There are few places along the Camino the Santiago more significant for the pilgrim than the monastery of San Juan de Ortega, in the Burgos province. Built by the saint of the same name (known in the English speaking world as Saint John the Hermit), the monument has been associated with the pilgrimage to Santiago since its foundation.
Juan de Velázquez was born in the village of Quintanaortuño in 1080, and from his youth he devoted himself to improve the Camino de Santiago, building bridges and paving roads in collaboration with Saint Dominic de la Calzada. The decision of building the monastery came from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. According to the legend, when traveling back to Spain he suffered a shipwreck, and San Juan prayed to Saint Nicholas, promising to build a chapel in his honor if he survived. He did, so back home he started the work in the zone of the Montes de Oca, close to his hometown.
The San Juan de Ortega monument is comprised by the original chapel, a romanesque church built along it (where the saint is buried), the monastery and the pilgrims’ hospice. From the artistic point of view, the church’s main highlight is the capital of the Annunciation, which depicts the story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin Mary.
The miracle of light.
Speaking of this capital, one of the most interesting phenomenoms associated with the monastery takes place in it, the so-called “miracle of light”. Every equinox (March 21 and September 22), at five o’clock (solar time), a ray of sunlight enters the church and illuminates the capital, going from left to right, “telling” the story of the Annunciation.
Besides the remains of Santiago the apostle, one of the most precious treasures that are kept in the Compostela cathedral is the so-called “Codex Calixtinus”, also known as the “first guidebook for the Camino”, written in the XII Century.
The “Codex Calixtinus” is a medieval manuscript dating from year 1140 (approx.), which contains the oldest known copy of the so-called “Liber Sancti Iacobi”, a compilation of sermons, liturgical chants and miracles related to Saint James. There are about twelve copies of this book in Europe, but the oldest one is, as mentioned, the one kept in the cathedral.
The codex, or the “Liber Sancti Iacobi” (if we want to be accurate), begins with a letter supposedly written by Pope Calixtus II (hence the name of the manuscript), and continues with five sections, which contain:
- Liturgical texts (sermons, Masses) related to Saint James.
- Accounts of miracles attributed to Saint James.
- A description of how the saint’s body was carried to Compostela. This book contains the first appearance of sea shells as symbols of the pilgrimage, since it describes how pilgrims collected them at the beach as proof of their arrival to Santiago.
- The story of Charlemagne‘s arrival to the Iberian Peninsula and how Saint James appeared to him in a dream (Charlemagne’s iberian military campaign includes his famous defeat in the battle of Roncesvalles,which inspired the “Chanson de Roland”. These events are also described in the book).
- A “guide” for the medieval pilgrim, with a list of rivers, towns, hostels, churches… found along the Camino.
This last book is the best known one, and it’s the one that earned the Codex the nickname of “first pilgrim’s guidebook”. For decades, historians have relied on it for insights about the towns in the Camino during the Middle Ages, as well as details about the pilgrimage during those times.
The book’s authorship has traditionally been attributed to french monk Aymeric Picaud, who joined pope Calixtus II during his pilgrimage to Santiago in 1109, and might have taken the chance to compile the information that appears in Book V. However, many modern historians have doubts about this attribution.
Lastly, we can’t help but mention the occasion where this codex, with hundreds of years of history, jumped to the front pages in 2011, when it disappeared from the Santiago cathedral. After several months of investigation, the police managed to recover it and arrest its thief, a electrician who used to work at the cathedral.
One of the words most frequently associated with the Camino, to the point of finding it in all kinds of contexts during the journey, is “Ultreia!” What does it mean and where does it come from?
“Ultreia” is a latin word, and it literally means “beyond”. It originally appeared in the “Codex calixtinus”, the well known medieval manuscript that constitutes an invaluable document about pilgrimage during the Middle Ages, to the point of being called by some the first “travel guide” for the Camino. In one of the appendices of this manuscript, devoted to religious hymns, we can find this line:
“E ultreia, e suseia,
Deus adiuva nos”
(Go beyond, go higher, protect us God).
“Suseia”, in turn, means “go higher”. The legend says that, in old times, when pilgrims found each other, they exchanged these words as salutation: “¡Ultreia!” “¡Et susaeia!”
If you have ever made the pilgrimage to Santiago, or are currently doing it, you shall know by now how well marked the route is, and you will be quite familiar with the infallible and ubiquitous symbol of the yellow arrow, the standard indicator in every Jacobean route, and the most safe sign that we are in the right path and heading to Santiago.
The symbol of the yellow arrow is relatively recent, and contemporary with the Jacobean pilgrimage revival at mid eighties. Its presence is not incidental or spontaneous, but the result of a huge effort by the man who made the transformation of an almost forgotten old tradition into the mass phenomenon that we know today possible: the Father Elías Valiña (1929-1989), who since 1957, when he was made the parish priest of Santa María do Cebreiro, became the greatest champion of the recovery of the ancient route that passed in front of his church.
It was in 1984, as part of his tireless work for the restoration and promotion of the pilgrimage to Santiago, that the need of an adequate signaling of the route arose.
Elías Valiña was receiving many complaints from the scarce pilgrims who then walked the route that they were constantly missing the path. The Father acquired a batch of spare yellow paint of the type used in Spain to make surface markings on stretches of roads as a roadwork sign, and he went to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the French starting point of the French Way, in his Citroën 2CV, and from there right down to Santiago, signaling with a hand painted yellow arrow every one of the hundreds of points where the route could be missed by the pilgrims. That is the Jacobean route restored and signaled by Elías Valiña himself, and it is considered the most reliable restoration of the original medieval route. During these long efforts Elías Valiña became a great scholar in everything related to the Jacobean pilgrimage, with an ample knowledge about history, art and cultural heritage, and countless published works and papers.
In his will, he left his family in charge of maintaining the proper signaling of the pilgrim’s way, a work that they are still carrying; but of course this is a work too demanding for so few people, and this heritage has been actually passed on to the many voluntary associations of the Camino and to the public administrations.
If today the Camino to Santiago is not just a beautiful memory of a splendorous medieval past, we owe it mostly to the selfless work of the Father Elías Valiña. The yellow arrow is a symbol not only of a collective selfless effort for guiding the pilgrim on a safe path, but it’s also a symbol of the great effort of transforming what was little more than a romantic memory of ancient medieval times in a mass phenomenon more alive than ever.
Every city has its origin on some cause or pretext: natural or human
resources, stages and crossroads between them; power, oil, harbors…
most of them seem to have been placed by nature itself, arbitrarily.
Compostela, instead, was founded for a different a very particular
reason: the fact of there being buried a man, in a place that had been
previously nothing closer to a city than a derelict necropolis, abandoned in the top of a forested mount called Libredón, with some enigmatic ruins standing out, that were later found to be an early Christian temple. As tradition goes, the remains of the apostle arrived by sea from Jaffa to Iria Flavia, an ancient settlement on the confluence of the rivers Sar and Ulla, and from there to the necropolis on an oxcart, centuries before being discovered by a hermit called Paio on a distant day of the year 813.
Since it was found out that one those ancient tombs was lodging nothing
else than the remains of James, son of Zebedee, the Jesus’ Apostle that
had been beheaded in Jerusalem on 44 AD, the sepulcher has been receiving an unending tribute, and surrounding it were built, first a small shrine, then an inconspicuous monastery and a settlement surrounding it, encouraged by a royal privilege that, in a full feudal era, made a free man of anyone who had remained inside the city for 40 days without being claimed as his vassal by any feudal lord. Many things have happened since, up to the city we know today, surrounding a cathedral that surrounds an ancient tomb. A long —yet relatively short— history, with battles against Vikings, Arabs
and French invaders, a five times centenary university, and the lengthy
litigations to preserve its status as the holiest city in Western
Few cities as Compostela can be so sure of the exact reason why they are here and now. And there is it still, the tomb of the Apostle James the Elder, his remains and those of his two faithful companions Athanasius and Theodore within a richly engraved silver urn in the crypt beneath the cathedral’s high altar.
Visiting the tomb of Santiago is one of those inescapable pilgrimage
rituals in Compostela; regardless of any debates about historical
truths, and no matter which one’s own beliefs may be, the sepulcher of Santiago is a spiritual and cultural symbol with a universal value.
As we announced a few months ago, Caminofácil has started providing services in the Camino Portugués through our friends at TransferTaxi, beginning in Porto. The stages we cover are:
- Porto – Vilarinho
- Vilarinho – Barcelos
- Barcelos – Ponte de Lima
- Ponte de Lima – Rubiaes
- Rubiaes – Valença do Minho
- Valença do Minho – Tui
- Tui – Porriño.
- Porriño – Redondela.
- Redondela – Pontevedra
- Pontevedra – Caldas de Reis.
- Caldas de Reis – Padrón.
- Padrón – Santiago de Compostela.
You can make your reservations now in our website.
The Camino Portugués.
After the Camino Francés, the portuguese way is currently the most popular one among pilgrims, and it has a long history behind it, stretching back to the discovery itself of the apostle’s tomb. By the XII century, when Portugal declared independence from the kingdom of Galicia, the route was already well established, and during the following centuries, important personalities like Santa Isabel (queen of Portugal) walked its roads to reach Santiago.
During the early years of XX century, with the appearance of the sanctuary in Fatima, the Camino experienced a dip in popularity, due to the “competition” from another pilgrimage site in Portugal, but in the last few years, it has benefitted from the renewed interest in the Caminos, as well as the work of associations and amateurs who have documented its history and marked the traditional routes. Today, the pilgrim can choose a variety of paths through Portugal (coastal, inland…) in order to reach Santiago and receive the “compostela”.
We start the year in this blog talking about one of the elements most closely associated with the Compostela pilgrimage: the botafumeiro, the enormous incense burner (or thurible) in Santiago Cathedral that swings
What does “botafumeiro” mean?
The name “botafumeiro”, in galician language, means “smoke expeller”, though strictly speaking, a more correct expression would be “bota fume” or “fumeiro”.
Where does it come from?
The botafumeiro was installed in Santiago cathedral for the first time in the XIII or XIV century, in order to alleviate the odor caused by the masses of pilgrims that spent the night at the cathedral after their long voyage. Santiago wasn’t the only place with a similar device: in the past, the cathedrals of Orense, Zamora and Tuy also had their own botafumeiros. Nowadays, however, it’s only used in the latter in special occasions (and in Santiago, of course).
Through history, the temple has had four botafumeiros: the first one was used until 1530, when a new one was made of silver thanks to a donation from king Louis XI of France. This one, however, was stolen by the french troops during the Peninsular Wars in 1809, and it was replaced by a new one made of iron that was in comission until 1851, when the current one was built by José Losada, the same craftsman who made the urn where the remains of the apostle Santiago are kept.
What is the size of the botafumeiro?
The botafumeiro weights 80 kg. and measures 1.60 m. of height. Every time it’s used, it has to be filled with 40 kg. of charcoal and incense.
When the botafumeiro is used, seven “tirabuleiros” pull the ropes and make it swing, thanks to the elaborate system of pulleys in the cathedral. The botafumeiro swings for about 15 minutes, which is the time it takes for the priests to walk around the nave and aisles of the cathedral.
When can I see the botafumeiro?
The botafumeiro is used oficially during the opening and closing of the Holy Year of Jubilee, as well as in the most important religious celebrations. During the year 2016, these will be:
- Epiphany, Jan. 6.
- Easter (Resurrection Sunday).
- Feast of the Ascension.
- Apparition of the Apostle Santiago – Clavijo, May 23.
- Santiago Day, Jul. 25.
- Assumption of Mary, Aug. 15.
- All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1.
- Feast of Christ the King.
- Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8.
- Moving of the body of the Apostle Santiago, Dec. 30.
As we mentioned when talking about the church of Santa Maria de Eunate, there is a church in the nearby village of Olcoz with an almost identical portico. This unique fact in romanesque art has caused lots of legends to sprung around these two works; here we will recount one of them.
According to it, the portico in Santa Maria de Eunate was started by a master sculptor from the templar order, who after doing a large part of the work, had to leave for unspecified reasons. The local authorities called another local sculptor to finish the work, which he managed to do in only three days (according to some versions, this second sculptor was a giant, which would explain a lot, as we’ll see).
When the original sculptor came back from his voyage, he was angered by what he saw as an usurpation of his work. The local authorities challenged him then an identical portico in the same time that it took his substitute. Faced with such a challenge, the master had to resort to the black arts.
(Pictures courtesy of TaxNavarra).
It was the midsummer night (St. John’s day). Following the advice of a witch that lived close to the nearby river Nekeas, the master hid himself close to the river, and waited until a huge snake appeared. The snake left a moonstone that it was carrying on its mouth on the shore. The master waited until the snake had submerged into the river, then picked up the moonstone and ran away to the unworked portico, which was already raised in front of Eunate. He put the moonstone in a cup full of the river’s water, put the cup under the portico, and waited…
…And when the moon reached its apogee, the portico’s stones started taking by themselves the shapes of the sculptures, columns… that existed in the original portico, only reversed. The only problem happened when the second sculptor found out. Angered by the copy that his competitor had made in just one night, he kicked the portico with such force that it flew away from Eunate to Olcoz, where it is now…
And indeed, the current portico in Olcoz is almost identical to the one in Eunate, except that its features are reversed.
Throught the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrim can find many religious monuments (churches, monasteries…), remains of the centuries of tradition and history originated in this route. Among them, however, the Monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla is special, since it holds the honor of being considered the birthplace of the Castilian language, the most spoken language in modern Spain.
The Monastery of Suso (one of the two existing monasteries in San Millán) was, in effect, the place where the “Glosas Emilianeses”, considered the first words written in Castilian (or at least a primitive version of it), were authored. These were notes written on the margin of latin codexes, in order to clarify words or expressions from the main text. Some of these comments were also written in a primitive version of the Basque language, so they can also be considered the oldest existing Basque text.
San Millán de la Cogolla was also the working place of Gonzalo de Berceo, considered the first literary writer in castillian. His main work, “Milagros de Nuestra Señora”, was a compilation of miracles attributed to the Virgin Mary written around 1260, and is considered as one of the first literary works written in Castilian.
Due to these reasons, the Monasteries of San Millán were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1997.