Before I start my tale of the time I spent in Frómista I must remedy my criminal omission of any historical background on the Canal de Castilla. Indeed, before setting out from Castrojeriz I was reallly looking forward to seeing the canal and enjoying the shade of the “peaceful tree-lined path”. My guidebook did not go into much of the history of the canal and so therefore I’ve had to rely upon Gitlitz’s and Davidson’s Complete Cultural Handbook for a historical perspective.
The prosperity of Frómista is inseparably linked to the Canal de Castilla since it was the opening of the canal in 1773 that reversed the economic decline of the town and the surrounding area. Since that day over 200 years ago the area has prospered. In its’ heyday the canal provided transportation for crops and goods, irrigation for fields and power for the corn mills of the area. Long before 1773 King Fernando “El Católico” was the first to suggest the digging of a canal on the Alta Meseta and it took Carlos III’s Minister, the Marques de Ensenada, to begin the work on the canal. That work was on a grand scale taking 50 years to dig and build 4 canals in Tierra de Campos area. Because Spain came late to the canal building party in Europe (one reason might be the lack of major rivers) the railroads soon replaced the canal as a method of transport. Even to this day the canal provides electrical power for the local factories in the area. This humble Peregrino is grateful for the shade that the trees provided that “powered” me into Frómista!!
The name Frómista is derived from the Latin word for cereal frumentum and the surrounding area was the major producer of wheat on the Iberian Peninsula and served as the bread-basket for the mighty Roman Empire. Of course the Celts were here before the Romans and they established the town. After the Romans came the Visigoths and the Muslims conquered the town from them and burned it. They did not settle here most probably due to the flat terrain which was not easily defensible. In the 10th century the area was reconquered from the Muslims and it was repopulated in the 11th century. In the 14th century Frómista was seen as a haven for Jewish families who had escaped persecutions elsewhere in Aragón and Castilla and as a result it thrived as a regional market center in the 15th century. The decline of the town began in 1492 with the expulsion of the Jews and Frómista’s 15th century population shrank from about 1,000 households to 521 in 1491 and to 217 by the mid-18th century. No wonder that Frómista was in need of the economic revitalization that the Canal de Castilla provided!!
My second stop in Frómista (after the Supermarket) was the Plaza San Martín. It was here that the municipal albergue was located and more impressively it was here that one finds the grand Iglesia San Martin. I was eagerly looking forward to visit this church and was not disappointed when I first saw it! I could only imagine what it must of looked like when the monastery that was originally attached to it was there.
The church was consecrated in 1066 and from the beginning it was a church that was meant to be worthy of the pilgrimage Road. Frómista, at its’ height could count on two pilgrim hospitals (Santiago and Los Palmeros, now gone), 3 churches, a pilgrim cemetery and a monastery (alas, also gone). It was truly a pilgrim town! As such it deserved a church as special and impressive as this one. Because of the absence of stone and wood in this area earth was the natural building material used in the building of local structures. Air-fried bricks were predominately used to build structures (I saw some buildings still made this way on my way into town!!) but because these bricks lacked durability large, evenly cut stones had to be imported from other areas at great expense for the building of the church. The builders – architects, masons, painters and sculptors – were all masters of their crafts. When completed they left a masterpiece that was in effect a small-sized replica of the Jaca Cathedral. As such, San Martín is the purest extant example of the 3-nave, rounded aspe Jaca style of the Romanesque. There is a clean simplicity to the church both inside and out and the church contains the best series of capitals (over 100 of them) and corbels (315) in all of Castilla.
I was lucky to have enjoyed in the Iglesía San Martín a classical concert given in memory of the terrorists attacks in New York City and Madrid. The performers were a husband and wife team from Puerto Rico. The husband played a sublime classical guitar and his wife matched him in beauty with a well-trained and melodious singing voice. At times I was overtaken with the beauty of the performances mixed in with that of the church. At the end the duo performed Psalm 131 as a tribute to we Peregrinos in attendance. Here are the words that she sang:
Lord, my heart is not haughty,
Nor my eyes lofty.
Neither do I concern myself with great matters,
Nor with things too profound for me.
2 Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with his mother;
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3 O Israel, hope in the Lord
From this time forth and forever.
I met the couple afterwards and thanked them and told them,
Han venido desde la Isla del Encanto para encantarnos
You’ve come from the Island of Enchantment to enchant us
Right after the concert I was happy to have found Salva in the Plaza San Martín! We caught up with each other but I knew we’d get separated again since I planned to cut the next stage short and stay at Villalcázar de Sirga to see the magificent 13th century Templar church of Santa María la Virgen Blanca.