Day 12 Belorado – San Juan de Ortega – 24.1km

As has been the way for the last few days the Camino Frances hugs the N120 for a good part of the day.  For various reasons walking this day is one of my least favourites.  I found myself having to walk along a particularly open and noisy part of the road, with dangerous crossings entering and leaving Villafranca. Beware of the trucks as you enter Villafranca at the truck stop.

There no ATM’s for the next two days, so have enough money to last until Burgos.

For the first half of the day there are villages to stop and have coffee or food; however after Villafranca Montes de Oca there are no villages to buy Belorado to San Juan de Ortega Mapfood until the next day in Ages.  There is a café in San Juan de Ortega where they sell food and refreshments, however they are not friendly or helpful, perhaps due to having a captured customer base.

Most of the day is easy walking until you leave Villafranca where the route starts to climb into the Montes de Oca.  The climb can be steep at times and it is unpleasant if it is raining as the path will turn to mud quickly.  The one saving grace are the trees where shade is available for this part of the Camino.   The day starts at about 800m and climbs to 1150m then back down to 1000m.

I have not stayed in the albergue in San Juan, but most reports are very mixed.  It is run by nuns who by all accounts are rather strict and are rather frugal with the hot water.  There is a small plot of grass to the side of the albergue to camp. The next albergue is 3.6km further along in Ages.

Tosantos 5.1km, water, bar

Albergue Parroquial de Tosantos, parochial, Calle Santa Marina, donation, 30 beds, communal B&M, Bike, Tel: 947 580 371, Open April to mid November (check after the end of October).

Tosantos is a sleepy little hamlet with fewer than 60 inhabitants.  This size if village is common through the rest of the Camino while away from the main commercial cities.

Just beyond the village the Hermitage de Nuestra Senora de la Pena is built into the face of the rock.  Legend hold that an image of the child Jesus has been here since 712 and was hidden under a bell to protect it from the invading Muslims.  However the image is from the 12th century.

Hermitage-de-Nuestra-Senora-de-la-Pena

Villambistia 1.8km, bar, cafe, water

Albergue de San Roque, municipal, 1 Plaza Mayor, €6, 14 beds, W3,50, D€3,50, @, Bike, Bar/Restaurant, Tel: 656 930 220, 680 394 585, Web: http://www.villambistia.es

The Parish Church of Villambistia has an interesting painting from the Italian school of Saint Sebastian and several Renaissance altarpieces. Nearby sits the Hermitage of San Roque which has a small Rococo retablo.

Espinosa del Camino 1.7km, water, bar

Albergue La Campana de Espinosa del Camino, private, Espinosa del Camino s/n, €17, 10 beds, B&M included, Bike (cyclists admitted after 6pm), Tel: 678 479 361, Open all year except from December 15 to January 15.

With less than 40 inhabitants the village struggles to exist and survives due to pilgrims using the albergue and local bar.  The Parish Church of La Asuncion contains a 12th century image of Saint Indalecio who was reputedly one of Saint James’ seven Spanish disciples and is the patron saint of Almeria.  Some of his relics still rest in the cathedral in Jaca on the Camino Aragones.

Care is required walking towards Villafranca due to the bridge over the River Oca you are forced to share the road with trucks.

Five hundred meters before Villafranca on the right sits San Felices Apse.  The ruins are all that remain of a 10th century monastery dedicated to San Millan’s mentor.  A memorial stone has been placed in remembrance of Count Diego Rodriguez, the reconquer and resettler of Burgos, who tradition says is buried here.

Villafranca Montes de Oca 3.4km, water, bar, restaurant, pharmacy

Albergue de Villafranca Montes de Oca, municipal, 17 Calle Mayor, €7, 60 beds, K, W, D, @, Bike, Tel: 691 801 211, Web: http://www.villafrancamontesdeoca.es, Open all year.

Albergue San Antón Abad, private, 4 Calle Hospital, €8-10, 26 beds, B€4, M€12, @, Bike, Tel: 947 582 150, Web: http://www.hotelsanantonabad.com, Open Mar 15th to Oct 31st.

This village is one of several named Villafranca along the Camino due to the settlement of Franks.  It is believed there has been a settlement here since Roman time, however, no traces remain of this or the early settlement from 589 of which some records remain.  The earliest pilgrim’s hospital was built in the 9th century, but the oldest remains in the village are part of the current municipal albergue from the 14th century.  Hospital de la Reina was founded in 1380 by Queen Dona Juana Manuel; the building has been reconstructed, however, the main entrance wall and archway are 14th century.

The Church of Santiago built in the 18th century over the site of a previous church houses a statue of Santiago Peregrino, a fine retablo brought from the Church of San Francisco in Belorado, and a huge 65kg shell from the Philippines which is used as the holy water font.

From here you walk steeply uphill into the Montes de Oca; this was considered the natural boundary of Castilla. However, for pilgrims of the past, this was a treacherous stretch of road inhabited by bandits who would rob and kill pilgrims.

Ermita Valdefuente 5.7km,

This is the second of two fountains between Villafranca and San Juan, however, I suggest filling your water bottle before leaving Villafranca.  The first fountain is only 1.4km from Villafranca and is a rest area.  The next monument of significance along this section is dedicated to the fallen during the Spanish civil war. At Valdefuente there was a small pilgrims hospice from 1187, during the Middle Ages this grew to include a small village and Cistercian priory, today, however, there are only the Gothic ruins which houses some modern statues of Santiago, San Juan de Ortega, and Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

San Juan de Ortega 6.4km,

Albergue de San Juan de Ortega, parochial, San Juan de Ortega, €5, 68 beds, K, M, W€3, V, @, Bike, Tel: 947 560 438, Web: http://alberguesanjuandeortega.es, Open March to October.

Juan Velazquez, (1080 – 1163), Saint John of Ortega, founded a community of Augustinian monks and built a chapel dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Bari sometime between 1115 and 1130.  Saint John had been a follower of Saint Dominic and had helped him build bridges in Logrono.  After St. Dominic died Saint John went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  While sailing home he was caught in a storm and shipwrecked, during this event he prayed to Saint Nicholas of Bari, whose relic he was transporting back to Spain, that if the saint would intercede and save him that he would devote his life to helping pilgrims – something he had already been doing.  On his return, he chooses the dangerous area of Montes de Oca and set about clearing a path and building infrastructure to help pilgrims on their way to Santiago.

Saint John attracted the attention of Alfonso VII, who donated the taxes from most of the Montes de Oca and Saint John became his personal confessor.  Pope Innocent II offered his personal protection to Saint John until his death in 1163 when the monastery came under the protection of Burgos Cathedral.

Legend attributes Saint John as the patron of children, hospice keepers, and barren women.  Once when his tomb was opened, there was a pleasant odor, and a swarm of white bees flew out.  The white bees were interpreted as the souls of unborn children which the saint was keeping safe pending incarnation in faithful women.  This legend was given further strength when Queen Isabel la Catolica visited the monastery in 1477 after seven years of childless marriage.  The Queen took home an arm from the monastery’s ivory crucifix as a souvenir; her son Juan was born shortly later.  Queen Isabel, in gratitude, had the Church of San Nicolas de Bari completely rebuilt in a more luxurious style. (Some of the histories around Isabel is incredibly interesting, the following is only a short fragment but she was a remarkable woman.  Isabel had married her second cousin Ferdinand in secret as her brother the King wanted her to marry in a political union.  They were married in 1469 and due to their family ties, being cousins, they had to obtain a dispensation from the Pope.  Apparently, they were granted the dispensation by Pope Pius II who had died 5 years earlier in 1464.)

There are 114 miracles recorded by the monastery directly attributable to the intercession of either San Juan or San Nicolas.  Three of these are related to pilgrims: an Irish couple were praying by the tomb of San Juan and laid apples on it and the dead child asked for an apple; a deformed pilgrims who walked with crutches vowed not to leave until he was healed, he was; and a French pilgrim with deformed arms, who could hardly walk due to twisted feet was also healed.

San-Juan-de-Ortega-tomb

It is believed that the oldest part of Church of San Juan de Ortega, three apses, was built by San Juan during the early 12th century.  The rest of the church dates from the 15th century.  Externally the church is quite plain, unlike Burgos Cathedral which was built by the same architect.

Internally there are three main sights to see.  The capitals, (capital are the topmost of columns where they attach to the roof or where the load sits), the right apse capital illustrates again the battle between Roland and Ferragut; however, the left apse capital depicts the Annunciation, Visitation, and Nativity.  At 5 pm each equinox, (21st March and 22nd September), sunlight strikes this capital lighting up Mary’s belly while the rest of the church is in gloom, quite an architectural feat.

The 1474 Gothic Tomb of San Juan de Ortega is thought to be designed by John of Cologne, the architect who built the rest of the church, and carved by Gil de Siloe.  The panels illustrate scenes from the Saint’s life.

Under the tomb, within the crypt, lies another earlier Romanesque tomb with original 12th century iconography of the saint attended by angels and grieving monks.  As you walk around you will see three interesting retablos; one is designed as a shrine to San Nicolas and San Juan, this was financed by Queen Isabel; there is an interesting six panels in another retablo depicting tortured souls in hell and purgatory with Jesus and the Apostles above; the last is a narration of Saint Jerome’s life, including his time in the desert and the removal a thorn from the lion’s paw.

Key: W = Washing, D = Drying, M = Menu, @ = Internet, K = Kitchen, B = Breakfast, V = Vending, Cred  = Credential, Bike = Bike Storage

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Belorado to San Juan de Ortega Elevation Map