Stage 22 – Villar de Mazarife – Hospital de Órbigo
Total Distance – 14.1 km
Adjusted for Climb – 0 km (accrued ascent 0 m = 0 km)
High Point: Villar de Mazarife at 880 m (2,887 feet)
CLICK ON THE PICTURES TO ENLARGE TO FULL-SIZE
Before describing this solitary stage for me I need to say something about the village of Villar de Mazarife (Pop. 398). This village is very much like a number of small villages that you encounter on the Camino Francés in that it is quite small and one that exists solely for the Camino. Even the grocery store is called Frutas del Camino de Santiago and the church is dedicated to St. James!
Ever the historian – it’s what I studied in college – I have a deep-seated need to know more about what the village was in the past and also a need to communicate that to others. So – here goes..
The village owes its existence and name to a certain man named Mazaref who in the late 9th century was the head of a mozarabic family from Córdoba that enjoyed certain privileges conferred upon him by the kings of Asturias and León. With royal blessings he began the great enterprise of repopulating the area of the high Páramo with his descendents and succeeded in spreading his family all the way to the banks of río Cea.
Of course there had been pre-Roman settlements in the area but with the Romans and the Roman road the area became strategically important in the maintaining of communications between the important cities of Astúrica Augusta, Bílbilis, Cesaraugusta and Tarraco. This road became the Pilgrim road with the popularization of the pilgrimage to Santiago and continues to be so.
My experience in Villar de Mazarife was limited to my stay in the beautiful Albergue Antonio de Padua. I was sorely in need of a nurturing place to stay and luckily, after having no luck at the overflowing Albergue Tío Pepe, found a private room at the albergue. I was offered an opportunity to partake of a vegetarian paella with all the Peregrinos there but I opted to rest and recuperate with some chorizo and cheese in my room. Theresa who was also staying there enjoyed the excellent paella and the company of all the others at dinner. While at the albergue I met two women from Norway who had visited the small and eclectic museum dedicated to telephones and telegraphs that was nearby. They enjoyed this somewhat unusual museum and also told me about the art gallery of the artist called Monseñor. This gentleman specializes in neo-Romanesque religious works of art.
Breakfast at the albergue was delicious and an opportunity to meet some more of my fellow travellers. Theresa had left much earlier that morning and I did not get a chance to see her before she left and indeed the evening before was the last time I saw her on the Camino. While having breakfast I consulted my guidebook and determined to cut the next stage, that Brierly said was 31 km, in half so that I could spend some quality time in Hospital de Órbigo (Pop. 1,100). Its location on a strategic crossing point on the río Órbigo led the Romans to establish the town. This has made it the site of many battles, the most famous one being the defeat of the Moors here in 878 by Alfonso III (866-910). The town was also once owned by the Knights Templar and the site of a famous pilgrim hospice which gave the town its name. It has one of the longest and best preserved medieval bridges in Spain dating from the 13th century that is built over an existing Roman bridge. The town is also noted for having been a Commandery of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John (no doubt they took over the Templar possessions here).
I said in my introduction that this was to be a solitary stage for me and indeed it was. This was one of those rare moments where I did not walk with anyone from the start of the stage to the finish.
The 15 km to that I had to travel was very flat and a mixture of roads and trails. As such I was able to arrive in record time and had plenty of opportunity to shower and rest before lunch.
When I arrived I made sure to take many pictures of this beautiful and splendid Medieval bridge. As you can see it was well worth my time to have extended my time on the Camino!
The majesty and beauty of this bridge is undeniable and in addition to this it also has a place in history for one of the most chivalrous acts ever. The name of this act is called El Passo Honroso (The Honorable Pass). It was here in 1434 that the noble Leonese knight Don Suero de Quiñones, after being scorned by a beautiful woman, defended the bridge against any and all knights from all over Europe in a jousting tournament. Only Peregrinos with a letter from their Parish certifying them as such were allowed to pass. The tournament began on July 11, 1434 (two weeks before St. James Day in what was a Jacobean year)) and continued for two weeks during which Don Suero successfully defended the bridge until the required 300 lances were broken and regained his honor. After successfully defending the bridge he and his knights completed their Pilgrimage to Santiago. The irony here is that he later married this same woman!! Also, significantly, his chivalrous act may have been an inspiration for Cervantes in his writing of Don Quixote.
After photographing the bridge and while on my way to lunch I noticed the stork nests in the church belfry. I was to see this same sight in many towns and villages in northern Spain.
My quality time in Hospital de Órbigo consisted of a leisurely lunch, plenty of time for photos, a haircut (oh, what a simple luxury!) and a trip to the pharmacy for toothpaste. It doesn’t sound like much but believe me it was a pleasure to take care of these needs. It was also a pleasure to have stayed at the Albergue San Miguel. I chose it because of its name (Gee, I wonder why!) and it turned out to be the right choice for me. The hostess was from Brazil and she was very friendly and helpful and I also met Marta from Argentina who I would start my walk with the next morning.
The Albergue San Miguel is a peaceful place to rest and is filled with artwork done by the visiting Peregrinos. Some of it is quite good and my friend Marta even contributed her own work to the collection.