Najera contains a population of 8,400 in a bustling market town that is increasing in size each year. The name is derived from the Arabic of ‘between cliffs’ or place between the rock; this reveals the origin and character of the city, which was reconquered in 923.
Sancho the Great made Najera the capital of Navarre in the 11th century, shortly thereafter the pilgrims’ route was diverted via Najera from its more difficult route north.
These changes to the French Way may help put into context the changes to the route during the last few days and at some points ahead due to the new motorway. The French Way, as all Camino routes, is not static and has evolved over time.
The monastery and Church of Santa Maria la Real was founded in 1052 by King Garcia, son of Sancho the Great. One day, legend tells, King Garcia was out hunting when his falcon chasing a dove disappeared into a cave.
When the King entered the cave, pursuing them, he discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary lit by a lamp with Madonna lilies at her feet.
This incident gave name to the first Spanish order of Chivalry, ‘Orden de la Terraza’, which was founded to commemorate this discovery. The cave is now part of the church and the three above elements can still be viewed.
Due to fights and wars between bishops, kings, and the prior, the church fell into disrepair. In 1214, a new building was endowed by Diego Lopez de Haro.
After that, the church and town flourished as it was an important market town; 25% of the profits from the weekly market went to the church.
In 1368 Pedro I confiscated the gold and silver from the monastery to pay for the dynastic wars. Even though the church never regained its former power and prestige, by 1633 it still owned and controlled 84 monasteries in Spain.
The city was sacked once again during the War of Independence against the French. Today the Franciscans are responsible for the upkeep of the church and monastery.
The outside of the church is plain compared with many we have seen so far. The real jewel of the church and monastery is the interior. As is standard, the three-aisle church has a magnificent Baroque retablo, but there are other treasures here.
You can visit the cave where Garcia first discovered the statue which is still in the same place. The Plateresque pantheon houses the tombs of the Navarran Kings.
There are four tombs of most interest: Dona Blanca’s tomb is the best preserved, on one side is the depiction of the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, the Slaughter of the Innocents, and the Judgement of Solomon.
The other side depicts Christ Pantocrator, (Christ as the Judge, an image rarely found on tombs), around which are grouped the Tetramorphos and the Apostles (Tetramorphos is the four attributes of the Evangelists, Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John).
The three other interesting tombs are Sancho Abarca founder of Castilla, (970 – 994); Sancho VI the Builder, who repopulated many towns along the Camino including Pamplona and Estella; and of course Garcia who founded the monastery and church.
One of the treasures of Santa Maria is the high choir. The wood choir stalls date from the 15th century and are adorned with excellent carvings that include Saints and many figures from the Old Testament. The church is only open for a few hours each day and closed on Monday, 10 am to 1 pm and 16.30 to 17.30 winter, 19.00 summer.
My thought for today follows yesterday’s thought of destruction. The French Camino like all has evolved over time. Am I evolving and flexible? Or am I fixed in my beliefs and thoughts?
Today’s Walk: 21.3 km
The Camino Frances leaves Najera behind the Monastery of Santa Maria la Real. The route goes uphill along a dirt track through pine trees and across farmland heading towards Azofra, the first place to stop for breakfast and coffee. Most of the walking today is through farmland well away from any roads.
Azofra has a few Pilgrims Hostels and is more an overnight stopping point than Najera. There is a large relatively new municipal albergue with great facilities; all rooms have only two beds.
After Azofra there is a choice to walk the diversion to visit the Monastery in Canas. If you continue along the Camino Frances there is again a choice of routes. Often pilgrims decide against walking up the hill to pass through Ciruena, and walk alongside the N120 straight into Santo Domingo, which is a less scenic and noisier route.
The main Camino route heads left uphill towards Ciruena and then back down over rough tracks to Santo Domingo.
The diversion route is the less scenic route, walking beside the road, and adds about 3 km to the total. Lunch can be had in Ciruena, a good reason for staying on the main Camino path. Santo Domingo is a busy bustling old town.
5.9 km, water, shop, bar, cafe
Azofra is a small farming village with a population of less than 300, like many villages along the Camino, it owes its continuing existence to pilgrims traveling the Camino Frances.
There is little to see in Azofra apart from the Parish Church of Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles, (Church of Our Lady of the Angels), which has two interesting statues, one of St James dressed as a pilgrim and another of Saint Martin of Tours attesting to the French influence in this area.
Diversion to Canas: leaving Azofra you cross the LR 206 and continue straight along the waymarked route. To visit Canas turn left on the road and stay with the LR 206 for about 6 km. You will pass through Alesanco after about 2km, then about 4km further you will reach Canas.
The convent is closed on Mondays. On the right just as you enter the village is the Cistercian Convent of Santa Maria de Canas, which was established in 1170. The church was built in the Cistercian style, inside the magnificent retabol is of 16th century.
There is a small museum which houses the 13th-century Gothic tomb of Dona Urraca Lopez de Haro, founder of the abbey. The tomb is thought to be the oldest and first sarcophagus of its type in Spain. The nuns of Canas make and sell pottery and rosary beads.
Canas is the birthplace of Saint Dominic of Silos and apparently, Saint Francis stayed in the convent while on his pilgrimage to Santiago.
Leaving Canas follow the LR 327 until you reach the LR 204, where you turn right and stay beside the road until Ciruena, a total distance of about 6 km.
9.4 km, water, bar, cafe
Ciruena is a small hilltop village of only 130 inhabitants. The first reference to the village dates to 972 when the town was donated to the monastery at San Andres by Sanchos Garcia II.
The Parish Church of St Andrew dates from 1965, however, it has been built on a former Romanesque church that was first constructed in the 10th century.
The final stop of the day, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, is 6 km from Ciruena.
I love hiking, backpacking, and camping. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.