Thursday, May 30, 2013

San Juan de la Pena - Old Cliff Monastery. Mozerabs.

This monastery is on the Way of St. James, the Camino de Santiago,medieval and current pilgrimage route with many branches converging at Spain's Santiago de Compostela.  It is constructed under a large cliff overhang.  The old Mozerabic chapel dates from 920 AD.  Mozerabs:  Iberian or Spanish peninsula Christians who lived under Moorish rule in the then Al-Andalus. They never converted to Islam, but did absorb some customs and spoke Arabic.  Origins:  Hispano-Gothic, and some northern European Christians, as well as Arab and Berber. Fine little video of the area is here: Peregrina Rosina's work at

Under Sharia law, Jews and Christians lived among the Arab Muslims but had special "dhimmi" status rules -- taxes, some restrictions, lower status, but lived safely.  We can learn from some era's interpretations of Sharia.

End of day brings beautiful lighting.  The Holy Grail is said to have been kept there, as the faithful fled the Moors, see account that stories produce, at
Holy Land, to Huesca, and then circuitous protection route beginning in the 8th Century with the Moorish invasions, with, some say, final arrival at Valencia.

Start at the foot of Mount Pano, above the old town church, Santa Cruz de la Seros, and up the mountain.  The cliff monastery, San Juan de la Pena, is in two parts -- the older cliff monastery, and a newer and large one at the flat summit. 

There are other traditions or origins, in addition to the Holy Grail at San Juan de la Pena, see It is said that a nobleman was hunting, chased a stag who leaped off a cliff, the nobleman and his horse followed. The nobleman prayed for deliverance on the way down. Sure enough, he landed at a cave, found a hermit's bones inside, and gave thanks and built the monastery. San Juan: Saint John. Which?


Route note:  after Roncesvalles, the logical next stop would Pamplona. We had already seen the bulls running there, so took the bypass. Pamplona:  see

Monday, May 27, 2013

San Juan de la Pena, New Monastery 1675

 In 1675, the old cliff monastery burned substantially, so a new complex was built at the top of the mountain. There is a flat, broad area of fields, easy moving around.

The new construction included the big boxy dormitory for the monks, church, and facilities now for conference buildings, as befit the huge and profitable institution that the church had become.

This place is also very dull, but the comfort facilities are helpful.

Do that, and then go back down the mountain to the cliff version. To remind you of that spectacular and historic site, here is another view:  get a glimpse of the cloister under there.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Castle Loarre, Queen's Chapel, Capitals, Church of San Pedro. Chapel of Santa Maria

Castle Loarre, near the village of the same name, is on the tentative World Heritage list. Hope for fast processing, because this is a wonder of 11th Century original structures, never cannoned, never overtaken.  It fell by the literal wayside once it was no longer needed for defense against the Moors, and after incorporating an Augustinian monastery within its walls was not profitable enough. See

Given a choice between seeing Gothic or seeing Romanesque, I choose Romanesque every time. To me, Gothic is intimidating, a power play, the institution is in control and heretics be burned.  Romanesque is tolerant. For a history of this fine castle and its Romanesque heritage, then tainted by Augustinians (say I), see this Aragon tourism site,

Is the interior of this religious space the Queen's Chapel, and is the larger structure the Church of San Pedro? Or is the Church of San Pedro a part that the monks had built when the castle incorporated a monastery? I will call all these Queen's Chapel, because it is smaller than I expect the monastery's church would be. Am trying to confirm. The chapel has also been called the Santa Maria Chapel, see the statue below.  These distinctions blur as a tourist not speaking Spanish.

The rosette motif is ancient, with examples from Mesopotamia, see
It came to mean, as it morphed into a rose, a symbol of secrecy -- sub rosa -- matters discussed under the rose (a carving above the council door, for example), were not to be revealed.   See discussion of the rosette at Castle Burg Eltz in Germany.

This may well be known also as the Santa Maria Chapel.  The dark outline just appeared.  I am not a photoshopper. Is this part of automatic fix?

The best of Spain is the Pyrenees area.

Loarre Castle, Spain. Clifftop, 11th Century beginning

Castles in Spain. Loarre, near Jaca.  

Loarre is one of the best, a Crusader castle with elements that predate even that.  It is a Romanesque treasure, measured by its excellent state of repair (dry, steady climate helps),  its eyrie location, open accessibility for unguided explorers roaming and climbing about, and history with Moors and conquest, invasions, migrations across borders, and defenses against further incursion, then the Reconquest. One of the best. Castles in Spain can be every iota as gripping as the legends suggest, but few offer this hands-on experience.  Go to Loarre. It is also on the tentative list for World Heritage sites, completed process by now? see

The History Channel featured it in a series, History vs Hollywood: The Kingdom of Heaven, see video clip at
The clip points out the three levels of defenses, the oldest part as the inner tower with its secrets and luxury; the monastery that developed around it; and, finally the much later walls.  Invasions.  See

Loarre Castle has several towers.  The King's Tower, and the Queen's Tower. Which is which? A tunnel burrows beneath for escape to the mountain areas behind.

The oldest tower, free-standing.  1020-1030 or so, would probably be the one known as The King's Tower.  Have to check.  The walls came centuries later.  Note the half-open side of the turret, a design that became common.  A King would not always be inresidence.  This was a kind of garrison for troops, mostly, I understand, with a Castellan in charge, until finally the Moors of nearby Huesca were defeated.  It was then that the monastery was established -- no further use for a totally military structure..

 Is this the Queen's Tower?  It is vastly restored. Small doors at ground level:  difficult for a knight in full armor to enter; or anyone on horseback.  Remove the armor, and become more vulnerable.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pilgrim Route. Santiago de Compostela. Camino de Santiago. Way of Saint James

 Camino Frances:  Way of Saint James
Santiago means "James"
Santiago de Compostela
500 miles, Biarritz, France; to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
Here, near Roncesvalles

1.  Walk to Santiago de Compostela, as a pilgrim on your own terms. Start most anywhere in Europe. Some feel drawn to the grave of Saint James the Apostle.  Is it really there?  The conviction motivated innumerable medieval, and now motivates modern pilgrims, on routes to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, at the far Portugal end.  See beliefs at  Others start the walk for their own reasons, solitary, usually; some small groups.  How to pace each walker?  Easier to go alone?

2.  Routes.  The routes traditionally originate in many countries in Europe, ultimately funneling through France (especially at Avignon as another funnel point)  and the Pyrenees, through passes at St. Sebastian, Saint Jean Pied du Port, to Roncesvalles and Pamplona, or through Huesca, Jaca, Lerida.  See the routes at The most well known may be the route Frances, from Biarritz, France (over the border from San Sebastian)  to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, see

Pilgrim, Camino de Santiago, Way of Saint James, to Santiago de Compostela from Roncesvalles, Spain

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3.  Who are the modern pilgrims.  Who takes the long, long walk now?  It is hundreds of miles to Santiago de Compostela from most starting points.  They have their own reasons: self-discovery, self-sorting, as well as religious, for the long, long walk.  Regardless of reason, the routes offer places to stay and wash along the way, and sustenance, and reasonably good signs for where to cross the road -- fast -- to get to the safer other side for a while.  The leg work, however,  is the pilgrim's alone.

4.  Back packs are not necessary.  Use a pull-cart, as in NY from the supermarket. Those who cannot bear the backpack burden can always use the drag-cart.  It does not matter.

Pilgrim, To Santiago de Compostela, Spain, from near Roncesvalles..

Pilgrim with pull-cart. Yes. How you get to Santiago de Compostela does not matter. The motivation to get there, make a change somewhere in your life, self-insight and/or a religious goal, do matter. To whom? Only tothe walker. And that is all that matters. .Take your own time. There are no clocks, only distance, and the feet.

5.  Time commitment. An ordinary person's walk from Pamplona to Santiago to Compostela can take, say six months afoot.  Some divide it into segments, as did a friend of mind, taking three months at a time. I long to go. Do, or can, we just jettison the banal and do it and for reasons important to us but not others?  Need we justify? Do I count?  Does the I in I count, or am I a facilitator for others in this life.  Start walking, kiddo.

These pilgrim photographs are from near Roncesvalles, and some as we move toward Barcelona, crossing other routes coming from the south.

6.  Identifiers.  Pilgrims near St. Jean Pied du Port. On the way, note the Basque traditional structures, the red and white favored scheme. The identification is unique:  a staff, a floppy hat, a scallop shell somewhere.
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And the walker goes on.

Some monument-like sculptures mark the way, an honor seen here, toward Jaca.

.From here, some 760 km to Santiago de Compostela.

.The cows don't even look up.

Follow the scallop shell down the sidewalks, down the roadsides, other signs for where to cross over to a safer place where there is a curve in the road.


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  • Disaster alert.  Will that reference to my own work, to Germany Road Ways, one of our other Europe Road Ways travel blogs, stimulate a random Google to delete my entire blog? Not likely, with one;  but more references, even to oneself, may earn a spam designation and the blog disappears. Is private industry more troublesome to autonomy than government? Private industry can do as it likes with speech, because speech is not protected, not "free" in that setting.

Jaca - Citadel, Castillo de San Pedro, Ciudadella

Castillo de San Pedro at Jaca. Citadel.  A place for military consolidation, housing, a fortress.  This area has been in the way of invasions, refugees fleeing, armies from the now-French side of the Pyrenees and Moors from the Spanish side, and turmoil during the Spanish Civil War of the 20th Century. Spain not participate in WWII. It had its own war at home.

Area history, Aragon, adjacent to Catalonia, and with its own culture'
 Chronology, role of Aragon in areas of Spain invaded, colonized, fought

Chronology of Invasions, Spain

BC.  "Iberians" settle in what is now Spain.  Some connect this group with a lost tribe of Israel, Heber, etc.  Do a search and speculate.  Some DNA appears to support middle eastern roots, and extending with expansions into Hibernia, or Ireland now.  Interesting hobby research.

1000 BC.  Celts migrate/invade; intermarry with Iberians. Then Greeks and Carthaginians colonized coasts and islands

3d Century BC.  Rome took over from Greeks and Carthaginians

5th century. Roman Empire falls. Vandals take over.

420.  Visigoths invade, oust the Vandals, establish monarchy, return allegiance to Rome. Hispano-Romans result?

438.  Suevi invade. Who?  We usually just hear of Franks (Charlemagne) and Visigoths. See this Germanic group and its place in history at,
paper by Jorge C. Arias 2007, Univ. of VA

711.  Muslims invade.

718.  Within some seven years, Muslims were victorious across most of Spain, with only part of the north of Spain still unconquered.  Blitzkrieg.

Jaca -- eclipsed, little reported

11th Century:  Jaca again becomes recognized as a city, and became the residence place for the monarchs, thanks to King Sancho IV, see Question:  If this area was still Muslim, how so??

1137.  Aragon and Catalonia unite to lead the Reconquest of Spain, to oust the Muslims.  Aragon then included Mallorca and Sicily.

1469.  Ferdinand of Aragon marries Isabella of Castile (think Columbus 1492) and a united Spain results.

The equivalent of a Facebook page would be the old heraldry, family feats, connections, great deeds, symbolized in great crests. None of the quadrants here, however, look like the commercial family crest sites for the surname Jaca, in other forms Jacobs, Jacobo, Jacome recalling an affinity for Jacob and perhaps the old story of migrations from the Holy Land, Eber, Heber, Iberia, Hibernia, although inexplicably the site identifies Flanders as place of origin. What?  See  

That site laid out the basic outline of the chronology here. Are both then unreliable?

Enthusiasts would divide the coat of arms into quadrants, find what each, even as subdivided further, means. We missed the hours to visit the Museum of Military Miniatures there, see You go.

Cozy family-run hotel in Jaca, Hotel Nieu.  One star. Fear not.  

One star only refers to amenities, and this is a five star for clean, friendly, welcoming.  It was an easy walk back to the Cathedral of Jaca.

Jaca - Cathedral of Jaca, Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle. Romanesque

Jaca was founded by the Romans, 2d Century AD.  In the 8th Century, Moors took over. Then later, in 795, Jaca beat back the Moors thanks to brave Women of Jaca -- see  Other sides dilute that to "brave men and women" -- others keep it at women.

The women fought like men.  See Google book O'Shea's Guide to Spain and Portugal.  On May 1 of each year, the event is a festival with women reenacting the fight .In Barcelona, the women who battled with such valor were knighted, yes, knighted, and the Order of the Hatchet was established for such warrior women, see  Later, it became unacceptable for women to be seen as warriors, and the authorization was withdrawn.  Order of the Hatchet.  Women Knights.  In Italy, this Order of militant women was known as the Order of the Glorious Saint Mary, see site.   This Order was approved by Pope Alexander IV in 1261.

  • Traveling independently in various countries leads to tentative associations, all to be vetted and corrected by experts.  Nonetheless, this representation of a militant woman, at the Templar village of La Couvertoirade, France, even as obviously a later work andnot a medieval contemporary, looks like it might fit a militant order of women.  Did the Order fo the Glorious Saint Mary merely morph into a hospitaller sidekick, Order of St. Mary in Jerusalem?  Experts, to your research:

Jaca is near the Somport Pass, was the first main town that Pilgrims found after crossing the Pyrenees on the Way of Saint James, aiming eventually for Santiago de Compostela, Spain.  The route through Aragon is breathtaking, see tourist video, Camino Santiago, There are many routes in Europe that converge at Santiago de Compostela.  Jaca is the most easterly town in Spain on the route.

World Heritage site:  The Jaca Cathedral.

Arrive late in the town where you plan to spend the night.  Instead of 2-3 hours in a cafe watching the people in the earlier 5PM town, see go to the next town, and arrive for the night at 7:30 at the one after that. 

Pub food is usually excellent anywhere.  Here, near the Cathedral, the worker's combination platter was 4 slices of pork and chicken (both), tomato and lettuce, fries, fried eggs, and a croquette -- a fried mashed potato croquette.  Tasty. 

This is an 11th Century building, when Jaca was the capital of Aragon. With the establishment of an episcopal (meaning bishop) see (meaning seat), a cathedral was required.  Renovations and add-ons in the 15th-18th Centuries clearly look added on.  

The older sections show original alabaster windows, sheer thin sheets of stone.  Note the ongoing need for fortifications, the high windows.

Am trying to find this circular coat of arms/ There is dome-shaped head wear, helmet or clerical? crossed keys (?) two animals in the unusual position of feet flat to sides of the coat of arms .

I understand that the simpler forms are earlier, the fancier ones reflecting Renaissance influence in renovations.

Come back the next morning for better light.  Here, the interior puts the capitals in context

And the, the Renaissance fancies take over.

What is this very old wall , belfy, building (new stucco).  I recall it being of an age with the Cathedral, need to find notes.