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The Pilgrim's Way to Santiago


Kings, battles, affronts, vengeance, witches, giants... A fantastic world of myths that the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago de Compostela has generated over the centuries. Delve into the legends of the Pilgrim's Way:

Legend of Roldán (Roland) and Ferragut

Capitel del Palacio de los Reyes. Estella-Lizarra

If you are lucky enough to pass in front of the Palacio de los Reyes (Palace of the Kings) in Estella, a singular example of a Romanesque palace, the legend of Roland and Ferragut is sculpted on one of the capitals that decorate the façade. The legend goes as follows:

At that time, in which Charlemagne, King of the Franks, lived the splendour of his empire surrounded by the heroic aura of his twelve knights, a Muslim giant of Syrian origin from the line of Goliath dared to challenge each of the twelve soldiers.

He first beat the great Ogier, a nobleman from Montauban, and then all the others until he came to the last, the valiant Roland. Although Charlemagne did not want to put Roland in danger in this way the latter accepted the challenge, which was traditionally held in the town of Nájera.

According to rumours Roland may have been a nephew, or even the son, of Charlemagne as a result of the incestuous love of the emperor and his sister?

The fights between Roland and Ferragut were horrific, but were so equally balanced that a truce had to be called finally because there was no clear winner. During the truce, Roland and Ferragut got to know each other well and the latter, ingenuous and overly trusting, confessed the secret of his power to his new friend: only one point on his body was vulnerable, his navel.

At lunch next day Roland started a discussion about the truth and the error of the two religions, which were declared enemies at the time. The discussion got more and more heated until they decided to sort it out with an ordalía, a fight in an enclosed yard.

Naturally, in the first round of the fight Roland plunged his spear into the weak point that Ferragut had revealed to him, his navel. And that is how the proud but naive Ferragut was mortally wounded.

Since then, many boys in Nájera have been christened with the name of that legendary giant: Ferragut.


Legend of San Virila

Monasterio de Leyre

Narrated by Abbot San Virila.

At the time, I was tormented by the dilemma of Eternity and I was continuously plagued by doubts. I prayed to Our Lord God for him to reveal this mystery and light up the truth in my heart. One spring evening, as I often used to do, I went for a walk among the leafy trees of the Leire mountain range.

Tired, I sat down next to a fountain and stayed there bewitched and hypnotised by the beautiful song of a nightingale.

After what I thought were a few hours, I returned to the monastery, my home. After passing through the front door, none of the monks there were familiar to me. I walked through the different rooms, surprised at what I saw and realising that some strange was happening.

When I became aware that nobody recognised me I went to see the Prior, who listened to my story with astonished attention. We walked towards the library to try and decipher the enigma. Looking through old documents we discovered that "around three hundred years ago, a holy monk called San Virila had ruled the monastery and had been eaten by wild animals on one of his spring walks in the woods"?

With tears in my eyes, I understood that I was that monk and that God had finally listened to my prayers.


Legend of San Ataulfo

Refectorio de la Catedral de Pamplona

Narrated by Acipilon

During the 9th century the customs in the north of the Iberian Peninsula were not completely exemplary, we could say. We lived in an impure era, full of scandals involving monks, abandoned wives and clerics with concubines. A rumour spread that the Bishop of Compostela, Ataulfo II, wanted to put an end to the abuse and re-establish ecclesiastical discipline even though he would have to take drastic measures. This decision, however, did not please those who enjoyed the benefits of these abuses at all.

So, one cold winter afternoon, my companion Cadón and I were visited by a number of rebel clerics who were very upset by the interference of the Bishop. They asked us to appear before the King of Asturias at the time, Alfonso III 'el Magno' (the Great). We were to accuse Ataulfo of conspiring against his kingdom and of being in league with the Moors to hand over the lands of Galicia to them. We did so, because we did not want to see our privileges reduced either. It was not difficult to convince the King, because one of his aims was that of finishing off all the enemies of his crown.

One day the Bishop went to see Alfonso III. He had not even finished paying his respects when he was taken prisoner. Like any traitor, he was to be left to his luck in front of a fighting bull.

On the day of the trial the square where this was to happen was full of people. We were all shouting enthusiastically, hoping to see how the bull would finish off that powerful threat. When the beast came out he ran straight for Ataulfo, but just before he brushed the bishop's clothing, to everyone's amazement the bull stopped dead and lowered its head meekly, allowing Ataulfo to grab it by the horns. Feeling remorse, I understood that we had made a serious mistake because his innocence had been clearly proven.

History made sure that this event was not forgotten. The bishop is now immortalised in a beautifully carved capital in the refectory of Pamplona Cathedral.


Legend of the Witch of Bargota


When I was a child I used to play with my brother and friends near the small lake at Viana, now known as La Laguna de las Cañas. It was believed that witches from all over the region used to get together on the banks of the lake to invoke the Devil, but we children never dared to ask how true such stories were.

One night, my brother convinced me to stay awake and keep watch. I was struck by terror when I saw several magic silhouettes in the sky, flying in the direction of the lake of Viana.

When I got home I hid under the sheets, terrified, and while my brother tried to comfort me he suddenly left the room as if possessed by some spirit. Despite my fears, I jumped out of bed and followed him. We plunged into the darkness of the night and ran towards the lake with expectation. Among the reeds we saw how a group of witches danced around a big fire while they recited incomprehensible phrases. Among them we were able to recognise Juanes, a man from the town who, according to rumours, had always wanted to be ordained a priest.

A few days later rumours spread that the ?Brujo de Bargota?, which was Juanes' nickname, had invoked the Devil one night and had made use of evil genies to build his house in just one night. Although we had witnessed their coven we did not dare confess it, and it became our best-kept secret.

Years later, after the trial of Juanes by the Inquisition Tribunal of Calahorra, my brother wanted to make Juanes' old house his home. He soon had to give up the idea, however, because the deafening screams of the witch woke him up every night, chilling his blood.

Even now, if you look at the sky carefully, you can still see the silhouette of the Brujo de Bargota flying over the town of Viana...


Legend of the Bridge of Zubiri

Zubiri. Puente de la Rabia.

Back in the 15th century, in the village of Zubiri, which stands on the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago on the route down from Roncesvalles, all of us were working hard to build a beautiful stone bridge over the river Arga to make the journey easier for the pilgrims. However, a strange curse seemed to stop us finishing the work.

Surprised at the difficulties we were having in placing the central pillar, we had to dig into the rock that had to bear its weight. To our surprise, we found the embalmed remains of a young woman. The body was none other than that of Santa Quiteria, the protector against rabies.

Placed on a mule and accompanied by the Bishop's festive retinue, her body was being carried in procession to the cathedral of the kingdom in Pamplona. When the procession reached Burlada, the mule stopped and it was impossible to get it to continue the journey. The members of the procession thought that it must have been God's will that Santa Quiteria should stay in that place on the Pilgrim's Way for ever, and her body were left there to rest.

So, apparently the central pillar of our dear bridge at Zubiri has carried out the function of protection against rabies throughout the centuries. Animals and people have cured or prevented the illness by walking round it. According to legend, it has not lost its curing powers to the present day.


Legend of Guillén and Felicia

Representación del Misterio de Obanos.

Every morning my dear sister and I, Guillén, took early walks around the gardens of our palace in Aquitaine, sharing dreams of the day that she would be married to a powerful noble and thus guarantee the wealth of our duchy.

Following the family tradition of making a pilgrimage to Santiago, started by Guillermo X, Felicia told us that she also wanted to walk the route before she married, and so it was. On her way back, however, feeling a strong desire to help her fellow human beings, she decided to live as a recluse and servant in a small village in Navarre called Amocáin.

When I heard of her decision I felt such spite and fury that I was sure that my shouts could be heard in every corner of the palace. Unable to control my temper, I set off to look for her. When I found her, and given her refusal to return home with me, an uncontrollable anger took hold of me and I ended up killing her. In a state of anguish and repentance, I started my own pilgrimage to Santiago, begging for pardon along the way. Once back home, totally inconsolable, so I decided to build a hermitage on the hill of Arnotegui, where I would stay and pray for the rest of my days.

The body of my sister was moved to a nearby village called Labiano, where the local people have cured their headaches by venerating her remains. Even now I still weep for the loss of my dear Felicia.


Legend of the 'Txori'

Puente la Reina. Virgen del Txori.

Puente La Reina, 1834. During the first Carlist war, one morning I was summoned by the Count of Viamanuel, a General in Isabella II's army, to accompany him on his morning ride. We mounted our horses and trotted through the streets of the town. As we approached the Romanesque bridge that gives the town its name we saw how a crowd of local people were looking at the image of the Virgin Mary del Puy, engrossed.

Our curiosity made us approach and we saw that the reason for such admiration was none other than the enthusiasm with which a little bird was cleaning the face of our revered statue of the Virgin Mary. It was quite a sight to see the way the txori endlessly collected water with its beak and how it removed the cobwebs from the statue's face with its wings.

I was about to join in the great joy of the people when I heard the Count laughing loudly, making fun of the bird and of the admiration that the people had for it. The people of Puente la Reina felt offended and indignant and booed him. The Count turned around and disappeared into the distance.

I saw that my superior was furious with rage. However, I could not believe what happened a few hours later: the Count and some soldiers fired their cannons, pretending that we were under attack from General Zumalacárregui. The farce ended at sunset; its only purpose being to take revenge on the townspeople. Despite all kinds of tricks, however, the Count did not manage to dampen the people's devotion one iota.

When he was defeated by Zumalacárregui's troops two weeks later in the area known as the Peñas de San Fausto and was executed by the Traditionalists, the people of Puente la Reina considered his fate as just punishment for having made fun of the much-loved Txori.


Legend of Eunate-Olcoz

Iglesia de Santa María de Eunate

Narrated by a master mason.

When I was charged with carving the porch of the church of Santa María of Eunate I felt elated and flattered. I decided to shut myself away to try and get divine inspiration and thus be able to create a masterpiece, but when I returned I saw that a giant mason with supernatural powers had already completed the work that I had been asked to do.

Indignant, I went to see the Abbot, who did not listen to my explanations and made it clear to me that my absence had been considered a lack of respect towards the monks and himself. As a punishment, he ordered me to sculpt a similar work, which I would have to finish in the same time as the giant mason took: three days, no more or less.

In desperation, given the magnitude of the task, I entered the forest with the firm intention of invoking the Devil. However, the witch Laminak took pity on me and revealed the magic secret that would solve my dilemma.

Following her advice, I managed to get a moonstone that a large snake held in its mouth, and she then told me that I should place it on the bank of the river during the night of San Juan (the Summer Solstice).

With the moonlight reflecting on the stone, the chalice and the water of the Nequeas stream, I watched in awe as the miracle took place. Something went wrong, however, and the façade was back to front, like a mirror image. The people were amazed and the giant mason, furious, gave the building such a strong kick that it landed in a nearby village.

Those of you who are very curious should know that they can admire my work today in the church of Olcoz, with the same façade (but in reverse) as the church of Santa María de Eunate.


Legend of Sigurd

Snagüesa. Portada de la iglesia de Santa María. Sigurd matando al dragón.

The traveller who stops in front of the church of Santa María La Real in Sangüesa will see a variety of striking sculptures on the façade that tell the Nordic legend of Sigurd. I, the anonymous mason who had the skill to carve them, will explain their origin and their meaning.

The god Odin had ordered the giants to build a bridge to communicate Valhalla with the Earth. In exchange, they asked him to hand over Freya, the favourite daughter of the gods who was a symbol of fertility and beauty.

So as not to pay such a high price the gods negotiated hard and got the giants to agree instead to the legendary treasure that the ugly little dwarves had extracted from the auriferous waters of the Rhine for generations. Once the work was completed and their wish granted, the giants put the treasure in a cave under the custody of the bloody dragon Fafner.

Mime, one of the wisest of the dwarves, heard of the death of King Sigmund, hero of the Voslungs, and became the tutor of his young orphan Sigurd, who he trained as a warrior.

When Sigurd had grown into a strong young man, Mime gave him the fragments of his father's sword, the magical Gram, and he charged Sigurd with an initial mission and trial of killing the dragon Fafner.

The young hero cast the sword anew with the help of the blacksmith-magician Regin, who taught Sigurd some secrets about fighting against dragons. So it happened that Sigurd wounded Fafner in the neck in his first thrust, and some drops of the dragon's blood fell into his mouth as a result of the impact. This meant that Sigurd learnt the language of the birds, who told him that if he bathed in the blood of the dragon he would become invulnerable. They also told him about the treasure that the dwarves had kept secret from him, and of Mime's intention to kill him on his return.

Sigurd, of course, bathed in the blood of the dragon but while he was doing it the autumn leaf of a lime tree fell on his back, leaving a vulnerable spot which was to be decisive in the outcome of the legend. After killing Mime, our hero sought out Regin and handed over the reward the blacksmith had demanded in exchange for his work, the heart of Fafner.

Thus began the story of his adventures that Wagner would make famous in his operas many years later.


"La Chanson de Roland"

Ibañeta. Monolito de Roldán.

Narrated by Charlemagne.

Around the year 778, I, Charlemagne, was awaiting the fall of Saragossa, so I was not surprised to receive emissaries from Marsil, King of Saragossa, who brought a message of peace with them. In response, I charged Ganelon with the task of going to Zaragoza to accept the proposal by Marsil. Having achieved our objective, I decided that my army and I could return to France.

I therefore told my faithful Roland to hold the standard that accredited him as head of the rearguard while we started the return journey to our yearned for home.

Everything was going well until one day, while I was playing chess, I heard the terrifying sound of the horn of my dear Roland. I stood in shock, as I immediately knew that something terrible must have happened, but Ganelon tried to dissuade me, saying that our bold Roland would be doing something else such as hunting, and that he would surely not need help.

Ganelon's words did not put me at ease, and some force inside made me go to the place where the knights of my army should have been. On reaching the gorge at Roncesvalles I realised what the reason for my torment was. I found the ground covered with the blood of my knights, desolate and scattered with their bodies.

I could not understand what had happened, but a sudden malicious smile on Ganelon's face told me that, without doubt, he knew. That detestable man wanted to see his own stepson Roland dead, he had conspired against me and had joined forces with Marsil.

I swore that I would give an eye for an eye and dedicate all my efforts to pursuing the army of Zaragoza until I destroyed it and the city fell before me. As for the despicable Ganelon, I can only say that he got what he deserved, and after a fair trial he was quartered in Aix.

That is how I managed to avenge the memory of my army.

History wanted all these events to be kept alive in the memory of the people; that is how it was told in one of the most famous epic Mediaeval poems: "La Chanson de Roland" or "Cantar of Roldán".