San Juan de Ortega

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as I referenced in my last post, Domingo de la Calzada had a disciple named San Juan de Ortega (known to us English speakers as John the Hermit). born near Burgos in the late 11th century, he helped construct bridges in Logroño, Santo Domingo and Nájera. when Domingo died, Juan went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and nearly died in a shipwreck on his return. his prayers to San Nicolas to save him from death apparently answered, Juan devoted himself to improving the Camino between Villafranca Montes de Oca and Burgos.

Church in San Juan de Ortega

he erected a monastery about 50 kilometers west of the one Domingo established and attracted the patronage of Alfonso VII of Castilla. the King supported the monastery with tax money from around Villafranca and visited several times, going so far as to choose Juan as his personal confessor. following in that vein, Pope Innocent II offered his personal protection which proved useful for some 25 years before Juan’s death.

despite the royal patronage, the monastery and hospice struggled through the Middle Ages following Juan’s death. he’s buried in the church and serves as the patron saint of hospice-keepers, children and barren mothers (this line in my book made me wonder: are they already mothers who have become barren, or are they women who wish to be come pregnant and thus not yet technically mothers?).  among those who received his aid was Isabel (I) la Catolica, Castillian queen of the 15th century who conceived following two separate visits to the San Juan’s tomb. the church is built in such a way so that the rays of the setting sun on each equinox fall on the statue of the Virgin Mary, which some see as bolstering his fertility-aid claims. by 1756, some 114 miracles were granted according to monastery records. no mention of how many have been granted since then … 

Villafranca Montes de Oca

while our guidebook recommended we stop over in San Juan de Ortega, the reality of the situation (in which there are some 58 beds in the only albergue in town, all of which were taken by noon) prompted us to merely pause, refill our water and push on to Agés. we weren’t alone in stopping in at the only bar in town, though; in addition to many peregrinos there was a group of Spanish troops stopping for lunch. first and only people we saw in military uniform while in Spain which, it turned out, wasn’t terribly surprising as there’s a military training installation in the hills between Agés and Burgos.

Author: Erica

born in the midwest with wandering feet.