while our guide material made reference to the Garfinny Bridge, it still came as a pleasant surprise. (partly due to the fact that we hadn’t seen a way marker in some time and I’d begun to fear we might have missed a turn.) situated “just” outside of Dingle (if you are in a car … still about an hour if you’re on foot), sources claim it is the oldest surviving stone bridge in all of Ireland. it dates from sometime in the 16th century and, like most bridges of its era, was constructed without mortar — just radial stones and clay to secure everything using a corbelling technique. the apex of the arch stands about 3 meters over the river surface.
the informational plaque indicates that the troops of Lord Deputy Arthur Grey may have crossed this bridge on their way to massacre some 600 Irish, Italian and Spanish rebels at Smerwick Bay. Grey, along with some 6,000 recruited soldiers, had been sent to Ireland in 1580 as Lord Deputy to put down the Second Desmond Rebellion. he was largely successful in stifling the rebellion, but even at the time some of his actions were questioned, such as the massacre at Smerwick. (he also executed a former chief justice for suspicion that the man supported the rebellion.) many say he promised the rebels safety if they surrendered their weapons and position, a promise that he soon broke, giving rise to the term “Grey’s faith.”
by the 19th century, the bridge had begun to collapse and people opted to ford the river a bit upstream. in the late 20th century, the bridge was restored to its current condition, which found us crossing the river by it rather than the nearby modern road.
as the title of my last post about Spain alluded to, the one-hundred kilometer threshold holds significance on the Camino. for those of us who set out from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port or farther afield, it serves as a somewhat awe-inducing reminder of how far you’ve come and how a once-staggering distance (i.e. the last 100 kilometers) now seems all but inconsequential. for many, though, Sarria marks a convenient location with lots of lodging and dining amenities from which to start an abbreviated but Compostela-earning Camino. in other words, you can walk from Sarria and still receive a certificate of your achievement upon reaching Santiago. some quarter of of all those who complete the Camino and wait in line to receive their Compostela start in Sarria.
while archaeological evidence points to pre-Roman settlement of Sarria, better evidence dates from the 6th century when a Bishop spearheaded resettlement after a Moorish invasion. early noble Galician families viewed the town as their seat and later Alfonso IX died in Sarria while on his pilgrimage to Santiago; the hotel in which we stayed right next to the rio Sarria was named in his honor.
during the 15th century, disgruntled peasants revolted in Galicia and destroyed the castles and holdings of nobles in Melide, Arcos, and Sarria. after its destruction, a bishiop reconstructed the castle in Sarria, but it didn’t last very long before deteriorating and falling apart. all that remains of the former residence of the counts of Lemos is one reconstructed tower.
in an effort to reach our next destination in time to secure some sort of tolerable lodging in Portomarin, we left Sarria as the sun rose. the view from atop the hill above the city as the sunrise burned off the fog was wonderful. just after crossing the medieval Ponte Apsera over the rio Celerio we had a close encounter with an early-morning commuter train. not unpleasantly close, giddily close. it was an interesting reminder of how long it had been since we’d been on any means of motorized transportation … and how we had another week on foot before reacquainting ourselves with such speedy movement.
seeing the strategic importance of the ford over the river at Órbigo, the Romans established a town here, though it remained quite small for quite some time. over the centuries, towns grew up on both sides of the river, resulting in several names for the town based on the primary function of each — Hospital for its work with peregrinos, Encomienda for the Knights Templar, and Puente for the bridge.
the bridge is by far the most remarkable site in the town. its one of the longest and best preserved medieval bridges in Spain, dating from the 13th century though several of the arches have been destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries (including two by the Spanish in an effort to halt Napoleon’s march sweep across Spain). the view from the bridge offers great views of the jousting lists, which appear to remain standing year-round though we saw a poster advertising jousts set to take place about two weeks after we walked through.
apparently, Órbigo is known for a particular joust, known as the Paso Honroso, that took place in the Jacobean Holy Year of 1434. a Leonese knight, Suero de Quiñones — scorned by his lady and wearing an iron collar as a symbol of being bound to her — sought and received permission from Juan II of Castilla to hold a special tournament wherein all knights passing the venue could be pressed into participating. those refusing to participate had to leave a token of their cowardice and wade across the river. the king proved highly obliging for the event, providing accommodations, having his herald pronounce the terms of Quiñones challenge throughout the kingdom, and “inviting” all the knights at court to participate. (as my cultural book describes it, everyone at court was bored of the “messy intricacies of court politics and gruesome dynastic wars and yearning for a simpler world they read about in … books of chivalry.”)
Quiñones chose to stage his tournament beginning in July 11, two weeks before St. James’ Day when the number of peregrinos, eager to receive the extra perks of completing the Camino during a Holy Year, was highest. during the several weeks the tournament lasted, Quiñones broke some “300 lances,” including some belonging to a Catalán knight named Gutierre de Quijada. in acknowledgement of Quiñones reputation, Quijada dressed in double-thick armor; Quiñones mocked this decision by dressing in light armor and a woman’s blouse which seemed like a good idea until Quijada knocked him to the ground. Quiñones continued to mock his opponent, dancing up and proclaiming the blow Quijada landed was nothing. shamed and embarrassed, Quijada and his men rode off, continuing on their way to Santiago. two weeks later on August 9, Quiñones wrapped the tournament up by removing his iron collar and proclaiming himself free of his lady and announcing his intention to compete the Camino as a sign of his new-found freedom.
twenty-four years after the tournament of 1434 and Quiñones’ Camino to Santiago de Compostela, he encountered Gutierre de Quijada while out riding. not one to let the previous, reputation-sullying encounter go, Quijada and Quiñones dropped their visors and rode at one another and after a few passes Quiñones fell once again but this time didn’t manage to spring up and dance around to mock the blow.