Hospital de Órbigo, Part Two

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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.

Sincerely,

G. Barba

 

Spanish Beginnings: Greetings from Burgos

Unlike several other towns that we will pass through on our way to Santiago de Compostela, Burgos is not a town based on Roman foundations, but rather early medieval ones. It was a vital location during the long and bloody process of the Reconquista, during which the Catholic monarchs of Spain slowly pushed the borders of the Muslim-controlled kingdoms southward, culminating in the fall of Granada in the fifteenth century. Today, Burgos is a popular and lovely stop along the way.

Getting There
Burgos is between the major hubs of Logroño and León on the Camino de Santiago. You can also arrive by bus, or via train from Madrid, though the bus station is closer to the center of town. We came variously from Madrid, London, and Munich, and so missed out on the views of the Meseta on the way– the flat plain that stretches towards the mountains of Galicia in the west.

image.jpegThings to See
– Cathedral: The cathedral of Our Lady of Burgos is a wonderful mix of styles– built on the site of a much smaller Romanesque cathedral, the bulk of the current Gothic structure was completed in the 13th century, but has been enlarged and variously improved by each successive generation. Now a UNESCO world heritage site, we were amazed by the perforated star lights in the dome, the elaborate rococo chapels, the gilded reliquaries, and the many surviving medieval wall paintings. For fans of Spanish history, don’t miss the tomb of El Cid! The price of admission also gains you access to the cloister and a small museum.
– St. Nicolas: A Romanesque church, noted for its astonishing early plateresque altarpiece of 1505, which is the full height of the back wall and highlighted in gold leaf, and for its icon of the Virgin Bianca.
– St. Esteban, now the Museo de Retablo: Our second favorite site in Burgos, the Romanesque church of St. Esteban is home to a series of 15th and 16th c retablos… At ground level! You’ve never been able to examine altarpieces like this before. The church itself is a beautifully preserved example of Romanesque architecture, with a very rare surviving stone porch.
– The Castle: For fans of military history and amazing views. The castle is in ruins now, but there is a very nice wall walk, and the views down over the city and cathedral are breathtaking.
– The River/Arch of the Virgin: If you have time, take a walk along the small river that runs through the city, and take a look at the Arch of the Virgin, adorned with important early modern citizens of the city. Keep an eye out for the imposing statue of El Cid!

image.jpegThings to Eat/Drink:

There are many wonderful things you can say about Burgos, but the food is definitely worth an extensive mention. Like most towns along the Camino, there are many coffee shops, tapas bars and restaurants offering variations on the menu del dia. We, however, discovered two locations which are must visits. Both are near the Hotel de Norde y Londre and within walking distance of many other lodging options.

As any visitor to Spain will soon discover, the tapas bar is everywhere, which means it takes a very special place to stand out from the crowd. Donde Alberto is one. The beer and wine offerings are standard, but the tapas are fantastic. We were in Burgos for four days, and came here at least five times. The stack of tuna tartare with diced tomatoes and avocado, the goat cheese and golden raisin toast, and the toast with smoked herring, egg and goat cheese are fabulous, and only two Euro each.

For dinner, any visitor to Burgos will struggle to find better food than the features at Cuchillo de Palo. The interior is upscale, with a bar and tapas options, but the dining room is also lovely, and they didn’t seem to mind that we showed up in our pilgrim gear. Between the three of us, we tried a seared tuna filet with guacamole quenelles and soy sauce, poached Bacalao with pesto, caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes and arugula salad, and duck confit with chestnut purée and parmentier. For the quality, the price is almost criminal, and no visit to Burgos is complete without a meal here!

Today we’re taking a short break in Sahaguna, a small town which was very important during the Middle Ages. Tomorrow we leave for Leon, where we will meet up with our other Fordham Peregrinos.

Buen Camino!
Rachel Podd and Louisa Foroughi