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And they say that he got crazy once and that he tried to touch the sun…

By mLu.fotos from Germany – Perseids 2015 – Compilation 1 (All in One), CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42351494

One of the most beautiful sights on the Camino is the sky above.  I recall lying in a field one night in August 2016 along with my friend Jay and a group of five or six other companions outside Carrión de los Condes, watching the annual Perseid meteor shower over the Meseta — the inspiration for the line ‘I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky’ in John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High.  The clear darkness was streaked with flecks from a cosmic arc welder and we sat eating cheese and bread, all wrapping up against the heavy dew and sleeping briefly and fitfully, before hitting the road with dawn lighting upon our backs.  At Tardajos, west of Burgos, in 2018 the warlike Mars showed red in the sky as the town prepared for a night-time concert that would start long after we peregrinos were peacefully tucked up in bed.  And like so many others I remember the sun setting over the ocean at Finisterre, and sharing a cigar with my friend Tyler on the pleasant walk back to the town in the evening gloom and deepening night.  But the sky is filled with more than just lights (there’s rain too, and by God plenty of it in Asturias!), and it’s also home to some of the Camino’s most interesting inhabitants.  Not least among these is the Red Kite (Milvus milvus), which was once native to Ireland until driven to extinction in the nineteenth century, although a breeding programme has helped reintroduce it to the Wicklow mountains using birds from Wales.[1]

By Charles J. Sharp – Own work, from Sharp Photography, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90658674

The Red Kite is a reasonably large bird of prey, with a reddish-brown body about 60 cm long and a wingspan of 1.8m. You’re most likely to spot a Red Kite in the sky above you than on the ground or trees, so its profile rather than colour is what to look for, especially as it may look dark when silhouetted against the bright sky.  You’ll probably see it glide on outstretched wings that are white toward the edges and have five dark feathers, almost like fingers, at the end of each wing.  Its wings are angled (the leading edge is flat farthest away from the body but then angles in toward it), and these along with its deeply-forked tail give it a distinctive profile.  Other large birds of the Pyrenees include the Griffon Vulture, which is much bigger (body of about a 1m long and wingspan of 2.5m), which presents a much straighter wing edge when gliding (indeed its wings look almost rectangular),[3] and of course the large Golden Eagle, which also presents a flatter wing profile and seemingly more ‘fingers’ at the ends.[4]  The tail is the real giveaway, as the Griffon Vulture’s rounded diamond tail and the Golden Eagle’s longish flat tail both look nothing like the deep-v shape of the Red Kite.

If you do walk along the Camino in the regions around the Pyrenees, make sure to look up, and you’ll probably agree with John Denver:

And the Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
I know he’d be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly
Rocky mountain high
.[5]


[1] Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, ‘Red Kite’: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/red-kite.

[3] Image: https://www.rondatoday.com/griffon-vulture-of-the-serrania/ Image:

[4] Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, ‘Golden eagle’: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/golden-eagle.

[5] John Denver, ‘Rocky Mountain High’, https://youtu.be/eOB4VdlkzO4.

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A recipe for pleasure: Tarta de Santiago (Santiago’s Cake)

By Katrin Gilger – Tarta de Santiago, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=89958476

Tarta de Santiago (or Torta de Santiago in Galego, the language of Galicia) is one of my favourite deserts and is a wonderful expression of what is best in Spanish cooking — good ingredients used simply but effectively.  Essentially, it’s a flat cake of almonds, eggs and sugar, in roughly equal measure, which mightn’t sound very adventurous, but I always get excited when I see it on the menu and I’m willing to risk a diabetic shock every time for that crumbly sweetness.  Since 2009 it has had Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status, meaning that only tartas made in Galicia and adhering to certain quality guidelines (e.g. percentage of almonds) are permitted to be sold as Tarta de Santiago.

During the first lockdown in 2020, my friend and fellow peregrina Zoe and I had a remote bake off, where she clearly put my effort in the shade.  I’m not going to embarrass myself by putting up the photos. We both followed the same recipe by the Galician chef Alfonso López Alonso, which you can watch here on YouTube, or read here from the website of the Spanish newspaper El País.  I’ve translated it below, with a few additional notes.

Ingredients

  • 250g peeled almonds
  • 5 large eggs
  • 250 g sugar
  • 1/2 lemon [My note: rind only]
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/2 shot of spirits [My note: Galicia is known for spirits like orujo (grappa to Italians), if you don’t have anything similar just use something dry, like gin]
  • Icing/powdered sugar for decorating

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Toast the almonds in a pan over a gentle heat, taking care not to burn them.  Remove and let them harden.
  3. While they are frying, beat the eggs with the sugar until they turn a pale colour.  Grate in the lemon and add the spirits and cinnamon.
  4. Blend half of the almonds thoroughly, until they’re like flour.  Blend the other half for less time, so that they retain a coarser texture.
  5. Add the almonds to the eggs with the sugar and mix with a spatula until smooth.
  6. Grease a detachable tin or flexible mould of 28cm diameter with butter.  [My note: make sure it’s well-greased, as this is a crumbly cake and you want it to be able to get it out of the tin without falling apart on you].  Put the mixture in the oven for 30 minutes until the surface is golden.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for another ten minutes.  The exact time varies depending on the oven.  The best thing to do is check it by pricking it with a skewer or fork: if it comes out clean, it’s ready.
  7. Take out of the oven and leave it to cool for ten minutes before removing from the tin.
  8. When it is completely cool, sprinkle with the icing/powdered sugar.  If you want, make a stencil of the Cross of Santiago, which you can download from this blog. [My note: make sure it really is completely cool, otherwise the icing sugar will melt into it, instead of giving it the snow-covered appearance you want]

The Camino and the Spanish Civil War (part 6 – Santiago de Compostela)

At the east end of the cathedral (the ‘back’, so to speak) the square known as Praza da Quintana is divided into two levels, the lower Quintana de Mortos (‘Square of the Dead’) used to be a cemetery until the end of the eighteenth century, and above the steps lies the Quintana de Vivos (‘Square of the Living’). It’s a good place to meet old and new friends, and those who are not necessarily friends. I caught up with one of the latter there – José Antonio Primo de Rivera.

The Third of May 1808, by Francisco de Goya, from Prado in Google Earth (2022, July 1), via Wikimedia Commons

At the east end of the Praza da Quintana (directly facing the cathedral) is a former monastery, now a museum, the Mosteiro de San Paio de Antealtares. It was a forerunner of the University of Santiago de Compostela, and high on the wall is a plaque dedicated to scholars of the university who formed the Literary Battalion and fought against Napoleon’s army in the Peninsular War/Spanish War of Independence (1807-14). To non-Spanish audiences that war is probably most famous from Goya’s paintings, most notably the groundbreaking The Third of May 1808 (above), the first western painting to depict the horrors of war from the victims’ point of view.

The inscription on the monastery wall reads:

A LOS HEROES DEL BATALLON LITERARIO DE 1808 LOS ESCOLARES COMPOSTELANOS DE 1896 Y LOS AYUNTAMIENTOS DE 1822 1865 Y 1896

To the heroes of the Literary Battalion of 1808, [from] the Compostela scholars of 1896 and the city councils of 1822, 1865, and 1896

Plaque to the Batallon Literaio and inscription to José Antonio de Primavera in the Quintana de Mortos (‘Square of the Dead’), Santiago de Compostela (image: author’s own)

Directly above it, carved into the monastery wall (also in capitals), is the name ‘Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera’. The desire to associate him with the Batallon Literario and to present the fascist struggle as a new Spanish War of Independence is pretty obvious. Both are located in the Quintana de Mortos, but as I hope to show in future posts, the ideology is still quite alive in the territories of the Camino.

Medieval Mapping – a superior technique for a modern pilgrim?

A hodological map from John Brierley’s Pilgrim’s Guide
available to purchase here.

When chatting about guides and maps to the Camino, John Brierley’s A Pilgrim’s Guide is often spoken of approvingly, particularly for its maps.  Indeed, a separate smaller maps-only versions of his guide to the Camino Francés and Camino Portugués are also available.  Part of the reason they are so successful is that they follow a design principle found in many medieval maps – they are hodological, rather than cartographic.

What do I mean?  Well let’s start with cartographic maps, which we take as a default.  These have three common characteristics.  Firstly, they are usually orientated with north at the top of the page, second they are usually to a fixed scale (e.g. 1cm = 1km), and third they are comprehensive (e.g. they include every road).  Although we take these characteristics as a given, they are simply inventions and conventions, and measured by these standards, Brierley’s maps fare poorly.  Let’s take the example of his Map No 2 (covering 21.9km between Roncesvalles and Zubiri) and No. 25 (covering 30.6km between Molinaseca and Villafranca).  Firstly, the exact same size page, without a scale, is used for covering distances that differ by 8.7km.  Secondly, the orientation differs – north in No.2 is at 4 o’clock, but it is at 2 o’clock in No. 25.  Thirdly, both maps are blank where a number of small settlements should be inserted.  But for a peregrino Brierley’s maps are superior.  Why?  Because they follow a common medieval principle, they were not conceived of in cartographic terms but rather in hodological terms.

Hodos is Greek for a ‘path’ and that’s what his maps do, they outline the route that one would take in a day.  Many medieval maps do likewise, especially pilgrim maps.  The aim was to help you get from A to B, not to inform you about C to Z on your right or left.  As many of you who have used Camino maps that are simply overlays onto cartographic maps will know, they quickly become confusing.  Maps, like the pioneer of graphic design Edward Tufte suggested of charts, should give the maximum amount of information for the minimum amount of ink.  The average medieval pilgrim map, like that of thirteenth-century Matthew Paris, gave you the route in daily sections – the English word ‘journey’ is from medieval French meaning a day’s travel.  You will already be familiar with the hodological mapping principle if you have ever used an underground rail map (like the Tube in London, or Metro in Madrid or Paris).  You will know that it bears a limited resemblance to the surface, but is perfectly useful and indeed superior to a cartographic map for getting you from A to B.

All we need to do now is stop focusing on the maps – paper or Google – and take a look at what’s around us.

The Camino and the Spanish Civil War (part 5 – Burgos)

Juan Yagüe (1891–1952) 
By unknown author; public domain: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57463719

I’ve been to the village of Tardajos three times (10km west of the centre of Burgos), in 2016, 2018 and 2022, and if you’ve walked the Camino Francés, you’ve certainly passed through it too.  When I was there in 2018 I noticed something that surprised me; the name of the principal street was Calle General Yagüe.   If you want to know what kind of person Juan Yagüe was (1891–1952), let’s just say it’s never heartening to hear ‘Butcher of…’ put in front of a name, and in the Spanish Civil War the ‘Butcher of Badajoz’ was one of the Francoists’ most competent field commanders, and one of their most brutal too.  When I returned to Tardajos in 2022, the name had been changed to Avenida de España (Google Maps still has its old name, although the street view images have been updated).

This time around I had enough Spanish to inquire about the change, and it was a pattern that I found replicated in subsequent small villages and towns, where (I’m told) the names of places that commemorated Francoists had been changed by regional or central government.  Another 40km west, outside of Itero de la Vega, an old man told me that three streets in the village named for Generals Franco, Mola and Calderón had all been renamed (Itero de la Vega is so small I doubted if there were even three streets in it).  When I asked him his opinion on the changes, he was opposed saying that there had been no local consultation and it felt like someone had come into his house and told him they didn’t like where he had put the bed and that he had to move it.  Anger at lack of consultation was a sentiment repeated elsewhere, but none of the people I talked to seemed to have questioned whether locals were asked if they wanted their street names changed in the 1940s!  I suspect that many were quite comfortable with their Francoist past.

While all this has much to tell us about the politics of remembering and forgetting in post-Franco Spain, it also touches on something deeper – the power of names.  The right to name is a precious privilege, guarded jealously and intimately associated with ownership and control, for example in western societies your parents’ right to name you or your right to name your children is considered almost sacrosanct.  The ability to name places is an exercise in control and also controls the social, communal and historical narrative that goes with them. Keith Basso in his famous book on places and placenames of the Western Apache in Arizona, brilliantly summed this up in its title – Wisdom sits in Places.

Given the number of small towns that have a ‘Calle Camino de Santiago’ (or some such), most of which are certainly modern coinings, I can’t help but wonder how many of them obliterate Francoist names that no longer suit the ecumenical image that the Camino is intended to portray?

The Camino and the Spanish Civil War (part 4 – La Rioja)

Santo Domingo de la Calzada, La Rioja (image author’s own)

There’s one person you’re bound to meet on your Camino, and if you don’t find him at first, keep looking and like Where’s Wally? (or Where’s Waldo? in the USA), he’ll eventually pop up — he’s José Antonio Primo de Rivera, and I first spotted him in La Rioja.

You enter the famous winemaking region at its capital, Logroño, a city renowned for tourists doing the ‘Elephant Walk’, as they lumber from one tapas bar to another, and possibly stumbling past its largest church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  With an inscription from July 1936 on the wall facing the large square declaring Spain’s victory in its crusade against Communism, it offers thanks to El Caudillo ‘The Leader’, Franco.  The inscription is too high up to be effectively mutilated by a passer-by, but when I was there in March 2022 some Bugsy Malone with a blue paintball splurge gun had recently given it a shot for each year of the civil war.  Not so the inscription to José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Falange Española, the Spanish fascist party which became Franco’s political organ.  It remains high on the wall around the corner, safer than José Antonio himself who was executed by the government in 1936.

But José Antonio isn’t gone, on the contrary, you’ll find him presente (‘present’) everywhere you go.  Just like those pilgrims you lose for a few days and then bump into at a random café, likewise, two days later, I caught up with him on a church wall in Azofra, a small town where the only sign of life was a municipal worker with a leaf-blower attempting to remove signs of life.  There, proudly presente on the church porch wall, José Antonio led twelve disciples who had ‘died for God and for Spain in this holy crusade against communism’.  And on my last day in La Rioja, I found him playing peek-a-boo on the Calle de la Alameda in Santo Domingo de la Calzada.  The cast-iron street sign riveted onto the wall only half-obscured the older painted name Calle José Antonio Primo de Rivera.  Perhaps no better metaphor for modern Spain; a hasty attempt at a durable change failing to obliterate an uncomfortable past still close to the surface.  As I took a photo of it, I asked a passing old man about the name change.  In the 1980s he said (and on this basis you could twin Calle de la Alameda with the Gran Vía in the heart of Madrid).  ‘And what’s more, you’re taking your photo from Calle Pinar, which used to be Calle Mola!’  I really like Santo Domingo de la Calzada and the people there are among the friendliest I have met on the Camino, but for God and for Spain it was time to leave.

Jacques de Molay – last Grand Master of the Knights Templar

Templars burning,Chroniques de France ou de St Denis
British Library Royal MS 20 C vii (late 14th century)
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=267371

There’s an awful lot of junk written about the Order of the Knights Templar, and it’s not just the fault of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code – it stretches back at least as far back as the eighteenth century founding of the Freemasons, and ultimately has it roots in the events of the Order’s demise.  The Templars were members of an order of crusader knights that was founded in the early twelfth century, entrusted with protecting pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land.  From very small beginnings (their seal shows two knights on the same horse to show how poor they were), they quickly became one of the most important military orders in Christendom, accumulating substantial property and wealth across Europe and beyond (with castles from Krak des Chevaliers to Clontarf).  Essentially they were fighting men (noble knights and non-noble soldiers) who took vows similar to those of monastic orders (e.g. poverty, obedience etc.).  But if individual members were vowed to poverty, the order itself was much less so.  In fact, its wealth was part of its undoing.  Philip IV (the Fair) of France (1268-1314) was so indebted to them he figured the best way to deal with his financial problem was to have their leaders arrested on trumped up charges and confiscate their property – if you owe the bank money, execute the board of directors and help yourself to the vault.

The last Grand Master of the order was Jacques de Molay, and at Terradillos de los Templarios (about the halfway point of the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port) there’s an albergue named after him.  De Molay was born in what is now northern France in around 1240 or 1250 and had no association with Terradillos as far as I know, but it’s a nice albergue and he’s a prominent historical figure, not least because he was burnt at the stake in Paris, in 1314.  His alleged (and most likely fictitious) curse of the Capetian monarchs of France in his final moments forms the basis of Maurice Druon’s perennially popular historical novels Les Rois Maudits (‘The Accursed Kings’).

What would the Templars have been doing in Spain, as far away from the Holy Land as you can get?  Well, naturally they had property all over Europe, but don’t forget Spain was Crusader country too.  The wars against the Muslim forces in the south of Iberia and the capturing of their lands were seen as holy endeavors in Christian eyes too.  Fighters could gain indulgences for waging holy war in Spain just like in Jerusalem, while protection of pilgrims to Santiago (the third holiest city in Christendom) was a duty of military orders too (including the Order of Santiago).  You can find remnants and reminders of the Templars and their strongholds along the Camino, but treat with a fistful of salt (not just a pinch, a fistful) all that Holy Grail and Ley Line stuff.  If de Molay had seen all that in his final prophetic moment, he’d probably have gone to the stake willingly.

The Camino and the Spanish Civil War (part 3 – Navarra)

Pilgrim sculpture, Alto del Perdón, Pamplona (image author’s own)

Alto del Perdón, just south of Pamplona, features in almost every Camino guide thanks to a rust-coloured iron art installation of medieval pilgrims struggling into the wind, accompanied by the legend ‘Where the way of the wind meets that of the stars’ (Donde se cruza el camino del viento con el de las estrellas).  Alto del Perdón means ‘Hill of Forgiveness’, and in pre-modern times there was a pilgrim hostel located at the summit, now marked by a stone monument.  As you descend the other side, you might notice on your left a collection of standing stones that look like some sort of Stone Age construction, but which actually date from 2017.  They are the work of another artist, Peio Iraizoz, and are related to another struggle, the Civil War of 1936–9.

We might never know where Ramón Bengaray Zabalza’s body was dumped, but here — between 1936 and 1937 — 92 people were executed and buried in mass graves.  These were victims of the political cleansing that began in 1936 and continued long after the war was over.  In Navarra, which had gone substantially with the right-wing rebels from the start, there was little military resistance; these were not the victims of open warfare, but of systematic repression.  Since then, Alto del Perdón has been excavated a number of times, but it would be surprising if all of the bodies have been exhumed, and the death count is almost certainly higher than 92.  Having lived in Navarra for nearly a year, I know from the local papers that graves are still being found near Pamplona, and thanks to advances in DNA forensic science, some skeletons have even been identified for families to reclaim.  Generally these families are led by nieces/nephews or grandnieces/nephews of the dead, who do not remember them directly, but rather through the impact their disappearance had on the previous generation(s).

Mass grave memorial, Alto del Perdón (image author’s own)

The monument at Alto del Perdón consists of a large central stone, with a surrounding open spiral of 19 smaller stones, one to represent each of the 19 districts from which the known victims came.  According to an information board near the monument, a Navarrese law of 2018 has dedicated this space to ‘remembrance and the transmission of the values of liberty, peace, social justice and communal living’.  Forgiveness is a different matter.

The Spanish Inquisition and the Camino

The Inquisition Tribunal (Francisco de Goya, 1812×19)
Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29822770

The Inquisition was an office within the Catholic Church that dealt with matters of religious orthodoxy (proper belief and practice), and the Spanish Inquisition’s reputation is not simply a result of its activities, but also of propaganda wars of the sixteenth century and later.  As Spain increasingly portrayed itself as a champion of Catholicism and acquired a global empire, Protestant powers in northern Europe, particularly England and the Netherlands, found themselves both opposed to its empire building and its religious stance.  Put crudely, the activities of the Inquisition were portrayed in as negative a light as possible to beat Spain and Spanish interests in general.  But what was actually happening in Spain?

At that time, Spain was not a single country per se.  The two main powers in late medieval/Renaissance Spain were the Crown of Aragon in the east (which ruled over the area that is now known as Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia, and much of southern Italy), and Castile which dominated much of the rest of what we now know as Spain (the most notable exception being the small kingdom of Navarra in the northeast).  Neither were actually fond of the Inquisition.  Inquisitors were not answerable to the bishops in whose diocese they operated, and their independence irked the kings of Aragon, who did their best to prevent it functioning effectively in their realm.  Meanwhile, the rulers of Castile simply did not allow it to be established in their territory at all. 

A change occurred upon the marriage of King Fernando of Aragon to Queen Isabella of Castile in 1469, a dynastic union of the two crowns that eventually resulted in the creation of modern Spain.  Fernando and Isabella have left a large legacy along the Camino (Isabella performed the pilgrimage to pray for help conceiving) and indeed the world (they sponsored Christopher Columbus’ first voyages in 1492).  Pope Sixtus IV granted Los Reyes Católicos (the Catholic Monarchs, as they became known), the right to appoint inquisitors answerable to them and not local bishops or Rome, and so the Inquisition began to gain a foothold.

Mostly the Inquisition focused upon Conversos i.e. Jews and Muslims who had been compelled to convert to Christianity to avoid expulsion, but who were never subsequently trusted and viewed as converts of convenience or even heretics.  Protestantism was almost non-existent in Spain and witchcraft was a minor concern/not really taken seriously; most Spanish Inquisition witchcraft trials ended in acquittal (indeed Spain was one of the safest places to be tried for witchcraft; much safer than Britain or Germany).  Overall, the numbers executed by the Spanish Inquisition (or rather by secular powers on behalf of the Inquisition) were low.  While very difficult to quantify, maybe 2000 people were executed up to the middle of the sixteenth century, when numbers began to tail off substantially.  By describing this as ‘low’, I don’t intend to belittle their lives and deaths, but simply to suggest that the popular reputation of the Spanish Inquisition would induce us to imagine a much higher number.  Professor Alec Ryrie (Durham University), in his wonderful Gresham Lecture The Spanish Inquisition: Spain’s ‘Black Legend’ (which I highly recommend watching, here), points out by comparison that approximately 1,500 people have been executed by authorities in the United States since the 1970s.

The Camino and the Spanish Civil War (part 2 – Navarra)

Camino disc marker on the Calle Mayor, Pamplona (image author’s own)

As you walk through Pamplona, you are guided along the Camino by the usual yellow arrows and occasional blue sign, but also by a series of shiny aluminum discs embedded in the pavements, with an engraved shell-star and a little biker symbol (I’ll confess that it was probably my third visit to Pamplona when I had that eureka moment and recognised it was meant to be someone on a bike!).  But along the streets of the old part of the city you’ll also find small square gold plaques, bolted on the ground by various doorways.  Quite at random, I took a picture of one of these on the Calle Mayor.  In Euskera (Basque) and Spanish, it reads:

Here lived Ramón Bengaray Zabalza [born] 2nd February 1896, assassinated in Pamplona, 24th of August 1936.

Memorial plaque to Ramón Bengaray Zabalza, victim of the Spanish Civil War, Calle Mayor, Pamplona (image author’s own)

Of course, the date August 1936 screams ‘Civil War’, and unsurprisingly Ramón Bengaray Zabalza was an early victim of the war.  Navarra overwhelmingly went with the rebels at the outset of the insurrection, but Bengaray — who was a trade unionist, local politician and director of Osasuna football club (which still plays in the topflight of La Liga alongside the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona) — was one of the minority that stayed loyal to the government.  What exactly happened to him?  Well, 24th of August is a guess; when exactly he was abducted, when he was shot, where he was buried/dumped, all remain a mystery.

The silver discs lead you out of the city toward Alto del Perdón — the Hill of Forgiveness; whether the gold plaques lead somewhere similar I’m not sure, but they remind us where we’ve been.

How to read a (church) door

Portada de la Coronería, at Burgos Cathedral (thirteenth-century). [Image author’s own].

One of the most common scenes you’ll see over an external church door is the Last Judgement, where all the dead are summoned and Christ grants heaven to some and condemns others to hell (each according to their merits).  The sculpturing of these doors is amazing and was executed according to a universally understood design — a medieval pilgrim from Ireland or Hungary who stood before the thirteenth-century Portada de la Coronería at Burgos Cathedral would have understood it as easily as a local.  Much of what you see in this door is easily identifiable in other church doors along the Camino, or in works of art like Michelangelo’s Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel.  Follow this simple guide below and you’ll be able to impress all your fellow pilgrims with your art history knowledge!

Portada de la Coronería, at Burgos Cathedral – Christ enthroned and in judgement. [Image author’s own].

The easiest way to read a doorway is to start in the tympanum (the area contained within the arch and directly above the door), with the central figure of Christ enthroned and sitting in judgement.  Immediately on either side of him are usually saints, kneeling or making gestures of intercession on behalf of the souls he judges.  Most commonly these are his mother (Mary) and an apostle (here St John).

Portada de la Coronería, at Burgos Cathedral – the saved and the damned. [Image author’s own].

Below him is the busy work of assessing the souls of the dead, often carried out by St Michael, who can be recognised by his wings and the scales he uses to weigh their souls.  The saved are on Jesus’ right (the viewer’s left) and the damned on Jesus’ left (the viewer’s right).  The saved, seen on our left, often include local dignitaries like the founders of the church, in this case we have King Fernando III ‘el santo’ (St Ferdinand) and his wife, Beatriz de Suabia (more about them in a future post).  Somewhat rudely, they’ve left the sepulchre door open and are probably leaving in a draft.  But judgement is not just the business of heaven, and demons also help out, like the hairy one seen on our extreme right, throwing a soul headfirst down into damnation.

Looking up, we see the ‘archivolts’ (the decorated arching bands) above the doorway.  These usually have collections of figures in them, which at first appear something of a jumble (especially if some have been damaged over time), but they are usually ordered thematically, by band.  Simple tips to spot them: if everyone in a band is wearing a crown then they might be the Old Testament Kings of Israel or the elders around the throne who cast down their crowns in the Book of Revelations.  If they’re carrying items or tools (like musical instruments) they may be allegorical representations of the arts and professions.  If they’ve got wings, well… they’re probably angels.

Portada de la Coronería, at Burgos Cathedral – the fate of the damned. [Image author’s own].

Here the outmost band is a continuation of the Last Judgement theme.  On Jesus’ right (our left) we see souls within the outmost band rising up out of their tombs, orientated upward toward the pinnacle of the arch.  On Jesus’ left (our right) are the damned, orientated downward or being thrust, pushed and dragged down by ‘helper’ demons.  At the very bottom, I think you can see a demon shitting on one of the souls!  This isn’t an uncommon image — simply a way of emphasising the foulness of hell.  If you see an ass on a church doorway, it’s up to no good.

Below all this, closest to ground level, you’ll often have a series of statues of saints.  If there’s six on either side of the doorway, you can bet they’re apostles.  They’re usually identifiable by symbolic items they carry or wear.  The two easiest to spot are Peter (carries a set of keys) and Paul (carries a sword; the instrument of his beheading).  They almost always form a pair, which is somewhat ironic given that they didn’t always agree in life!

The Camino and the Spanish Civil War (part 1)

General map of the Spanish Civil War (1936–39)
By FDRMRZUSA, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75214857

You might not notice it, but the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) is a conflict still alive in Spain.  Any Spanish person you meet of 60 years or older (e.g. some of the hospitalero who run the albergues you stay in) will not simply be old enough to have lived under the dictatorship, but will have started to become politically/socially conscious at that time (Franco died in 1975).  Almost every family will have memories, every community semi-repressed memories, and both inherited hatreds.  Political parties have inherited stances and in some cases are direct descendants of older groupings (e.g. the PP – last in government 2018 is the direct heir of the Francoists, though Vox is perhaps a closer ideological heir).  And yet for most of us pilgrims, we are aware of the conflict mainly through the tragic artistic masterpieces it inspired – Picasso’s Guernica, Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and Sender’s Réquiem por un Campesino Español (‘Requiem for a Spanish Peasant’) to name but a few.  But what has this to do with the Camino?  Perhaps more than you think.

Firstly, the outbreak of rebellion by right-wing elements in the Spanish army (led by Generals Sanjurjo, Mola and Franco) in 1936 was followed by rapid territorial gains in parts of Spain.  Some areas declared for the rebels with hardly a shot fired, and those areas along the Camino Francés — parts of modern Navarra, La Rioja, Castille y León, and Galicia — went with the rebels almost instantly (the dark brown areas on the map).  This is not to say that they were spared the horrors of war.  Oh no.  The rule of terror began and continued for a long time, with even the possession of a labour union membership card enough to put you in danger of being shot.  But those areas were spared the damage to churches and ecclesiastical property that happened in other areas, either through military action or the over-flowing frustration of many ordinary Spaniards by whom the Church was viewed as an institution of the elite and an organ of oppression.  Consequently, many of the riches of the Camino that you visit may well owe their survival to being on the ‘right’ side of the line when the Francoists rebelled.  I will provocatively propose that the modern ecumenical Camino is an unwitting legacy of Spanish fascism.

In a series of blogposts, I want to explore the Civil War on the ground, following the route of the Camino Francés, beginning in Navarra, by looking at things like events that happened at individual Camino locations, placenames, and execution and burial sites.  These posts will be broken up by others, but the civil war posts will be numbered, and you can use the labels to follow them.  For those of you who are interested in reading more about the war in general, I recommend the works of Paul Preston, perhaps the greatest historian of modern Spain in the English language, in particular his The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution and Revenge (2006).  We’ll begin in a future post in Navarra, and the reminders embedded in the streets of Pamplona.