Sahagún lies on the banks of the Cea river on the Castilian meseta between Fromistá and León. The rather empty and desolate place today belies its medieval status as one of the most important monastic centres in twelfth century Spain. The town took its name from the abbey of San Facundo e Primitivo.
According to the History of Charlemange and Roland, “a castle stands in the meadows, in the best part of the whole plain, where afterwards a church was built in honour of the blessed martyrs Facundus and Primitivus, where likewise their bodies rest and an abbey was founded and a city built”.
The Guide counts Sahagún as major halt on the road, the end of the seventh day’s journey from Fromistá and mentions it by name several times.
The Benedictine monastery adhered to the Cluniac order and Sahagún was the centre of Cluny’s power in northern Spain, presiding over more than fifty dependent priories.
Its links with the king emperors of León-Castile and the court were exceptionally close and it was especially favoured by Alfonso VI who chose to be buried there rather than in the royal pantheon at León.
Sahagún was an important part of Alfonso’s plan to develop the Compostelan pilgrimage infrastructure and the monastery benefitted from an annual donation of 2,000 bushels of wheat which went towards feeding pilgrims in the hospital of sixty beds.
In the cursory account of Spanish saints included in the Pilgrims’ Guide, the relics of Facundus and Primitivus are among only two others apart from Santiago, that pilgrims are ordained to visit.
The two saints were martyrs of third century Roman persecutions, decapitated by the banks of the Cea river. The Guide repeats the legend that their church was erected by Charlemagne. In fact Alfonso III of Asturias had first settled a community of monks from Cordobá at Sahagún in the 870’s.