Thursday, May 21, 2015


Carcassonne is a fortified French town in the region of Languedoc-Roussillon. This city is really famous for the Cite de Carcassonne.  It is located on a hill on the right bank of the River Aude, in the south-east part of the city proper. It was built during the Gallo-Roman period. This building has 3 kilometres long walls and 52 towers. The town has about 2500 years of history. Romans decided to transform it into a fortified town. In 1853, the restoration work began and now it is fixed. 

This painting represents a French Knight, the white rider, in combat with a Saracen Knight carrying a round shield. 

These three Gothic windows are very notable. They can be dated by the coiffures of the figures in the arches.

The smiling Virgin, known as the Virgin with the bird is a very interesting 14th Century statue. Virgin is here depicted as Wife and Mother rather than Queen. The head of Jesus has been replaced to another on because during the French Revolution his head was decapitated.
This tower stands at south east corner of the castle. 
Inside of this tower, there are rooms have admirable hemispherical or cupola vaulted ceilings typical of the 12th century.
This tower stands at the south west extremity of the outer wall. 
Before the outer wall was constructed by St. Louis, it constituted the weakest point in the defences of the Citadel being ill-defended by nature.


Before going to Carcassonne, I was researching about this place and found out that this place was one of the most important cities in France. The day before, I went to Carcassonne I went to a hiking and found out about Cathar. I found out that they were really wealthy but lived poorly. 
Once I arrived to Carcassonne, I was so surprised by the size of the castle and I could realize that how wealthy they were. Inside the castle there are many children playing with their  swords and shields.  I thought that it is very interesting that this place must be historic. Inside the museum, there were so many items and also so many knights. They lost the fight because they lost their sipply of the water. 
I thought that, now this town is lively but also a sad place.  I was glad to be there and I want to come back here again once I learned about this place more.


One of our stops on the last leg of our trip was visiting the former site of the Château de Montségur in Montségur, France. The Château de Montségur was a fortress on top of a peak in the Pyrenees mountains that was built in the 13th century, although it is known and believed that people have inhabited that location dating back to the Stone Age. This fortress is widely accepted as the best-known Cathar castles.  It was also the last of the Cathar castles, which fell after a 10 month siege in 1244.  Before its demise, the main fortress, along with a number of other buildings and residences, housed nearly 500 people on the top of the mountain.  

Due to its location, our visit included a significant up-hill hike in order to reach the historical site (which sits nearly 4,000 ft. above sea-level).  All-the-while hiking up the side of the mountain, I kept wondering to myself who would choose to live in a location such as this.  Getting food and water most likely was not an easy task, let alone building a massive, stone stronghold.  Were pulley-systems invented yet? I hope so for their sake.  Nonetheless, the scenery and sites were beautiful! A valid reason for choosing any residence, I suppose. 

Montségur is a name that derives from Latin and Occitan to mean "safe hill." Just as hiking up and down that mountain was likely not a favorite passtime for its residents, surely attackers found it just as unappealing.  After many defenses had been erected at various points around the castle and on the mountain, the fortress was seemingly impregnable, and I'm sure life was as dandy as it could be in a cold, drafty mountain-top castle.   However, in May 1243, Montségur was besieged by Pierre Amiel the Archbishop of Narbonne, and Huges des Arcis, Seneschal of Carcassonne for the King of France. Together they represented the Pope and the French King joining forces to eliminate heretics.  It took them 10 months to successfully overtake the fortress and when they did, they burned around 200 Cathars who would not denounce their faith for the Catholic religion.  It is known that a few of the residents of the fortress escaped down a steep side of the mountain before being burned, taking with them a Cathar "treasure."  The identity of this treasure is unknown, but it is speculated to have possibly been the Holy Grail. 

All in all, I found myself amazed at the whole visit.  I felt like I was back in time while up at the fortress and also down walking around the little town at the base of the mountain.  Where and how people lived had so much purpose back then.  Nowadays, we don't have to think about staying safe by living on a mile-high mountain, just by making sure we lock our dorm room doors.  We all got to see a little taste of what life might have been like back then, and it is quite different from the lives most of us live now. We shop for food instead of growing it, take elevators instead of stairs (or in their case, the side of a mountain), and profess our beliefs freely without fear of being burned at the stake.  It is so interesting to see how life changes and evolves, and traveling to Montségur highlighted this fact for me.  

-- Laura DePenning


Wednesday, May 20, 2015


León is the capital of the province of León, located in the northwest of Spain. Situated on level ground at the confluence of the Torio and Bernesra rivers, the city of León is located 822 meters above sea level, and there is record of its existence as a city since the year 74 of the Christian Era when the VII Gemina Legion established itself where some clearly military archaeological remains from earlier times were found. Moreover, apart from the legionaries, a surrounding settlement was also established giving rise to the city of León whose name is a derivation of Legión.

The Cathedral (Santa María de León Cathedral)

The Cathedral is a masterpiece of the Gothic style and took over three centuries to complete. The cathedral is a playground and its stained glass windows are among the most impressive. Its main doorway is from the 13th century and the only one, which conserves the original polychroming from the 15th century because of the fact that it is protected by the walls of the cloister. The Virgin of Dado presides the scene, and in the tympanum there is a representation of the Pantocrator surrounded by the four evangelists or Tetramerous. 

The north transept adjoins to the 13th and 14th century cloister, with notable features being the Romanesque and Gothic tombs, and the, now faded, but finely detailed frescoes. The Cathedral Museum (Museo Catedralicio Diocesano de León) houses nearly 1,500 works of art from prehistoric times to the 18th century with a special focus on religious art including over 50 sculptures of the Virgin Mary.


This is one of the greatest cathedrals of Spain and having visited Burgos and Leon cathedrals on successive days I find I cannot decide which is the better. Both are superb. And then, The Cathedral has a spectacular and wonderfully colorful display of stained glass - some great paintings and sculpture, including the wonderful carvings and surrounds of the doors outside. At last, I am happy to take this class because I can meet beautiful friends and professor.   Mucho gracias!!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A quick trip to Sahagun


Home of the rich and hansome religious houses and commercial centers

Insight from a Pilgrim...

My name is Becky Jennings. I am a fourth year music therapy major at Wartburg College in Waverly,IA. Many people begin their journey on the Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela for multiple reasons. Some of these reasons are simply a vacation, sight seeing, and educational; however some take this journey as an opportunity to explore themselves, rediscover their faith, and or search for the
deeper meaning and purpose of their life. 
Personally, I began this journey with a view point of this trip being simply a trip out of the country within my college career. However as the year went on and I learned more about the Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, I began to reflect more on what this trip really means to me. After reflecting, I decided to use this trip as, yes, a vacation, but also a time to let the trip's experiences lead me to the ultimate reason of why I wanted to take this trip. I am using this trip as a way to open myself up to new opportunities, new explorations of myself and my faith, but ultimately reflection and letting the moment speak to me and my need at that time.This trip has provided me ample time to explore and reflect on multiple moments at different levels. Furthermore, I have met a variety of individuals from different nationalities and backgrounds which has helped me on this journey of exploration. 

The following information provided is background on Castrojeriz and its sights. Then I provided my reflection of what I saw at the bottom of this blog. 

A History...

Sahagun's name came from the name San Facundo. San Facundo relates to one of the two 4th-c. martyrs that were buried near Rio Cea, which the tomb is marked by a Visigothic church. These two martyrs names are Saints Facundo and Primitivo. Furthermore, Sahagun's area is also the heart of a rich agricultural region that was a focal point of the wars between Muslims and Christians. Sahagun became a shelter for Mozarabic Christian Monks who were fleeing Muslim persecutions. In 987,  Almanzor viewed Sahagun as a very valuable city, so he targeted the city and it ended up being destroyed. After Almanzor's death, the Christians viewed Sahagun as a priority to fix up. Because the Christians made Sahagun a priority, it became the most important Christian religious and economic center in Leon outside of the capital city. (Gitlitz & Davidson, 2000).

Image of statues of Saint Facundo and Saint Primitivo

Another important individual was also buried in this area. This important individual was King Alfonso VI. Not only was he educated in Sahagun, but he sought refuge here during the wars. During this time he met his third wife, but to get married he needed to get the marriage condoned. He invited the Benedictines of Cluny, which sent an abbot who condoned the marriage. However, Pope Gregory VII took the abbot out and sent a new abbot into the town, and with this new abbot the town became the center for Cluniac reform in the entire kingdom. Sahagun's growth was not only due to the important individuals who lived in the town but it was also due to the geography. Sahagun consisted of fertile rolling hills, cattle, grain, and river valleys nourished orchards and vineyards. The town was also divided based on what origin the citizens were. These origins included: Franks, Muslims, Jews, and old-time Christian residents of the kingdom of Leon. The population grew so much that more districts began to develop so 9 parishes were developed with their own Romanesque church, but only 4 remain today. Although the town was wealthy due to private donations to the monastery that supported the growth of Sahagun, the town slowly began to lose money once the shift in monastic power occurred. Due to the decline in money, Sahagun has become small and a market center without the monastery's former splendor. (Gitlitz & Davidson, 2000).

Image of close up map of Sahagun

In relation to the Pilgrimage, Sahagun was viewed as a major religious and commercial center that provided a variety of hospices for the pilgrims. The pilgrims who often stayed at Sahagun not only enjoyed the hospice opportunities, but they also appreciated and marveled over many of the monuments and religious establishments within the town. (Gitlitz & Davidson, 2000).

Below are some of the monuments and religious establishments that many of the pilgrims admired:

1) Monasterio de San Facundo

Almost nothing remains of this monastary. This monastary was one of the richest and most powerful monasteries in Iberia. For example, the orginal Roman construction over the tumbs of the martyrs Saints Facundo and Primitivo has vanish and so has the later Visigothic church. A building campaign began and in 1078 Ramundo de Borgona became the leader of the period of greatest construction. Because of this great cosntuction, the monastary became divided into four separate cloisters. Furthermore, San Facundo Monastary was Spain's most influencial monument in the Romanesque-Mudejar style. Although the monastary currently lies in ruins, many of the characteristics are seen in the ruins and churchs. Within the rest of the ruins, one will see a tower that currently serves the city as a clock tower. In addition, much of what has been left from the destruction of the monastary has been turned into private housing, a park, and a wide street. city. (Gitlitz & Davidson, 2000).

2) Arch of San Benito

This arch became the facade of the Monasterio de San Facundo's church. On this facade, it included two lions, a Hapsburg coat of arms, remnants of one Romanesque column, and round windows. (Gitlitz & Davidson, 2000).

3) Iglesia de San Tirso

This is a Romanesque-Mudejar church built before 1123. It was built with the Romanesque mix of stone and brick. It includes a tower that has been rebuilt based on photographs due to it collasping in 1945. Inside of the church is the 13th-c. tomb tht is said to be one of Alfonso X's granddaughters. This tomb is placed in the center of the church and includes iconography of Christ in Majesty surrounded by the Tetramorphos. The angels suround the Agnus Dei and recieve the soul of the deseased woman.  (Gitlitz & Davidson, 2000).

4) Iglesia de San Lorenzo

The current building that is seen was built in the early 13th c. It has been said that many individuals sought refuge within this church. In fact one of these individuals was said to be shot by an arrow within the building due to the enemy shooting an arrow through the window.  (Gitlitz & Davidson, 2000).

5) Convento de las Madres Benedictinas

This is a church in the early ogival style that has plain exterior. Also, the exterior has been completely rebuilt since it was orginally built. Inside of the church is a Museum of the Madres Benedictinas. In the museum is a small monstrance (custodia) that was built by Enrique de Arfe, who was an early Renaissance master goldsmith. At this church one will see delicate and flamboyant arches individual figures that are very exquisite and detailed. Attached to the church/museum, is a Baroque chapel that includes the churrigueresque retablo and the tombs of Alfonso VI and his four wives.  (Gitlitz & Davidson, 2000).

6) Iglesia de San Juan de Sahagun

This church is in the Neoclassic style that includes a brightly painted facade that shows those of Andalucia. This church also holds the remains of Saint Facundo and Primitivo, and it also holds two alabaster retablos.  (Gitlitz & Davidson, 2000).

7) Iglesia de La Trinidad 

This church has been converted to a pilgrim hospice to house those who are apart of the Santiago Pilgrimage.  (Gitlitz & Davidson, 2000).

8) Santuario de la Peregrina

In 1257, this church was created in the Gothic-Mudejar style. In fact, this church is all that remains of the Franciscan monastery that can be found on a bluff outside fo the town walls. The name of this church was created from a legend that states that pilgrims that came here would see a bright light and a woman with a glowing staff in her hand who came to guide them on their journey. On the ouside of the church, the brickwork is decorative, it includes horseshoe arches, and there are excavated foundation that has been uncovered from the monastery's former buildings. On the inside there is a 17th c. painting of the Virgin as Pilgrim by Luisa Roldan. Furthermore, there is a large painting that is located in the apse that commemorates the reconciliation in Rome between the Franciscan and Benedictine Orders.  (Gitlitz & Davidson, 2000).

My Reflections:

Today we visited Sahagun for lunch. We ate at a cafe place that had lots of delicious food. At this cafe place, the bathrooms had sliding doors that had images of stick figures with wings; however, the woman's bathroom had devil horns with it. Many of the individuals including myself did not appreciate the woman representation at this eating place. Once we were done eating we tried to go to the Church of Saint Lucas, but it was closed for Siesta so we could not see right then. We waited until 4:30 P.M. to get in, but they still did not open. While waiting, many individuals sat and talked, read, journaled, and some even played a bit of soccer infront of the church. Outside of the church there were two black statues that looked to be apart of an offensive group, but we discovered that the statues individuals were not apart of that specific group, but rather they were wearing the sacs on their head as a form of penance. We did not get to see anything else in the town due to time and not much being their. However, it was a very relaxing experience and I did appreiciate going to the church to atleast see the outside. 


Gitlitz, D.M. & Davidson, L.K.(2000). The pilgrimage road to santiago: the complete cultural handbook. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, pg. 228-234.

Map of Sahagun:

Facundo and Primitivo:

Friday, May 15, 2015


Finisterre is a cape on the western edge of Spain. The belief held by Romans that this peninsula was the edge of the world is still reflected in its name: finis means end, terrae means earth, though in fact the western-most point of the continent is actually Cabo de Roca. Still, the area has a long history as the location of several holy sites that predate Christianity and was also a prominent point of landfall for merchant vessels.

Because it is only 90 kilometers past Santiago, many pilgrims walking the Camino chose to continue on to this point on the coast after visiting the cathedral and perhaps resting for a few days. It really is considered the true end of the pilgrimage. It does not have any particular holy sites associated with the Camino but perhaps something about it supposedly being the end of the world draws these visitors.


The desire to walk all the way to the sea is certainly understandable. Many pilgrims, for whom this journey was their first experience of the world beyond their village, may have never seen the ocean before and even for those who had, going to the coast seems to be a natural end to the trip, especially if one believed that it truly was the end of the world, or at least the western-most point. After the bustle of Santiago, the peace and solitude potentially found by gazing over the water would have provided a time for mediation and reflection upon the completion of the pilgrimage.

We arrived in the town a bit later on Tuesday than we intended due to a bit of confusion with the GPS, which initially took us to another town called Finisterre that is two hours south of where we wanted to be. Apparently we were supposed to know to type in the Galacian name "Fisterra." Still, we got there eventually and had enough time to go to the beach once we finally located our accommodations. Really, all of the small setbacks enhanced the overall experience; I'm sure pilgrims hundreds of years ago also got turned around and confused at time. Thank goodness for kind locals who are willing to help with directions!

After spending some time on the beach and wandering about the small town itself, I was able to more fully understand why people are drawn there. Santiago is impressive, overwhelming, and indeed busy; the quiet here on the coast was a welcome relief. Most of the group arose early Wednesday morning to walk to a lookout point and watch the sun rise. We followed the Camino all the way through the village in the dark, along the water and down the old cobblestone streets. As we walked, the sun began to appear behind the wall of clouds in the east. Finally we sat in the grass on a high hill overlooking the sea.

The sound of the waves crashing on the rocks below, the chirping of a few early-rising birds, and the rustle of the wind in the grass made for an experience just as moving as being able to view the relics in the cathedral in Santiago. I could have spent quite a bit more time there simply reflecting and absorbing everything I'd seen and learned on the journey so far. The walk back through town was also pleasant and by the end I was refreshed and ready to continue on with the trip.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Santiago de Compostella

Santiago de Compostela, commonly known as Santiago, is the capital of the autonomous community[6] of Galicia in northwestern Spain.  Santiago de Compostela is also the final destination of the legendary medieval way of pilgrimship Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James), now considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  The town is named after the Apostle Saint James (“Santiago”), who is buried there.[4]  Christians believe that Santiago Apostol (St. James the Apostle) preached in Galicia and, after his death in Palestine, was brought back to Santiago by stone boat and was buried there.  St. James’ tomb was supposedly rediscovered in about 814 by a religious hermit, Pelayo, by following a guiding star.  After the Austrian King Alfonso II had a church built above the holy remains, pilgrims began flooding to the site.  By the 11th century, the pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago was a major European phenomenon.[5]  Fast forward hundreds of years - after the codification of the Camino in the Codex Calixtinus[7], fights between rival nobles, and economic hardships for the Camino and the cities along it, the 1980s brought a resurgence of interest in the Camino, bringing pilgrims and money to Santiago de Compostela.  Today, some 200,000 pilgrims and thousands of other visitors journey to the city each year.  

Map of the Pilgrimage [1]

The Old Town, a roughly oval-shaved area bounded by the line of the medieval ciy walls, is one of the world's most beautiful urban areas.[2]  Praza de Galicia marks the boundary between the Old Town and the Ensanche (Extension), the 20th-century shpping and residential area to its south.[5]  The oldest monuments in the city date back to the 11th century - the main body of the cathedral, constructed over St. James tomb, was consecrated in 1211.  The Cathedral is Romanesque in structure and was continuously embellished with additions to the building throughout the 13th - 15th centuries.

Santiago Cathedral [X]

Waking up in the car just as we pulled up to our hotel in Santiago was not exactly how I had planned my entrance into the destination point of the Camino, but strangely foreshadowed the rest of my experiences in the city.  For example, I was not expecting to see the city from the top of a huge ferris wheel at a carnival nearby.  I was also not expecting so much construction/renovation to be happening to the cathedral, nor for this construction to prevent us from being able to touch the legendary place in the wall that all pilgrims typically touch as they enter.  I was not expecting the cathedral to be so bright (for whatever reason), and I was not expecting to feel as let down as I did at the "end" of this pilgrimage.  Let me clarify - the cathedral was outstanding and beautiful.  Just as ornate as others we've seen along the Camino, the Santiago Cathedral was built on a massive scale, created and updated with greater detail of exquisite paintings, carvings, and architectural features.

The city definitely has a different energy than others we've been in, though I'm not exactly sure how to describe it.  The evening we arrived, we struggled to find the correct door to enter to get into the cathedral (many of the doors were entrances to the Cathedral Museum or otherwise blocked off).  Once we found a way in, we discovered that a mass was taking place, so we weren't abel to look around.  It was interesting to see the mix of people in the mass - those I could tell had been on the Camino, their still bandaged toes poking out from flip-flops, groups of older tourists, those who looked like they might be from this area in their Sunday best, and more.  (My particular favorites were a young couple holding hands as they payed rapt attention to the service and one young woman who had a button on her backpack that read "F*ck your patriarchal beauty standards.")  There were many people attending the service with standing room only, so we decided to take a walk before dinner that night.  It was hard to miss the many pilgrim shops selling items similar, if not exact copies of shell and arrow paraphernalia I had seen in other cities during our travels.

The next morning, after our breakfast of coffee and pastries in a café near our hotel, we went off to the Cathedral Museum.  This museum featured many artifacts and pieces of architecture from the original structure of the cathedral.  After seeing these and the grand cloister, we headed into the cathedral for a Pilgrim's Mass at noon.  The mass was apparently not what had taken place at previous Pilgrim's Masses in past trips.  The mass was typical, though the names of pilgrims who had made it to the city were read at the beginning of the service.  Dr. Survilla and Chelsea told us that when they had experienced the service, it had been done in multiple different languages, there was burning of incense for the pilgrims, and there had been a more casual air to the service.  This was not the case in our 45 minute, mostly Spanish mass.  It was a lovely service, but I felt like most people were not really paying attention.  I saw some people taking pictures during the service and later from the prayer area from which they were asked not to take photos.  Later, when we were about to actually view and touch the relic of Santiago that millions of pilgrims have come to do for hundreds of years, I couldn't help but feel removed from any seriousness or spiritualness of the situation.  We stood in line and then shuffled through a room that had a priest sitting in it, watching all those who went through.

Though I was slightly disappointed with my experience at the cathedral, my time there made me think back to a previous day, when we visited the Iron Cross.  This stop had been one of my favorites and had given me a lot of time to think about the Camino and my journey on it.  When I was able to sit down, think, and journal about the Camino, I came up with the following concerning the symbols of the shell and the arrows of the Camino and what they mean to this experience:

"...The arrows are markers along the path for all who travel it.  They are there to help pilgrims get to their final destination - Santiago.  I've been thinking all along that "it's the journey [not the destination]," which is true.  However, the purpose of the pilgrimage, even though the journey is important, is to get to the final place.  Life doesn't really stop for those on the Camino - it never has.  Elsewhere, people still die, laws are made, babies are born, people fall in and out of love, and people leave.  The Camino isn't stepping away from life - it's just going along a different path for a while.  Everyone is following the arrows forward - those on the Camino have just taken a step away from the mainstream and are moving forward to a place...but it isn't over after Santiago.  Life keeps moving forward and we cannot stop it, even by taking a trip/pilgrimage.  We can be changed though, while continuing on."

I'm glad that I had come to this realization before getting to Santiago.  Dr. Survilla talked to us about how this place means so many different things to so many people who traveled the Camino for whatever reason.  Even though I was a little disenchanted with this 'final stop,' I know it isn't actually a final destination for me or for anyone who has come here along the Camino.  This place, with all of its meaning, significance, energy - whatever, is a part of everyone who comes and leave's journey.  It will continue to shape who I am as the rest of this journey has - even if I didn't get to put my hands on a wall.

Some pictures from my time in Santiago - 

 Construction outside the Cathedral

Santiago in the flesh!

Laura and I in the ferris wheel at the carnival

Inside the cathedral, just before mass

Sources & Footnotes

[6] An autonomous community is a first-level political and administrative division of Spain created in accordance with the Spanish constitution of 1978, with the aim of guaranteeing the autonomy of the nationalities and regions that integrate the Spanish nation. [X]

[7] The Codex Calixtinus is a 12th-century book containing sermons, reports of miracles along the pilgrimage, and set of musical pieces intended for pilgrims, codified by Pope Callixtus II.  [X]

Reflections from Burgos

 Monday after we arrived in Burgos we decided to go right into the cathedral, which was quite literally across from out hotel. It was quite a stunning structure to behold. Construction on it began in 1221 by King Fernando III and the building would not completed until about 500 years later, which is pretty typical for a cathedral. Burgos Cathedral is rich in many different types of architecture, after all in 500 years fashions come and go, albeit not as fast as shoes or clothes. As a result, what began as a Gothic Cathedral incorporated Rococo and Baroque (which plays an important part I think).
One of the things that I thought about constantly while walking through the cathedral was just how ornate everything was and how big it was. All of this is typical of Baroque architecture. The Baroque period was roughly during the 1600s and 1700s, when Spain was importing all the gold and silver it could from the Central and South America. Trust me, if you ever take a tour of Spanish churches you'll see all the gold and silver that was in our part of the world. Anyway...all this imported gold and silver found itself planted in the altars and chapels of Spain's churches. Another characteristic of Baroque architecture is the fine attention to detail, almost every surface of an altar display or a stain glass window is not wasted and has some symbol etched into it. I was certainly overwhelmed by everything and I'm sure the average pilgrim several hundred years ago felt the same sense. It made me wonder why a church would go to such extremes of ornateness and detail if only a small (priestly) population could possibly appreciate it? Was it really worth it?

Then, Dr. Survilla pointed out something very important and that was the vast majority (and I mean VAST) of people in the Middle Ages were illiterate. Thus, all the artwork, frescos, and displays in this cathedral were deliberate in what they were trying to convey to the pilgrims and parishioners and this doesn't start inside. All three entrances to the cathedral (north, south, and west) all convey a different theme to those who enter. For instance, the western entrance of Burgos displays the conception and coronation of the virgin; the southern entrance, the twelve apostles and the Transfiguration; and the northern entrance, the "humanity of Jesus" in tandem with Mary and Saint John. In other words you got a sense of the overall story just by walking around the outside.

Once inside you can view one of the sixteen different chapels that surround the nave. Each of these chapels conveys a different moment in the Gospels. So as I walked from chapel to chapel I felt like I was getting an education in the different scenes from the New Testament. One chapel was devoted to the genealogy of Jesus, another to the annunciation of the Virgin, and another still to the crucifixion of Jesus. Depending at what point you were in the story determined the emotional experience. When you saw the scene of the Epiphany you felt hope and joy and yet when you reached the crucifixion you felt depressed and skeptic only to then have those feeling rescinded when you saw the Resurrection. I can only imagine that the emotional connections that I was making with each of the different chapels and reliefs paralleled those felt over 500 years ago. This indicates the power that the medium of visual art has on the mind. We all experience this when we see a movie, but in the Middle Ages the Burgos Cathedral was the movie theater and the pilgrim relied on it to give them new strength and continue the journey to Santiago.

I have no doubt that by the time the pilgrim reached the end of the Camino (and if they had taken the time see some of the churches along the way) they had probably seen the story of Jesus a dozen times over. Thus, the pilgrim went through the roller coaster of emotions associated with the Gospels just as many times, but rather than dulling the senses to the emotion, I can attest from my own experience that a great appreciation and hope has arisen from these multiple exposures. It is more than likely that the pilgrimage was the first time a Christian could truly understand and connect with the story of Jesus. When your entire service is in Latin and all the Medieval citizen can discern is the Eucharist you probably never actually heard the Gospel. Certainly your church had a main altar, probably with the scene of the crucifixion, but beyond that a person could not read the Bible (or any other book for that matter) and truly comprehend the series of events culminating in Jesus.

For all the corruption and deceit that is often associated with the Medieval Church, artwork and architecture had the best intentions of strengthening the Christian in his or her faith. Burgos Cathedral was not alone in this goal, but it definitely was and still is unique in the way it conveys the story of Jesus.

A History of Burgos

So we were actually in Burgos about a week ago, but spotty internet connection has only made posting possible until now. So I'll first guide you through some of the history of Burgos and its place in the province of Castilla.

Today, Burgos is one of the major cities of Northern Spain, and for the last one thousand years has held an important role in Spain. The area of Burgos, situated along the Arlanzon River, was territory held since the Roman times; however, it was not properly settled until the late 9th century when Alfonso III of Leon ordered the construction of a castle on the hill overlooking the river. As the century came to a close the Iberian Peninsula saw a rise in the conflict between the Christian kings and the "Moorish raiders." Now of course the fighting was not strictly between these groups and in fact there was much fighting between the Christian kings as well. Amidst the wars a small county named Castilla separated from Leon. One Fernan Gonzalez is credited with the formation of Castilla and fortifying and defended it from outside opponents and, as you can probably guess, he used castles  to do so. At this time Burgos became THE major city in Castilla and would become the center of activity (as well as an important vote) in the politics of the kingdom.

It's important to note that a unified Spain did not come about until 1516, so prior to that country remained divided among several kingdoms. There was a great drive to unite the kingdoms and at one point, Ferdinand I "El Magno," ruled over Castilla, Leon, Galicia and Navarra by the mid-11th century. Now Ferdinand had five children: three sons and two daughters, and trying to be a good father, he provided all of them with either a territory (the sons) or a city (the daughters). One would think then everything should be alright, but clearly Ferdinand was not the best father in the world as all five siblings went to war with each other in order to control their father's former territory. In fact, one brother, Alfonso VI was rumored to have killed his brother, Sancho. As the fighting continued to grow, a Castilian noble arose from Burgos. His actual name is Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, but history and Spanish literature would remember him as El Cid. After much trial, El Cid was successful in calming the tensions that had divided the kingdoms, and in the aftermath, Burgos was declared the official capital of Castilla.

By the 15th century Castilla & Leon was the most powerfull city in the united kingdom and its heiress, Queen Isabella was determined to keep it that way. The climate of Burgos made it difficult to develop any internal source of revenue and instead it prospered as a commercial city. At any time a person could walk down its streets and hear a variety of dialects spanning from Spanish to Arabic. However, in 1560, after Spain was united, the capital of the country was moved to the more central location of Madrid. As a result, the power Burgos had experienced was significantly reduced. Nevertheless, in the 20th century, Francisco Franco directed Burgos as a city that specialized in textiles, chemicals, and metallurgy. These trademarks have remained even in the present.

Iron Cross

After making our chocolate purchases and finding our way back to the cars, we hopped in for another short ride to Foncebadón where we would be hiking a short part of the actual Camino.  Until now, we had seen the insides of the integral cities along the Camino, but not actually traversed any part of the connecting paths between those cities.  This ~30 minute walk led to a monument called El Cruz de Ferro, or the Iron Cross.

The site of this cross is thought to have been the site of a monument to the Roman god Mercury where the Celts were thought to have worshiped.  The current monument, which consists of a telephone-pole-like pillar with a small iron cross at the top.  At the base is now a large pile of rocks and other items that pilgrims leave.  This current structure is believed to have been put here in the 11th century by Gaucelmo, a supposed hermit who built a hospital, hospice, and church for the pilgrims on the Camino.

Originally, it was a place where pilgrims left a rock in order to represent relieving the weight of their sins.  As has much of the rest of the Camino and its parts, this idea has been taken and shaped to each individual pilgrim.  This means that what people leave at the base of the Iron Cross might not necessarily be representative of their sins but of some other burden.  We saw letters, pictures, bracelets, shoes, socks, cigarette packages, and many other things.

We got to experience a small part of the camaraderie that comes along with being a pilgrim while we ate our picnic lunch in the grass near the cross.  A younger looking pilgrim was sitting near us, and we asked if he would like to join us.  "I won't say no!" was his response, and we had a great time sharing and learning about each other before wishing him ¡Buen Camino! and heading on our way.  He was a young man from France who had finished high school and started college before taking a break to walk the Camino.


I found an immense and overwhelming beauty at this site.  The Pilgirmage as a whole is something that looks the same on the outside for everyone partaking in it but can be incredibly different on the inside.  Everyone walks for a different reason; everyone has a different and personal purpose.  Here at the Iron Cross that could be seen and felt.  At the cross, those purposes are no longer being carried on the inside, but are laid out for others to see and to share.  One rock we passed on the trail leading to the Iron Cross simply said, "Never Walk Alone."  Seeing the number of rocks and items placed at the Iron Cross was proof to me that even though one may walk physically alone along The Camino, they never truly are. There are, have been, and will continue to be pilgrims sharing in the journey.