ritual and the botafumeiro

Compostelas in hand, we dropped our packs at our hotel, a neat, modern place just beyond the limits of the old city walls, then headed back to the cathedral for the noon peregrino mass — featuring the botafumeiro! 

while the exterior facade of the Cathedral (added in the 1750s) is quite stunning, the inside is pretty plain, particularly in comparison to some of Europe’s other grand cathedrals, though well kept and clean. I suppose, when one stops to think about it, it isn’t the fanciest cathedral in Spain by a long way, and perhaps not even the snazziest cathedral on the Camino; simply the most enthusiastically anticipated. I suppose the organ pipes jutting out over the heads of peregrinos in the middle aisle is rather striking…

we arrived “late” to the peregrino mass, a mere fifteen minutes before the hour, and all the seats, as well as the best of the standing room, were taken up by others eager to hear the Mass or see the botafumeiro in action, depending on religious persuasion. we still managed a decent spot standing near the intersection of the nave and transept which afforded us with a closer view of the action. they delivered a pretty standard and benign (at least to my non-Catholic ears) homily. it got somewhat heavy-handed and blunt at times about the importance of having the Church and Jesus in one’s life, which Andy was luckily immune to by virtue of not understanding Spanish. they began the service, however, by listing all the home countries (or cities, if they were from Spain) of the peregrinos who’d arrived in Santiago de Compostela in the previous 24 hours. (as I write this in January, 5 peregrinos arrived in Santiago today.)

as a non-religious person who could count on one hand the number of times attending a Catholic Mass of any variety, it was interesting to attend a Catholic Mass in a Catholic country with a group of people that includes those who walked at least 100 kilometers to reach Santiago. there was a young-ish woman standing immediately to my left who knew all the words and all the ritual of the Mass by heart; it was somewhat arresting to observer her and so many others go through the routine of their devotion. the last time I remember memorizing something to repeat it back on command was in my 10th grade French class — La Cigale et La Fourmi par Jean de la Fontaine — and I haven’t had reason to recite it in more than a decade and probably couldn’t muddle my way through it now.

homily concluded, they prepared for the event many people came to see — getting the censer to swing from the roof on onside of the nave to the roof on the other side of the nave. there are several vessels they use for this demonstration; we probably saw La Alcachofa (literally: the artichocke) in action that Friday in June. the Botafumeiro is an alloy of bronze and brass, plated with silver, was crafted in 1851 by a silver and goldsmith named Losada. it’s normally on display in the cathedral library. it’s one of the largest censers in the world and stands at 1.6 meters tall. La Alcachofa was crafted in 1971 and can be filled with about 40 kilograms of incense, which wafts over the heads of peregrinos in the transept as it swings from side to side at speeds of up to 68 kph. the top of the swing is about 21 meters up and takes about 17 swings by eight red-robed tiraboleiros to reach that speed, after about 80 seconds of pulling.

some hold that the use of the botafumeiro dates back to the 11th century; there was need to deaden the smell of the arriving peregrinos, weary, sweaty, unwashed and it was believed that the incense smoke also served the purpose of deadening “plagues” or epidemics carried in by peregrinos. in the 15th century Louis XI donated money to replace the silver medieval thurible; Napoleon’s troops stole it in 1809.

while it’s well secured by the ropes that the tiraboleiros pull on, there have been several instances of malfunction ranging from the botafumeiro flying out a window to simply tipping coals onto the ground. the most dramatic incident came when Catherine of Aragon stopped in Santiago while on her way to marry Arthur in England — during the swing, the botafumeiro flew out the Platerias window (over the south entrance to the Catedral), but somehow managed to not injure anyone. the last incident occurred in 1937. it was smooth sailing for La Alcachofa for our visit.

San Martín of Frómista

Frómista is best known for its church of San Martín de Tours. construction of the church and its accompanying monastery (which has since vanished) began in the late 11th century at the instigation of the widow of Sancho el Mayor. her family was known for building churches and also commissioned the Catedral de Jaca and San Isidoro in León.

architects from the Jaca project designed San Martín as a reduced-scale model of the cathedral — a house of worship worthy of the Camino. designed in the Romanesque style, the large, evenly cut stones were quarried elsewhere and transported to Frómista; it also features an octagonal cupola, rounded apses, and remarkably detailed corbels and square metopes supporting the roof. the over 300 grotesques depict animals, vegetables, geometric knots and sirens (I thought I even spied a pineapple … but couldn’t decide whether that made sense in terms of chronology, trans-oceanic exploration, and native plants). 

those painstaking attentions didn’t hold out in perpetuity, however — by the 13th century the monks abandoned the monastery; several ownership changes in the next 200 years saw some additions and expansions to the structure but it began to decay starting in the 15th century and by the middle of the 19th century it was deemed unacceptable for celebrations.

that’s when things took an interesting turn: in 1894, the building was de-consecrated, restored, reopened and recognized as a National Monument. now it’s open to the public, as I mentioned, and draws scads of coach tours from all over Spain to admire it.

El Cid

my knowledge of El Cid, the legendary Spanish warrior, is limited to say the least. I probably know more about Don Quixote and I’ve never read a word of Cervantes. when we saw his statue leading the charge over the Arlanzón River in Burgos, I had no idea it represented; only after looking at the inscription of the base in a photo later did I see his name.

born in 1043 as Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, nobleman, military leader and diplomat, El Cid commanded both Moorish and blended Moorish-Christian troops during the mid-to-late 11th century. he came from a family of courtiers, bureaucrats, and aristocrats, though later peasants considered him one of their own. he significantly elevated his status and those of his heirs through his marriage to a kinswoman of Alfonso VI (Jimena Diaz) and by virtue of his daughter’s marriages to other noblemen. to this day, many European monarchs can trace an ancestral link back to El Cid through his grandson, García Ramírez of Navarre, as well as a great-granddaughter. 

his title derives from both Spanish and Arabic — el signifying “he” in both languages; cid stemming from sidi or sayyid, meaning “lord” or “master;” campeador translating to “champion” or “challenger”: The Master Champion. across the continent at the time, it was common for leaders of armies to pit champions against one another to determine a battle outcome. El Cid served Alfonso VI of Castilla (following an exile from the Castillian court and reinstatement after he’d spent several years fighting for the Moors).

he began his military career under Sancho II, fighting against the Moorish stronghold of Zaragoza in 1057 on his behalf and defeating an Aragonese knight in single combat to receive his honorific title of “campeador.” after Sancho III’s assassination (result of a pact — and possible plot — between Alfonso VI and his sister Urraca), Alfonso VI returned to reclaim the throne of Castilla; the populace was understandably suspicious of his intentions. according to the epic poem, El Cid led a group of men to force Alfonso to swear publicly on holy relics that he did not have a hand in his brother’s death. though widely reported as fact there’s little in the way of “historical evidence” to support this proposition.
several years later, and without Alfonso’s consent, El Cid led an excursion against Moorish-held Granada; Alfonso disapproved and consequently exiled the Campeador for several years (for this among other reasons). El Cid moved to Barcelona at first and later entered into the service of Moorish kings, defending some of the very territory he helped to retake on behalf of Spanish kings a few years previously. his success emboldened him and, once Alfonso recalled him (in 1087), he didn’t stick around Castilla very long — he had an eye to allow the weakening of both Alfonso’s army and the army he commanded, providing him opportunity to ruler over Valencia. by the middle of 1094, El Cid had carved out his own principality along the coast near Valencia; although he technically ruled in Alfonso’s name he acted independently.

his reign over Valencia lasted five years before his former allies/subordinates besieged the city and he died. while the famine and unsanitary living conditions that accompanied the siege undermined his health, many believe that the death of his only son the preceding year precipitated his death. legend holds that his wife had his corpse dressed in full armor and set atop his horse in an effort to bolster morale among his besieged troops. two years after his death (and still several months before Valencia finally fell into Moorish control), his wife fled the city for Burgos where his body was buried (and later re-interred at the enter of the Burgos Cathedral).

Atapuerca

after leaving Agés at just after dawn (as I mentioned — some peregrinos get up really early to start their day’s walking), the first town we walked through was home to an archaeological sight excavating caves around Atapuerca. filled with fossils, the caves contain all manner of evidence dating back 1.2 million years; the hominid remains are the oldest ever discovered in Europe.

the first remains came to light at the end of the 19th century because of excavations for railroad expansion; the regional hub of Burgos lies just over the mountains from Atapuerca. full-scale archaeological excavations began in the mid 1960s and continue today. at the most famous area of the site, some 5,500 human bones have been unearthed since 1995 dating from early humans onward. some of the remains might demonstrate the link between homo sapiens and a precursor of neanderthals (known as homo antecessor).

while its archaeological significance has put Atapuerca on the map, it also hosted a major battle in the middle of the 11th century between brothers and rival kings of Castilla and Navarra. problems arose from the father splitting his territory among son and, according to some sources, perhaps fraternal betrayal, double-crosses and imprisonment. whatever the reasons leading to the Battle of Atapuerca on the first of September in 1054, at the end of the bloodshed King García Sánchez III of Navarre lay dead and his brother Ferdinand I of Castilla emerged victorious, reclaiming land he’d previously annexed to Navarra.

Canterbury’s Norman Castle

first stop on this Great Britain tour is the Norman Castle in Canterbury; seeing the Cliffs of Dover in one of the top-of-the-hour teaser videos actually inspired me to write about my adventures.

my trip to Canterbury is probably the one that has come up most often in the intervening years — one of my early misadventures that resulted in an interesting anecdote. Becca and I set off on one of our days off with an eye to visiting the site where, as one of our high school history teachers regaled us, Sir Thomas Becket was gruesomely martyred by men loyal to Henry II. (whether Henry II called for the hit remains a matter of hotly contested historical debate.) 

the day started out well enough, catching a train from Waterloo station towards Dover, but got complicated in short order. we failed to change trains at a key juncture — who knew that garbled announcement we heard as the train paused in Ashford directed us to change to another line for Canterbury? and deduced our mistake as the white cliffs of Dover rolled past the train window. thankfully, the return train towards London (via Ashford) departed within a few minutes of our unintended arrival and we successfully found ourselves in Canterbury a relatively short while later.

after a short visit to the Cathedral (possibly about which more later) we headed for the more interesting — to me at least — site of the Norman Castle, constructed shortly after the pivotal Battle of Hastings in 1066. following his victory at Hastings, William the Conqueror (aka William I) headed towards London via this road from Dover; to defend the road three motte-and-bailey castles were constructed, one of which stood on the site in Canterbury we visited.

the ruins we saw are from the stone keep constructed during the rein of Henry I. made of flint and sandstone chips, it was one three royal castles in Kent at the time; part of the enclosure reused the city wall originally constructed by the Romans.. by the 14th century, larger castles in Dover overshadowed this castle and it became a jail; by the 17th century it had fallen into ruin. it’s now owned and run by local authority and open to the public year round, which is why we were able to wander in and take a look around in the middle of a not-quite-drizzly afternoon.

the return journey, while successful, also presented an unwanted adventure that I’m sure at least one of us could have done without. all in all, though, I enjoyed the day trip and getting to see a structure that has seen innumerable changes over centuries and centuries.

entering Castilla

on day 10 we crossed into the third — and largest — autonomous region on our Camino: Castilla y León. encompassing over 94,000 square kilometers and (in 2011) home to 2.5 million people, it is the largest region in Spain. because the governments are autonomous, each offers slightly different aides for peregrinos — maps, directional markers, municipal albergues. the maps in Castilla y León were perhaps the most useful and comprehensive, though found less frequently than in Galicia, for example. as you can see, it includes all the tiny towns along the Camino, as well as noteworthy sights, plus distances listed by the stages of the medieval method of Camino demarcation — the Codex Calixtinus (about which more soon).


the climate and geography Castilla y León differ quite dramatically from the preceding and subsequent regions and, thinking back, I’m rather surprised at how quickly the change occurred. whereas rolling hills characterize Rioja and Navarra, the terrain of Castilla y León primarily consists of and largely constitutes Spain’s Meseta Central, an arid, mostly flat, high plain with elevations between 610 and 760 meters. basically, it was very flat with the occasional steep mesa or small hill. mountain ranges border and divide Castilla y León into smaller regions; thankfully, for the most part we got to enjoy the mountain views from afar rather than while climbing over ranges. because its buffered on all sides by mountain ranges, the region remains quite arid though, because of its size, temperatures and precipitation vary dramatically. in the central areas, fewer than 18 inches of rain might fall a year while to the west upwards of 59 inches might fall.


as one might deduce, the roots of Castilla y León lie in separate kingdoms of the middle ages. the name of the former comes from the castles and forts built to defend the kingdom’s eastern border (similar to those discussed in previous posts) and was first referenced in 800. over the next century and a half the kingdom was periodically divided and reconstituted until, through the rebellion efforts of Count Fernán González , the kingdom was unified into an autonomous entity in 931 that no longer paid vassalage to León. 

this independence was short lived as a series of political machinations-via-marriage, untimely deaths, and brotherly feuds brought the two kingdoms under the same crown for a brief period during the reign of Ferdinand I. his death in 1065 resulted in division of territories among sons, fighting between said sons, more reunification, more divisions, more fighting, and so on into the 13th century. Alfonso VII divided the territory between his two sons (Sancho III got Castilla; Ferdinand II, León). the two factions finally joined permanently when in 1230, after having assumed the throne of Castilla in 1217 through his mother, Ferdinand III assumed the throne of León through his father Alfonso IX.
 
León was formed when Alfonso the Great (III of Asturias) divided his land among his three sons, with Galicia, León and Asturias going to Ordoño II, García I, and Fruela II, respectively. Ordoño II’s successor, Ramiro II worked ardently to push back Muslim incursions, successfully driving them back from previously-settled territory and establishing a no-go area along the Duoro river valley that divided northern Christian-held territory from Muslim-held territory on the southern Iberian peninsula.

despite Alfonso IX best intentions, the unification of Castilla and León under one crown remains a contentious issue. the people of León did not take the increasing dominance Castilla well and, even today, we saw lots of anti-Castillian sentiment in the western part of the region. (throughout Astorga, for example, someone had gone around town and spray-painted out the “Castilla” part on governmental signs.) despite the royal centralization, the regions retained separate languages, currencies, flags, laws, and governmental systems until Spain centralized its government in the modern era, though by the 16th century Castilla had assumed majority control and León was, in practice, a captaincy-general. (fun fact: in 19th century, the Kingdom of León joined Galicia and Asturias to declare war on France — presumably against Napoleon.)

and all of this is to say that Castilla y León is big. the biggest region we walked through by a long way and despite the unity one might infer by the name, reality is somewhat different. researching all this has put that portion of the Camino into a different perspective for me — at the time it seemed dully monotonous because the terrain remained relatively static; but it turns out there’s a rich socio-political history to uncover. just took a little digging.

San Juan de Ortega

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.

Santo Domingo de la Calzada

the popular town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada takes its name from Domingo García, an 11th century hermit who improved conditions on the Camino for peregrinos. he repeatedly tried to join the Benedictines, spending time studying at two different monasteries, but he proved so inept in his studies they refused to let him continue. still determined to live a religious life, he became a hermit and, following a dream, went to work with San Gregorio Ostiense (who’d been sent by papal envoy to to address a locust plague affecting Navarra and Rioja) improving the Camino in Rioja. when Gregorio died, Domingo returned to the region of the rio Oja (where he’d been a hermit) to continue their work.

his first project was building a stone causeway (calzada), leading to the wooden bridge he’d helped Gregorio construct. it served served as an alternative to the Roman route between Burgos and Leon. that done, he used a sickle to cut 37 kilometers of road through forests to improve the route between Nájera and Redecilla del Camino (on the way to Belorado). as this route became more popular, he replaced the wooden bridge with one of stone. soon thereafter, García Sánchez III granted Domingo permission to convert an old fort into un hospital de peregrinos; around this hospice a larger village grew.

peregrino statue/fountain

when King Alfonso VI of Castilla captured the area in 1076, he enlisted Domingo’s help in civic works projects like those he’d already undertaken. (Alfonso VI was the first to officially refer to the region as “La Rioja” after the river that is the region’s focal point. I felt silly for not noting this fact earlier.) together with a disciple (San Juan de Ortega), Domingo devoted the remainder of his live to improving the Camino — rebuilding bridges, clearing more roadway, anything that bolstered his vision. he devoted his last few years to constructing a church in the village, where he was buried upon his death in 1109. though his church burned in the mid-12th century, the replacement (a colegiata) was much larger and sufficiently impressive to warrant the transfer of the bishopric from Calahorra there in 1227.

as with all saints, miracles are attributed to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, about which you can read more here. suffice it to say that, in honor of Domingo’s miracles, a rooster and a chicken (with white feathers) are kept on the cathedral grounds and peregrinos used to gather feathers from the birds and affix them to their hats. it was said that if one of the chickens ate directly from the hand of a particular peregrino it meant he (or she) would make it to Santiago de Compostela safely.

again, the village location on the Navarra-Castilla frontier meant it changed hands more often than residents enjoyed — six times between 1076 and 1143 (with Castilla ultimately victorious). two centuries later it was also the focal point of Pedro the Cruel’s ill-fated war against his brother; leading up to 1364, Pedro had 38 towers and 7 gates built along a 1.6 kilometer wall that enclosed the city. those walls remained largely intact until 1886; today only the fragments of 8 towers, 2 gates, and 300 meters of wall remain.

unlike many of the other small towns that we passed through on our way to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, this town has grown fairly steadily since the 1850s. as of 2010 the population stands at just under 7,000 inhabitants.

Nájera

a day of welcome overcast skies brought us to Nájera, a town astride the rio Najerilla at the base of some remarkable cliffs. again — Roman origins, Moorish control for a while (the name of the town actually has Arabic origins), but a history of more diplomatic rather than military transitions of power. by virtue of its location, Nájera controlled both the east-west traffic on the Camino, but also the transport of goods downriver from the fertile plains nearby. 


Nájera was a multicultural city from early on and part of the first translation of the Qur’an into a European language may have originated here. much of Spanish law derives from the charter granted the town by Sancho Garces III, who also minted the first Christian coinage in Spain following the expulsion of the Moors.  as with many other towns along the Camino, Nájera hosted a sizable Jewish population but unlike persecution endured elsewhere, the 11th-century charter equalized penalty for killing a noble, a cleric, or a Jew at 250 sueldos.


there was a spot of bother with the Monasterio de Santa Maria stemming from the Castillian capture of Rioja in 1076. a Castillian king donated the monastery to the Benedictines of Cluny in 1079, which enraged the bishop of the monastery, who physically relocated the bishopric to Calahorra, downriver. when later appealed to for intervention, the Pope declined and the new bishop took matters into his own hands, raiding the monastery, assaulting monks, and stealing valuables from the altars and library. the Pope did not take to kindly to this, excommunicating the bishop, who was also barred from entering Navarra by its king. shortly thereafter Castilla and Navarra went to war over Rioja and the new prior of the monastery managed to enrich it by playing both sides. 

interesting fact for Anglophiles: Edward the Black Prince led troops at the Battle of Nájera in 1367, supporting Pedro (the Cruel) against his brother Enrique II in the Castillian Civil War (also part of the Hundred Years War). the English-backed Pedro completely routed the French-backed Enrique — the English were attacking dismounted French troops and were using longbows for the first time in the Iberian Peninsula. despite Pedro’s victory here, however, he didn’t hold onto power for very long; he and Edward fell out over money and he couldn’t sustain his throne without the benefit of foreign support.

Logroño and sun poisoning

the Camino — one does it for tapas (rather than in stages or “etapas”)

the end of our first week on the Camino brought us into Logroño, a university town and regional capital just over the border of Navarra in the Rioja region. the walk was long and hot and made more challenging by sunburns (from the stage from Puente la Reina to Estella) that flared into sun poisoning as a result of the sun and distance. thankfully, we found a great, comfortable hotel (f&g Hotel) at the intersection just over the bridge crossing the rio Ebro where we promptly decamped, showered and I set off in search of some Gatorade to help recover from the sun poisoning.


Puente de Piedra – built in 1884

once again, the original settlement dates from Roman times and, after Sancho Garcés of Pamplona and Orduño II of Leon reclaimed it from Moorish control, proved a prize over which kings of Navarra, Aragon and Castilla frequently quarreled. (records claim that El Cid, conspiring with Moors in Zaragoa intent on unsettling the Castillian border, attacked the city in 1073.) the charter granted the city by Alfonso VI, coupled with his successful aim of making the city strong and prosperous, only increased its desirability for enemies; very few medieval monuments remain because of the frequency with which the city endured violence. for example:: in 1134 Castilla took it from Aragon; in 1160 Navarra took it; in 1176 it was taken back by Castilla; in 1336 four men held off an attack by Navarra by defending the end of the bridge; in 1369 it fell to Navarra anyway; in 1375 it went to allies of Castilla in whose hands it remained until 1460 when Navarra, aided by Aragon, reclaimed it only to lose it almost immediately back to Castilla. it also fell to Napoleon in the 19th century and suffered heavily during the War of Independence and was occupied during the 1833-34 Carlist War.


during the 14th century, anti-Semitic riots destroyed the Jewish quarter, which stood just outside the city walls, while over the two centuries in which the Spanish Inquisition operated, Logroño was the seat of Basque witch trials. in 1569, the Hospital de Roque Amador, an albergue, was taken to serve as the center of Inquisition activities.


after a nap, two bottles of Gatorade, and some ibuprofen, the sun poisoning had abated enough to allow for dinner. the delay was something of a boon, in fact; rather than eating at the absurdly early hour of “before 7 p.m.” we wandered into the plaza in front of the Concatedral of Santa Maria de la Redonda (they share a bishop with two other churches nearby) to catch the tail end of some sort of trivia game and performance that had drawn quite a crowd.


out and about in central Logroño

we chowed down on some pasta — the first thoroughly enjoyable and filling meal I’d had since arriving in Spain — and wandered the streets of Logroño to see what there was to see. saw plenty of graffiti and a few murals (like the one pictured). saw some dodgier allies than those we’d seen in Pamplona. did not see any more prostitutes (but I avoided the back street I’d seen them working earlier when in search of Gatorade and aloe). saw the organization of Friends of the Camino in La Rioja. and called it an early night in the hopes that a good night’s sleep would prove sufficient to allow us to continue on the Camino the following day, rather than taking a day to let sunburned legs keep us holed up an unexpected extra day. sleep — with the help of our hearty dinner — did help. and though our meal wasn’t all that adventurous or special, turns out Logroño has one of the most distinguished culinary traditions in Spain, is well known for its tapas (again, see the mural above) and in 2012 was named the gastronomic capital of Spain.


(lastly, I just have to note that of all the small-to-medium-sized towns I’ve investigated via Wikipedia for these posts, the page for Logrono has been the most intriguing.)