Stage 13 – Hornillos to Castrojeriz
Total Distance – 20.2 km
Adjusted for Climb – 21.4 km (accrued ascent 250 m = 1.2 km)
High Point: The Meseta above Hontanas at 950 m (3,117 feet)
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This was to be the third day (Pamplona was the first and Puente La Reina the second) that I started walking alone. As you know – from my belly-aching in my last two posts – I’m not a believer in starting out early, early, in the morning. Craig was, and he was gone long before I was. The day started out as a beautiful one that promised to be warm.
My cyclist friends that I had dinner with in Hornillos had emailed me the previous night after they stopped for the night. They told me that they especially enjoyed their brief stay in the village of Hontanas (10.8 Km from Hornillos). They found it to be a beautiful village and recommended that I have lunch there. The prospect of doing this put me in a very good mood as I started out alone that morning. I was also put in a good mood by the wildflowers by the road and the beautiful views of the windmills in the distance. Once you walk the Camino you come to realize the large numbers of windmills that Spain has. It’s amazing to see them practically everywhere and I saw them a lot while walking.
While walking mid-way towards the hamlet of San Bol a slender Peregrino caught up with me. His name was Guy and he was in his late 30’s to early 40’s. He was an Austrailian business executive that was very fit due to his extensive walking excursions throughout the entire world. As we walked together he told me that he had badly injured his back and that the doctor in Burgos had told him to either stop walking or to greatly reduce the weight that he was carrying on his back. He didn’t want to stop, so after much gut-wrenching deliberation he decided to use a very small day pack to carry his water and have a baggage service carry his large backpack to his next destination. He was torn about having to make this decision because he felt it was not the right thing to do but he said that one of his friends convinced him by saying,
You’ve had native porters carry your equipment in the Amazon and rainforests of Asia – How is this any different?
While walking we talked about our lives and about the Camino. He began his Camino the day after I did, also in St. Jean Pied de Port. He said that the route over the mountains was closed in the middle of the day due to heavy hail and bad visability. He saw how the hail tore open large holes in ponchos of the other Peregrinos attempting the climb. He was lucky to have sturdy rain gear but he said that the hail was hitting him so hard that he had to seek shelter in an emergency hut. He also said that two pergrinos had died that day. I heard this rumor from another pergrino but I cannot say whether it was true or not. I hope not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.
I never cease to be amazed at how walking the Camino with someone can really lead to interesting and deep conversations that don’t happen that often in our everyday lives. We were soon outside of the “classic pilgrim village” of Hontanas (Pop. 80).
Much to my surprise at a shrine just outside of Hontanas I again ran into Patricia there! I don’t know where she came out of because I had not seen her anywhere in Hornillos.This shrine was not listed in my guidebook so I unfortunately cannot tell you its’ name but I think it is dedicated to St. Brigida.
We were happy to see each other and spent some time having lunch in the village. Hontanas is a little village hidden in the valley of a little river. The name refers to the many springs in the area (Fontanas becomes Hontanas, why I do not know). The 14th century Iglesia parroquial de la Inmaculada Concepción dominates the village square that is to the right of the entrance to the village. The church is of large proportions and was built in a primative Gothic style but was re-styled in a neo-classic style over the years. It was annexed to the Bishop’s Place and you can still see the Gothic arch that remains.
Hontanas is the only village between Hornillos and Castrojeriz. It is 30 km from Burgos and is a more attractive spot to stay than Hornillos although I cannot vouch for the quality of the two private and one municipal albergue.
Guy and I continued on our way while Patricia stayed behind in the village. Soon Guy and I were walking on a beautiful tree-lined road that reminded me of those roads in the south of France. It was just beautiful. Soon we saw Patricia walking and chatting away with Andrea – the Peregrina that was ill in Ages. Even though Patricia spoke no German or English and Andrea spoke very little Spanish you could tell that they were communicating fine and enjoying each other’s company.
As we travelled on the road towards Castrojeriz we had one significant pilgrimage site that we would be seeing soon. It was the magnificent ruins of the hospital and monastery of St. Antón.
The Order of San Antón was founded in France in 1093 at St.-Didier-de-la-Mothe and linked to St. Anthony of Egypt, San Antón Abad, the patron saint of animals. The “T” shaped cross known as the Tau became the symbol of the cross and is also known as the La Cruz del Peregrino. It was said to resemble the mark placed by angels on the doors of Egyptian Jews to exempt them from the plague that killed their first-born sons. This order was also known for having the ability to cure the medieval plague known as St. Anthony’s Fire. This plague reached epidemic proportions during the 11th to 14th centuries. It was a fungal disease, akin to leprosy, caused by what is now believed to have been the eating of barley bread infected with a fungus generating the alkaloid ergotine – now called Ergot’s disease. The symptoms which included a burning sensation, bluish color, a loss of circulation that eventually led to gangrene and the loss of mental functions, eventually led to death. The church and hospital was founded here in 1146 with the help of Alfonso VII. The ruins of the buildings you now see are from the 14th and 15th centuries and at the height of the complex there was a church, convent, hospice, a mill, an orchard and dovecotes located here. Eventually the Order of San Antón would have as many as 369 hospitales all over Europe. The Order was disbanded in 1787.
When you stop here to view the ruins you cannot help to be impressed by the surviving archway spanning the pilgrimage road. It is similar to many French pilgrimage hospices and also to the Spanish complexes in Puente la Reina and Trinidad de Arre. It was here that the monks, dressed in black habits with a blue Tau on their backs, each evening laid out food in the niches in the wall in front of the porch. Nowadays Peregrinos lay notes with their supplications in the niches. The niches and this wall are all that remain of the monastery’s hospice.
After passing these ruins we could clearly see the town of Castrojeriz and the castle on the hill to the right of the town. The road was what I would describe as “sumptous”, at many points lined with shade bearing trees and also beautiful flowers.
As we walked we saw Patricia and Andrea still engrossed in their conversation and Guy and I decided to take a break in the tall grass by the side of the road to soak it all in. We ended up having quite an interesting conversation about American and Austrailian politics and their militaries. After this we were on our way again and soon entered the town of Castrojeriz.