The Pyrenean enclave of Orreaga/Roncesvalles
, in the north-east of Navarre near the French border, represents a milestone on the Pilgrim's Way and is home to one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture on the Iberian Peninsula
: the Colegiata de Santa María (St. Mary's Collegiate Church). The descent from the Ibañeta mountain pass, on the road from Luzaide/Valcarlos
, brings us to this old hostel/hospital, built at the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century to take care of pilgrims following the Pilgrim's Way after crossing the Pyrenees.History
Orreaga/Roncesvalles has always been a stopping-point. The Celts entered the peninsula this way as did, much later, those using the Roman road that ran between Bordeaux and the old Roman city of Astorga, in the province of what is now León. In 778
, the gorge at Valcarlos bore witness to the Battle of Roncesvalles
, in which the rearguard of Charlemagne's army, commanded by Roland and accompanied by the cream of French nobility, was defeated by the Basques. The news of this battle spread throughout Europe and was immortalised in 'La Chanson de Roland', an epic poem of the 12th century.
Another landmark in its history would take place in the following century. In 813
, the tomb of St. James the Apostle was discovered in Galicia and, soon afterwards, pilgrimages
from all over the Christian world began. One of the routes of St. James, which, with the forceful backing of Sancho III 'el Mayor' (the Elder), would become the most important, crossing the Pyrenees through Roncesvalles. In the 12th century a hospital-cum-monastery was erected just below the Ibañeta pass with the aim of attending to pilgrims passing through. Subsequently, and thanks to the initiative of the Bishop of Pamplona and King Alfonso 'el Batallador' (the Warrior), the hostel/hospital and Collegiate Church of Roncesvalles was built on level ground.
During the Middle Ages
new buildings sprang up and the Collegiate Church attained great importance, thanks to its extensive grounds and the increasing number of pilgrims. At the beginning of the 17th century Roncesvalles experienced a downturn, in parallel with that of the Pilgrim's Way in general, at the time when his legacy was in decline. Then, in the 20th century
, having escaped the confiscation of Church property, a slow recovery began. During recent years, the Collegiate Church has borne witness to the revival of pilgrimages to Santiago and, for many, it has been chosen as the setting-off point for the Pilgrim's Way.Art in the Collegiate Church of Orreaga/RoncesvallesThe Iglesia de Santa María
(St. Mary's Church), constructed at the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century, stands out in the architectural complex of the Collegiate Church. Its appearance resembles the French Gothic style. It has a floor plan that comprises three naves, the central one being of double width and topped by vaulted arches. The main section is pentagonal in shape and is lit through splendid large Gothic windows
, adorned with modern glass. On the left-hand side of the façade is a defensive tower built in the 14th century.
The high altar of the temple is watched over by the Imagen de Santa María of Roncesvalles (Image of St. Mary of Roncesvalles), dating from the 14th century, a superb Gothic sculpture in silver-covered wood and decorated in gold. On the side where the epistles are located one can enter the cloisters, reconstructed in the Cistercian style after the former Gothic cloisters collapsed under the weight of snow in 1600.
The cloisters lead into St. Augustine's chapel
, the former, square-shaped Gothic chapter house. In its centre one can see the Sepulcro del rey Sancho VII el Fuerte (Tomb of King Sancho VII the Strong
). The tombstone that covers it, from the middle of the 13th century, is a statue that indicates the big stature of the monarch. The chapel is illuminated by the light that is filtered by a pane of glass dating from the beginning of the 20th century. It depicts the victory of the king against the Almohads in the Battle of Navas de Tolosa (1212), whence came the flails and chains that the Navarrese king captured from the Arab King Miramamolín and which can be seen in this room. Tradition has it that these chains make up the coat of arms of Navarre.
Another of the buildings in Orreaga/Roncesvalles, the oldest of all, is the Capilla del Santo Espíritu or Silo de Carlomagno
(Chapel of the Holy Spirit or Charlemagne's Bunker) from the 12th century, where, according to the legend, Roland
stabbed himself with his sword after he suffered defeat at the Battle of Roncesvalles. Next to this building stands the Church of Santiago, or the Pilgrims' church, in the early Gothic style. Inside the church is the bell of the former shine of San Salvador of Ibañeta, who served as a guide for pilgrims on foggy days.The Museo-Biblioteca
(Museum/Library), which dates from the end of the 19th century on the first floor is home to the archive and library (open only to researchers) and contains a wealth of documents and more than 15,000 books. The museum on the ground floor houses pieces of great interest such as 'Charlemagne's Chess Set'
, a silver-gilded enamel relic, which, according to the legend, belonged to the French emperor. Other pieces of note are exhibited next to it, such as a 12th century silver-covered book of evangelical writings, a masterpiece of medieval silverware in Navarre, or the so-called 'Emerald of Miramamolín'
. The tradition goes that King Sancho VII 'el Fuerte' snatched this gem from the Moorish king in the Battle of Navas de Tolosa.
The architectural complex of Orreaga/Roncesvalles is completed with Casa Itzandegia. This is a building in the early Gothic style that may have been designed as a hospital or for residential use and was. Between the Chapel of St James and Itzandegia House, one can see the Monument to the Battle of Roncesvalles, which has reliefs depicting that encounter.