a symbolic barrier to twelfth century pilgrims, as well as a physical one. To cross the mountains was to enter Spanish territory, the land of Holy War.

“One crosses Saint-Gilles, Montpellier, Toulouse and the pass of the Somport”, declared the Pilgrim’s Guide, affirming that of the four French roads, the Toulouse route was the sole one that crossed into Spain over the Somport pass, the Summus Portus – the highest gate.

At over 1600 metres above sea level, the ascent to the Somport is steep and just beyond the pass waited the celebrated charitable institution of the Priory Hospital of Santa Cristina.  Such is the prestige accorded Santa Cristina by the Pilgrim’s Guide, that it is compared with only two others in the whole world, one at Jerusalem, the other on the pilgrim road to Rome at the monastery of Mont-Joux in the high passes of the Alps.

These form a triumvirate of charitable institutions which are accorded an elevated status because of their locations at crucial sites where pilgrims would be most in need.

From Oloron-Sainte-Marie, pilgrims used the old Roman road which had linked the town with Zaragossa, then in Saracen hands but which continued use as a trading route to Jaca.

The way led along the valley of the fast flowing river Aspe and the town of Borce. Once over the pass the road followed the Rio Aragón which has its source near the summit. A short distance below lay the small town of Canfranc with a church dedicated to Nuestra Señora and a private inn with special provision for pilgrims.

All that remains is the bridge which led the road from the right bank of the Aragón to the left.

According to the Guide, the passage from Borce, at the foot of the French side, to Jaca was counted as a day but this is a great underestimation of what would have been an extremely arduous journey, for even after the ascent had been achieved there still remained a further thirty kilometres to go.

It was only at Puente la Reina in Navarre that the road joined the other three routes which emanated in France having entered Spain over the Roncevaux pass.