Skip navigation

Category Archives: Camino

puenta-la-reina-side2The practice of interventionist patronage established by Sancho el Mayor to encourage the development of the pilgrimage road was certainly a trend continued by his successors.

Sancho Ramirez who ruled Aragon from 1063-1094, (as well as Navarre from 1076), lifted the tolls on the Pamplona and Jaca roads for pilgrims and established the towns of Estella and Puente la Reina. The location of these towns helped to fix the route of the pilgrimage way definitively. The expansion of both towns was so rapid that by the time the Pilgrim’s Guide came to be written in the mid twelfth century, they were significant enough to be mentioned as way stations on the road. Estella came to rival Burgos as a centre of commercial activity.

Estella-Navarrese-Palce-1-WAs the floodgates of the Pyrenean passes opened in the twelfth century, foreigners from beyond the mountains were encouraged to settle the new towns which acquired distinctive quarters inhabited by these emigrés. Pamplona, which had previously been abandoned as a royal city, was divided into three neighbourhoods; the Navarreria was home to the native population, the Juderia was the Jewish quarter and the Burgo San Cernin was colonised by Franks encouraged to settle through generous grants and  prospective commercial prosperity.

Like Puente la Reina, Sanguesa was a town built beside an important river crossing used by pilgrims, in this case over the Rio Aragon. Originally, the inhabitants were located on a nearby promontory in the defensive enclave of Rocaforte. As the threat of Saracen incursions receded, they were able to move down to the river bank. In 1122 King Alfonso el Batallador had a bridge built, simultaneously granting a fuero to encourage new settlement. A parish church, Santa Maria la Real was constructed on the left bank at one end of the bridge. By the end of the century the town comprised two parishes, the second dedicated to Santiago and was now enclosed by city walls.

Sanguesa-V's-2-WPBetween the major stations of the road, small conurbations and hamlets developed along the route next to monasteries, churches and hospices.

Thus the pilgrimage was exploited to bring keenly sought prosperity to these long deserted regions. This led to the inevitable paradox. The new wealth ran counter to the very spirit of the pilgrimage. On the portal sculptures of the churches at Oloron and Sanguesa, two towns which had grown rich from pilgrim traffic, the sculpted images of the merchant and artisan classes are presented in the foreboding context of Apocalyptic scenes.

Should any doubts persist, the column relief of Judas at Santa Maria la Real, rope noose around his neck, was a grim indication of the inherent dangers which were posed.

Sources: J. Passini – Sur le chemin de Saint Jacques. Cahiers de Saint Michel de Cuxa XXX 2000 pp.75-83, Melczer – The Pilgrims’ Guide to Santiago de Compostela

Leyre-V's-3The Historia Silense and the Cronica Najerense, two twelfth century monastic chronicles of Spanish history, both record that it was Sancho III el Mayor who around the year 1030 was the first Hispanic ruler to actively take a hand in the pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela.

Sancho, who ruled Navarre between 1004 and 1035 had expansionist interests in the lands of Castile and Leon to the west as well as Moorish held territory to the south.

As the Historia Silense tells us, the road used by pilgrims had traditionally passed through Alava, north of present day Vitoria, because pilgrims preferred to hug the protective shelter of the Cantabrian mountains. Estall-1The chronicle attributes the reconquest of the Rioja to Sancho el Mayor, although in truth, this was achieved during the reign of his great great grandfather, a century earlier. Nevertheless, as the Caliphate of Cordoba began to fragment, the opportunity to consolidate the Christian kingdoms of the north arose and Sancho was well positioned to take advantage of the prospect.

The Cronica Najerense is closer to the facts, recording that it was only some time after acquiring the protectorate of Castile in 1017 through some astute dynastic manoeuvering, that Sancho recognised the potential of the pilgrimage road as an artery which would connect  Navarre with the future Christian empire of Leon-Castile which he was to bequeath to his son Ferdinand and grandson Alfonso VI.

Mianos Texts record pilgrim traffic passing through Navarre already in the tenth century but a century later the flow had become significant enough to warrant the establishment of an infrastructure which might benefit both travellers to Compostela as well as commercial and political interests.

Specific privileges known as fueros were accorded by kings to townspeople. These prerogatives were designed to encourage commercial activity and repopulation of urban centres and land long deserted. Fueros were granted all along the pilgrimage road. In 1030 Sancho obliged pilgrims to pass through Najera, a city he had recently accorded a fuero and which was located fifty miles south of Alava. In 1052 Garcia V of Navarre founded the Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria la Real there, together with a hostel for pilgrims at the town. Thus, Najera was established as a major station on the pilgrimage road to Santiago.

Sources: J. Passini – Sur le chemin de Saint Jacques. Cahiers de Saint Michel de Cuxa XXX 2000 pp.75-83

Historia Silense. ed.  Francisco Santos Coco

The second chapter of the Pilgrim’s Guide designated as The Day’s Journey on the Apostle’s Road, describes thirteen sections for the journey to the shrine of Saint James, from the ascent  of the Roncevaux Pass to the final arrival at Compostela, optimistically attributing to each leg one day’s travel. The sixth day’s journey is recorded as being from Burgos to Frómista.

Frómista derives its name from the endless wheatfields of the Tierra de los Campos which stretch across the Meseta plateau. It was from this abundance of grain that the town owed  its great wealth after it had begun to recover in the tenth century, from its earlier destruction at the hands of the Saracen conquerors.

It was located at the crossroads of the old north south road from Santander to Palencia and the westward bound Camino and together with Carrión de los Condes and Sahagún, was one of the three principal stations which linked the pilgrimage road as it traversed the  lonely plain between Burgos and León. Pilgrims reached the town after crossing the Rio Pisuerga over the bridge commissioned by Alfonso VI.

It was to Fromistá in her native Castile, that Doña Muña Mayor, widow of Sancho III el Mayor of Navarre, retreated after the death of her husband. Together they had both been early architects of the development of the pilgrimage road. Already responsible for the construction of the bridge named in her honour at Puente la Reina, it was in 1066 that Doña Muña chose to donate to three monks, a church then already under construction and some land at Frómista, for the establishment of a monastery dedicated to Martin of Tours.

The dedication to the celebrated saint was part of the general tendency of the Christian Spanish royalty towards promoting French alliances and affinities as well as being an indication of the French presence on the pilgrimage road in Castile. This was further endorsed when, at the behest of Doña Muña’s great-granddaughter Queen Urraca, San Martin was donated, in 1118 to the Cluniac abbey of San Zoil at nearby Carrión de los Condes. The ensuing increase in pilgrimage traffic is attested by the subsequent establishment at Frómista of four hospices to minister to the needs of those traveling to Compostela.

Doña Muña’s church is the same church which still stands today. Along with the royal basilica of San Isidoro de León and the cathedral at Jaca,  it is the earliest example of Romanesque architecture in Spain. San Martin de Frómista is a remarkable structure, almost a pilgrimage church in miniature, the refined elegance of its architectural and decorative elements more readily associated with a larger building.

 The much debated question among art historians regarding the role of the pilgrimage to Compostela on the development of Romanesque sculpture at the end of the eleventh century finds it most compelling evidence in the geographical spread of the style which found its origins at the Castilian monastery church of Frómista.

 In the late 1080’s the master sculptor of Frómista took his inspiration from the carvings on Roman sarcophagus located in the church of Santa Maria de Husillos fifteen miles south, which depicted the Greek legend of the Oresteia. These distinctively dynamic bare-limbed figures with their swathes of drapery are the clear inspiration behind the original and arresting designs combined with profuse vegetal motifs to be found on the interior capitals at Frómista.

 A chronological spread of this school along the pilgrimage roads has been detected, originating at Frómista and then moving to Jaca and Loarre in Aragon and travelling across the Pyrenees to Toulouse and then back along the Compostelan road to León and eventually to be found on the columns of the Puerta Francigena at Santiago. The pilgrimage was thus the engine which drove this sculptural school to spread all the way from  Castile to Languedoc to Galicia.

For a church of its relatively small size, San Martin manages to incorporate a surprising number of decorative elements without diminishing the simplicity of its architectural grace and refinement.

There are one hundred carved capitals. They appear to be the work of two different schools, the first already mentioned, derived from the Roman sarcophagus at Husillos and a second workshop, whose figures are more hieratic and static in their poses. Some of these are enigmatic in their significance. A hermit and an abbot, hands raised in benediction and between them, a man restrained by two guards. On each side two sets of men, one embracing and the other wrestling. One suspects the abbot and hermit refer to Saint Martin.

Outside the church is decorated with a total of three hundred and fifteen modillion figures, possibly the most imaginative array of profane and apotropaic images in Romanesque sculpture. Among them, androphagous monsters, acrobats, monkeys, young girls cradling strange offspring and a harp playing ass, this latter an image that goes back at least five thousand years to ancient Sumeria


The large Romanesque bridge which gives its name to the Navarrese town of Puente la Reina is eloquent testimony to the important flow of pilgrims that were travelling from France to Compostela by the first half of the eleventh century. Halfway between Pamplona and Estella, its five arches elegantly span the broad, slow moving Arga river.

The Pilgrim’s Guide opens with the words “There are four roads which, leading to Santiago, converge to form a single road at Puente la Reina, in Spanish territory.” It is this very same bridge which stands to this day, the true start of the camino de Santiago

The Guide refers to it as the Pons Reginae or Bridge of the Queen. Built during the first half of the eleventh century, it is said to have been constructed under the sponsorship of Queen Doña Mayor the wife of Sancho el Mayor of Navarre (1004-35). Taking advantage of Arab disunity following the dissolution of the Caliphate of Cordobá, Sancho had begun to have significant successes against the Moors and was looking to bring the pilgrimage route southwards across Navarre and Castile. puenta-la-reina-22The construction of the bridge of Puente la Reina is a notable sign of that development and the wish to facilitate travel conditions for French pilgrims in order to repopulate northern Spain. In 1121 Alfonso Ist of Aragon granted favourable conditions for Franks to settle a town around the bridge, a practice that was occurring all along the pilgrimage road.

According to the History of Charlemagne and Roland the bridge was used by the French army after their famous victory at the seige of Pamplona.