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The Way of St James

 

The Way of St James, the leading European Cultural Route and a Heritage of Humanity, is one of the tourist routes that is most used by travellers to discover the history, art and culture of La Rioja.

Since the discovery of the Apostle’s grave at Santiago de Compostela in the 9th Century, the Way of St James has served as a communication route for new ideas, techniques, cultures and life styles between the different regions and communities it crosses through.

In Logroño the French Route, coming from the Pyrenees through Navarre and Aragon, converges with the Jacobean Route of the Ebro Valley, which starts from the Mediterranean and follows the Roman road between Tarragona and Astorga, passing through the once-Roman towns of Alfaro, Calahorra and Varea in La Rioja.

After passing through Viana and the hermitage of the Virgin of the Caves, the Jacobean Way leaves Navarra at the point where it joins the N-111 highway.

The Way then borders the Cantabria hill, rising one hundred metres above the waters of the river Ebro. Recent archaeological excavations on the hill summit have revealed the vestiges of a settlement dating back to at least the 3rd Century before Christ and which was inhabited right up to the Middle Ages.

The route then drops down until it reaches the municipal cemetery walls of Logroño. Access to this first city on the pilgrims’ route through the lands of La Rioja, is provided by the Stone Bridge. The present-day bridge was constructed in 1884, erected on the former piers of an older bridge which is traditionally considered to be the work of San Juan Ortega, a follower of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. These two saints were both involved in constructions along the Way of St James in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Once the Ebro river has been crossed, pilgrims should take the first road on the right, called the Rua Vieja. The large Baroque house at number 32 is the pilgrims hostel. You are now next to the church of Santa María de Palacio whose narrow pyramid shaped tower with an octagonal floor plan is popularly known as “the Needle”. This late Romanesque church was the headquarters of the order of the Santo Sepulcro during the reign of Castile. In its interior, the exceptional Romanesque polychromed stone sculpture of Saint María de Palacio is well worth seeing.

The Rua Vieja runs between the oldest houses in the city until it reaches the square adjoining the church of Santiago, of marked Jacobean content: the so-called Pilgrims Fountain; a giant mosaic, possibly the largest game of the goose in the world; and the enormous Baroque statue of “Santiago Matamoros” or St James the Moor Slayer, presiding over the temple. The present church of Santiago was erected in the 16th Century over a 12th century church that had long disappeared. The Rua Vieja leads onto the calle Barriocepo which goes as far as the limits of the old quarters of the city, reaching the Gateway pointing towards Finisterre through which pilgrims leave Logroño.

Once out of Logroño, a tree-lined earthen track takes pilgrims to the walls of the La Grajera reservoir, where there is an excellent rest area to be enjoyed. The ruins of the castle of Clavijo can be seen set back from the Way on a rocky crag, 15 kilometres from Logroño. This is where the battle took place in which the apostle St James appeared on a white charger.

You then need to follow the specially prepared pilgrim track until Navarrate can be seen straight ahead. The route goes over the motorway and leads to the ruins of the San Juan de Acre Hospice. The hospice windows and doorway are still conserved; they were taken down stone by stone to be used as the town cemetery gateway.

Navarrete is just seven hundred metres ahead. The Calle de la Cruz is the first street encountered on entering the town. There you can contemplate a beautiful Romanesque capital representing the fight between two knights. The parish church dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin is mid 16th century. Its high altar retable is one of the best examples of Baroque retables in La Rioja. Pottery is the most characteristic craftwork to be found in Navarrete.

As you leave Navarrete, you will come to the municipal cemetery with its gateway. Several capitals illustrate scenes from the daily life of medieval pilgrims.

Five kilometres later, you will come to the start of the earthen track that will take you as far as Nájera. On the left is the San Lorenzo peak, the highest mountain in La Rioja. A hill stands out, isolated from the rest: the mythical “Poyo Roldán” or podium of Roland, the setting for yet another variant of the legends evoking fights between medieval knights. This particular legend relates the fight between a giant called Ferragut and Roland, a knight in the service of Charlemagne.

To reach the historic centre of Nájera, you need to go down the street of San Fernando until you come to the river Najerilla where there is a bridge to be crossed, considered to be the work of San Juan de Ortega. In the period between 918 and 1076, Najera was the most important political centre of the Reconquest. It was the capital of the “Kingdom of Pamplona – Najera”. A not-to-be-missed visit is to the Monastery of Santa María la Real, the burial place of many kings and nobles related to that dynasty. Since times of old, an area for pilgrim accommodation has always been set aside within the monastery.

An impressive complex of caves stands at the foot of the mountains protecting Nájera. The origin of these man-made caves probably goes back as far as those dark centuries in which Celtic invasions created a climate of social uncertainty.

The Way of St James leaves Nájera by the Calle Costanilla street. When you reach the village of Azofra you will find that the two streets, that is the Calle Mayor or Real and the Calle del Sol, are yet another part of the Way. A painting of St James as a pilgrim presides over the church reredos. Before you leave Azofra, have a drink of water at the fountain of Los Romeros.

Pass through Cirueña and its splendid bitter oak wood and pasturelands and an earthen track will take you to the place where the relics of one of the most emblematic saints of the Way of St James are to be found: Santo Domingo de la Calzada (St Dominic of the Causeway).

A jurisdictional stone column stands at the entrance to this town. A dearly loved myth explains how the town was founded. A hermit named Domingo decided to dedicate his efforts to helping pilgrims on their way to Santiago. First he constructed a bridge over the river Oja, he then cleared part of a wood to open up a safe road and he finally erected a hospital and temple to provide physical and spiritual aid to pilgrims. The work carried out by Saint Domingo was carried on after his death and it is still done today by the Fraternity of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. La Casa del Santo, or House of the Saint is a hostel run by the fraternity and is well worth a stop.

In the historic centre, you will find the old medieval road structure, with the street of the Calle Mayor as the main axis. The Saint’s square is set in the heart of the old part of the town and is bordered by a hermitage, the cathedral, with its slender Baroque tower standing apart, and the former pilgrim hospice which has now been reconverted into an elegant parador nacional. The Cathedral is a fine example of protogothic architecture.

Perhaps the most eye-catching item in the cathedral is the cage which permanently houses a white cock and hen in memory of the miracle of the pilgrim who was hanged. The town festivals, declared to be of National Tourist Interest with a spectacular dramatization of the life of the Saint, are held from 25th April to 13th May.

Leave the town by crossing the bridge over the river Oja. You will pass a simple wooden cross known as the cross of the brave or “Cruz de los Valientes”, recalling yet another legend involving a fight between knights. The Way continues, with “Mirabel”, the conical hill of Grañón, lying straight ahead and watching over the whole area. A castle is known to have stood on this hill, at least until the 10th Century. Access to the village is along the street called Calle Santiago. The parish church of San Juan Bautista boasts a magnificent reredos and a guide to enjoy the best Renaissance artwork.

The hermitage of Our Lady of Carrasquedo is located two kilometres from the town centre, towards the south. This end-of-seventeenth-century Baroque building holds the largest collection of church pictorial offerings to be found in La Rioja today.

To leave Grañón, look for a wide earthen track to take you into the lands of Castile. It is now time to look back and say a final farewell to the last place in La Rioja that is on the Way of St James.

 
  • quiet and familiar
  • Paved roads
  • monitored parking 24h
  • Vigilancia 24 h en todo el camping
 

Camping Bañares

c/ N-120 Km. 42,2 - Santo Domingo de la Calzada C.P. 26250 La Rioja- España

+0034 941 340 131
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