After spending a particularly lovely evening of yoga and vegan food at the Albergue Verde, we stopped on our path to Santiago for a brief while at Hospital de Órbigo’s most famous historical attraction – its medieval bridge named the Puente del Paso Honroso.
While this bridge no longer spans a broad and brimming river (recent dam construction has limited the Órbigo to two smaller paths on either end of the bridge), it still stands prominent in the heart of this town on the Way. Constructed in the 13th century, this bridge has been continually reconstructed from over five lost arches due to flooding and near destruction in the Napoleonic Wars – an excellent example of medieval architecture surviving and adapting well into the modern period.
While the architectural presence and history of this Camino mainstay may be fairly impressive, one particular historical 15th century anecdote lives on to this day – the “Paso Honroso” of Suero de Quiñones. This story of one knight and his blind devotion to his lady sounds like something out of a dime-novel fantasy, but in fact it was all too real on the Camino nearly six hundred years ago.
Picture the twilight hours of the Spanish medieval period: the emergent power of the Christian kings of Spain against their Islamic enemies. The Reconquista was creeping southward, fueled by the knights of León (among the other Christian Iberian kingdoms). One such knight, Suero de Quiñones (1409 – 1456) is the subject of the legend of the “paso honroso”, meaning literally the honorable step. Quiñones, a proper knight of his time, was caught up in the zeitgeist of the chivalric code of honor – particularly with the concept of courtly love. Dedicating himself to a noblewoman by the name of Doña Leonor de Tobar, this knight took to fasting and wearing an iron collar every Thursday to symbolize his love for her. Unfortunately, she did not reciprocate and Quiñones was forced to up his game.
In January of 1434, Quiñones petitioned the King of León for the right to hold a tournament and challenge all knights who wished to cross the Puente de Órbigo. The King gave his permission, and in July 1434 Quiñones and nine compatriots established their post to challenge all knights who dared pass them – a situation that might sound familiar to those who remember the Black Knight of Monty Python fame. Don Suero aimed to break 300 lances in this tournament, and thanks to the well-trod nature of the Camino de Santiago, he managed to challenge and defeat 68 knights total. Despite this, Quiñones and his comprades only managed to break roughly 200 lances. Even though he fell below his original goal, the knights of the paso honroso declared their contest over and successful in August of 1434 – with Quiñones himself symbolically removing his iron collar and vowing to take on the role of a pilgrim and travel to Compostela to give his arms to Santiago, thus ending the tale of the paso honroso. As a final note to the story, Quiñones himself would live for another 20 years until he met with a knight he had dishonored at the Puente de Órbigo, who promptly challenged him to a duel that immediately killed that most famous knight, Suero de Quiñones.
When we entered the town we saw the beginnings of the preparations for the Fiestas de las Justas del Paso Honroso: the annual celebration of the 1434 tournament that began in 1997. The Puente del Paso Honroso is a great historic example of the eclectic legends that line the road to Santiago, and a historical moment that would inspire the likes of Miguel de Cervantes’ monumental novel Don Quijote.