Puente la Reina (the Queen’s Bridge) is a small town of approx 2500 people, but it’s an important staging post on the Camino.
It’s the main crossing point over the River Arga for both the French and the Aragonese Routes to Santiago, hence the reason that Queen Doña Mayor ordered the bridge to be built to allow the pilgrims safe passage. Its prominence as a pilgrim town accounts for its legacy of historic religious buildings, largely built in the 12th Century.
Buildings of Note
Iglesia de Santiago El Mayor (The Church of Saint James) – 12th century Romanesque church with Moorish influences.
Iglesia del Crucifjio (The Church of the Crucifix) – The existing 15th century church is built on the remains of an earlier 12th century building, but the original Romanesque portico, decorated with fantastic animals and plants, was retained along with the chapter house. The church takes its name from its unusual wooden, Y shaped cross inside which is said to have been donated by German pilgrims who had carried it on their shoulders during their pilgrimage.
The original building was a pilgrim hospital, founded by the Order of the Knights Templar, who were entrusted with the protection of pilgrims from 1142 until the suppression of the Order in the fourteenth century. You can find an interesting article on the history of the Knights Templar here. While it’s generally accepted that the Knights Templar fully disbanded 700 years ago, there are those who believe the order went underground and remains in existence in some form to this day. In the 18th century, some groups, most notably the Freemasons, revived several of the medieval knights’ symbols, rituals and traditions.
The Legend of the Virgin of Puy
Iglesia de San Pedro or Church of Saint Peter is the towns most famous church as it is home to the Virgin of Puy or Txori ( bird in Basque).
When the Queen’s Bridge was originally built it had three defensive towers, one of which featured the renaissance image of the Virgin of Puy. From the year 1824, townspeople began to observe the periodic visits of a txori (bird) that fluttered around the image. It was noted that one bird would regularly clean cobwebs and insects from the statue and even washed the Virgin face with water collected from the river. The villagers deemed this a miracle.
The visits of the txori became an annual tradition, celebrated with the tolling of church bells, religious celebrations and even rocket launches. Despite the noise, the bird was unperturbed and would continue to clean the image. The last documented visit was 1843, the same year that the government authorities decided to demolish the crumbling central tower of the bridge where the image of the Virgin was housed. The statue was relocated to the Church of St Peter, but the bird ceased to visit.
Stage 5 Puente la Reina to Estella
This stage follows closely to the N11 and climbs steeply to 450m after leaving Puente la Reina drops back to 400m then climbs again to 500m this time, and finally drops to about 430m entering Estella.
Most of this stage is along tracks through rolling farmland and sometimes on the special pilgrims footpaths constructed from compacted earth. It passes through small towns and villages nested among olive groves, cereal crops and vineyards. Cirauqui (Zirauki), perched on a hilltop, is a pretty little village of winding medieval streets with an example of one of the best preserved stretches of Roman road. Estella-Lizarra is a nice historic town with plenty to do and see.
Crossing the now famous bridge takes us out of Puente la Reina and through the old neighbourhood of Zubiurrutia, once an old medieval settlement. This takes us past the convent of the Comendadoras del Espíritu Santo, built in 1268 as a pilgrim hospital, though the current building dates largely from the 18th century, traditionally it’s said, that pilgrims say a prayer in the convent church before heading off on this next stage.
Initially following the course of the Arga river we move away and head for Mañeru, the town that gives its name to the valley. It’s a small town, with labyrinthine streets that grew up around the wine industry. It sits in the heart of the Valdizarbe wine region along with the next stop Cirauqui.
Cirauqui is a picturesque medieval town located on a hill, surrounded by cereal crops and vineyards. It’s name comes from the Basque for viper’s nest, referencing the rocky hill on which it’s built. Wending your way through the network of steep streets, then through one of the doors of the old wall you can access Santa Catalina and Portal streets and the Town Hall. Built in concentric circles, the town is dominated by the church of San Romano, originally constructed in the 13th century it was remodelled in 1692. It has an impressive Gothic main portico. With a population of about 500 it’s easy to see how it retains much of its enchanting medieval character.
Leaving Cirauqui we step further back in time as we encounter an ancient Roman causeway that crosses a very well preserved Roman donkey bridge.
The next point of interest is the Alloz canal viaduct built in 1939. Before the next village of Lorca we pass over the River Salado (salt river) by way of a small double arched medieval bridge. The 12th-century Codex Calixtinus, deemed the first ‘guide’ to the Camino offers a stern warning,
through the place called Lorca, in the eastern area, runs the river called Salado: be careful not to drink from it, neither you nor your horse, it is a deadly river!
Lorca is a typical wayside village, with a small 12th century Church, San Salvador. Between Lorca and Villatuerta lie the ruins of a pilgrims hostel that was built in 1066 – Hospital de Peregrinos de Arandigoyen. Villatuerta is a town of two halves divided by the Romanesque bridge over the river Iranzu. The older historic town features a parish church, dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, which had Roman origins but had to be rebuilt in the 15th century following it’s destruction by the Spanish. The town also claims to be the birthplace of Saint Veremundo, the abbot of Irache in the second half of the XI century, and the patron saint of the Navarra Camino in Santiago. However, it’s a claim also made by Arellano 16kms south west of Villaturta.
Our next stop is the final one of this stage, Estella.
Estalla was built on the former village of Lizarra (Basque for Ash) and so named because of the abundance of ash trees around the river Ega. It was founded by King Sancho Ramírez in 1090 and one of the most impressive buildings in the town, the Palacio de los Reyes de Navarra built in the early 12th century, is considered a rare example of a civic Romanesque building. It is one of only a few remaining non-religious buildings from this era and now houses the Gustavo de Maeztu Museum .
The town was granted a charter to encourage merchants from France to settle here. As the town grew it gradually divided itself into 3 distinct, and ultimately warring factions, The French, the native Navarrese and the Jews (in the 12th century this latter at 10% was one of the five largest in Navarra). Each district within the town had its own church, separate hostels for pilgrims and walls against their neighbours.
By the tax census of 1366 the Jewish population had dropped to 3% with many massacred in the Navarra civil war in 1328. Following the pattern throughout much of Europe, relations between Christians and Jews continued to deteriorate. Throughout Spain in 1391 there were anti-Semitic riots and finally in 1498, following the Alhambra Decree of 1492, the Jews were deemed expelled from Spain. Many however did not leave but converted to Christianity.
In addition to local, regional and national infighting, Estella’s population was decimated by the Black Death with five major outbreaks between 1348 and 1420. Despite its problems it still prospered from its location on the Camino and was described in the Codex Calixtinus as ” a city of good bread, excellent wine, much meat and fish and all kinds of pleasures.”
Things to See
Well I don’t know about you, but I think there’s plenty here to keep me busy for a day or two, so we’ll continue on after some cultural sightseeing.
In the meantime here’s a fabulous video that shows in less than 5 minutes what I’ve taken all day to try and get down in writing!!
How I covered my kms
1 May – 12.2 kms
2 May – 7.8 kms
Total cycled so far 127.8kms, distance left 646.2kms