Category Archives: Monuments

San Juan de Ortega and the miracle of light

San Juan de Ortega 1

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.

San Juan de Ortega 2

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.

Capitel de la Anunciación

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.

The monastery of San Martín Pinario

Once the pilgrim has reached Santiago, (s)he has a series of mandatory rituals and places to visit: the cathedral, hugging the statue of the Saint, taking the proverbial picture in the plaza de Obradoiro… But Santiago is a city with lots of hidden treasures that are worthy of discovery, and today we will talk about one of them.

The monastery of San Martín Pinario, located close to the cathedral, is the second biggest one in Spain, and it was founded in the X Century by the benedictine order. The current building is from the XVI century, and is therefore of renaissance /baroque style.

San Martín Pinario
Photo by Raúl A.: https://www.flickr.com/photos/torrelodones/

One of the most spectacular elements is the church’s vault, with fake coffers. Another item of interest is the main altarpiece, designed in the XVIII century by Casas y Novoa (the same architect that created the Obradoiro facade of the cathedral), which shows Saint Martin (sharing his cape with a poor) and St. Millán de la Cogolla and Santiago fighting infidels.

Church's vault
Photo by Diego Delso, License CC-BY-SA

An interesting anecdote is that the church’s towers rise only to the same height than the facade, due to the intervention of the cathedral chapter, which didn’t want towers higher than those of the cathedral itself.

Today the monastery hosts a museum of religious art, with an important collection of jewelery, sculptures and manuscripts.

The botafumeiro

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

Botafumeiro

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.
  • Pentecost.
  • Santiago Day, Jul. 25.
  • Assumption of Mary, Aug. 15.
  • All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1.
  • Feast of Christ the King.
  • Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8.
  • Christmas.
  • Moving of the body of the Apostle Santiago, Dec. 30.

The legend of Eunate and Olcoz

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.

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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.

Arcos-Eunate-1024x768
(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.

 

San Millán de la Cogolla, origin of the spanish language

SanMillan01

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.

SanMillan02

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.

SanMillan03

Santa María de Eunate

Of all the monuments that the pilgrim can find along the Camino de Santiago (St. James Way), one of the most original is probably the Church of Saint Mary of Eunate, one of the greatest achievements of spanish romanesque architecture.

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How to arrive.

Eunate is located 2 km. of Muruzábal, in Navarra. If you are following the Camino Francés, once you reach said town you can take a detour towards the church, instead of going straight to Obanos. Once in the church, you don’t need to backtrack to Muruzábal to go back to the Camino; you can follow the N6064 until you reach Obanos and Puente La Reina.

Why it is special.

The church of Eunate (one hundred doors, in the Basque language) is a romanesque construction from the 12th century, although there’s a lot still unknown about its origins. Since it’s outside the town, and archaeological excavations have found scallops (symbols of pilgrimage) in the burials alongside the church, it’s been speculated that it was used as a hospice for pilgrims.

(Pictures courtesy of TaxNavarra).

The most original feature in this building, aside of the arches that surround it, is its octagonal plan, extremely unusual in romanesque art. This plan, similar to that of other churches founded by the Knights Templar all across Europe, has caused all sort of theories and legends about its association with said military order, despite the lack of evidence.

The legend of Eunate and Olcoz.

Regarding this church and a similar one in the nearby town of Olcoz, there is an interesting legend, which we will recount at a later time…

Cemetery of Navarrete (old pilgrim’s hospital)

Navarrete1

One of the monuments that can be admired along the Camino is in the town of Navarrete (Logroño). Here we see the facade of the old San Juan de Acre’s pilgrim hospital, which was founded in 1185. The hospital was named after the city of Acre, located in the Middle East and used by the Knight Hospitallers of Malta as their base of operations during the Crusades.

navarrete2

In the XIXth century, given its state of disrepair, the old hospital ruins were demolished, and the facade was moved to the town’s cemetery, where it can be seen now.