The Augustinian monastery is in the “valley of thorns” in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
From the eleventh century, the plain of Erro (Derivatives are Erro-zabal, Ronzabal, Roncesvalles) has been mute witness to Roland’s fall at the hands of the Basques. A collection of medieval lyrics, “chansons de geste” recalls one of the most tragic episodes in European history.
Sancho de Larossa, the Bishop of Pamplona, built a hospital here in the X11th Century. He was generously supported by Alfonso I “el Batallador” and some nobles. The hospital received “pilgrims and others who might wish to lodge at the peak called Roncesvalles near the chapel of Charlemagne” (the original chapel at Ibaneta). The papacy assumed responsibility for the maintenance and running of the hospital.
A twelfth century poem records that the hospital was “open to all, sick and well, not only Catholics but also pagans, Jews, heretics and vagabonds…. women and men took it upon themselves to minister, doing so with great charity”.
In 1132, the hospital was transferred to a site near the collegiate church where it still stands today, an inspiring reminder of medieval man’s humanity to man.
Since it was founded by a chapter of Augustinians, it has been run by canons regular dependent on a sister house in Pamplona. In 1984, the chapter passed, with papal authority, to the direct control of the archbishop of the city. The Prior continued using the medieval title of Grand Abbot of Cologne. A canon was given the title of hospitalero, with special responsibility for pilgrims.
In the fifteenth century, the hospital was temporarily closed and some prime land in Castile and Aragon was sold. The estates also suffered two devastating fires (1445 and 1468). This setback only briefly interrupted the good works of the hospital. In the early seventeenth century it was revitalised. It is claimed that it provided 25,000 meals a year for pilgrims, rich and poor.
A very old building, some say the oldest in Roncesvalles, is the Capilla de Sancti Spiritus or Silo de Carlomagno (XII century). It is built over the graves of pilgrims who breathed their last in the area.
The thirteenth century Capilla de Santiago is much admired for its Romansque-Gothic architectural style. Visitors are struck by its unusual doorway. The reassuring and lively bell, whose joyous peals acted like a magnet for pilgrims from Ibaneta, hangs in the belfry.
The collegiate church, the creation of Sancho el Fuerte (1194-1215), was consecrated in 1219. It drew its inspiration from the churches of the Isle de France. With a French Gothic design, it is markedly distinctive, quite unlike contemporary Spanish architecture. The fires that were a constant hazard in the medieval era also reduced much of the collegiate church to ashes. It was lovingly and painstakingly restored in 1940.
Still surviving is the Pantheon Real or Sala Capitular (chapter house), (XIV). Also known as La Preciosa (“the beautiful”), it has a brilliantly sculptured thirteenth century mausoleum, the resting place of Sancho “el Fuerte” and his wife, Clemencia de Toulous. In 1600 the cloister was demolished by a severe fall of snow. The reconstruction was not of a high standard. This caricature offended many artistic and religious sensibilities.
There are no food shops in the area so take adequate precautions.
Accommodation: Casa Sabina, on the left at the entrance to the village, was highly thought of. It was comfortable, clean and relatively inexpensive. Sadly, it was closed in the summer of 2005. Is it now open?.
The new La Posada, is more expensive. Before 9.00pm during Mass, it offers a special pub meal for pilgrims. Some disgruntled customers complain that the meal is not “filling”. The La Posada. (t:948-76 0225) has no bike shed.
We would unhesitatingly recommend the clean, comfortable and congenial Real Colegiata youth hostel in the old hospital. Dinner, bread and breakfast for one person around 5 Euros.
Refuge (36) at the monastery; bunks in two rooms, hot showers, kitchen (no pans).
You will enjoy this comfortable and cool stretch. From Roncesvalles to the periphery of Pamplona large areas of shade protect you. In July/August the heat is intense but the considerate shade will keep you in a good and relaxed mood.
Depart from the monastery by the main entrance (KM47 on the N135), and turn first right into a footpath parallel to the road close to an information board. An interesting anecdote, perhaps an instructive one - in the 14th century, pilgrims usually crossed left on leaving the village. Modern pilgrims should continue along a path shaded by trees. This is roughly parallel with your starting point. This road descends gently. Stick to it.
About 2km later, you pass through a 2nd gate. Turn left to a track approaching from the right and rejoin the road at K47 close to the unmistakable HQ of the Guardia Civil. Turn right [RJ: turn left here]? and continue for 500 m to Burguete.
Cyclists should take the C135 road from Roncesvalles towards Pamplona. This is a good, generally well-surfaced road, which gently descends for 2km to the Basque village of Burguete.
A SUMMARY OF A PAGE FROM The Village to Village Guide To The Camino Santiago: With Permission Simon Walleberg Press. The Book is available at Amazon & Most Bookshops.
@Copyright Simon Wallenberg Press
From The Village to Village Guide To The Camino Santiago: With Permission from Simon Walleberg Press