Molinaseca is one of the most beautiful villages on the Camino. It belongs to the zone of El Bierzo and with its buildings of stone, wood and slate it closely resembles its Galician counterparts. But as compared with some other villages, Molinaseca still retains perfectly harmony with its natural surroundings, where the houses and monuments seem to emerge from the landscape to which they belong. The pilgrim arrives in Molinaseca by first going past the shrine of Anguish and then crossing the river Meruelo by a beautiful stone bridge. Who could forget it?
The origin and significance of Molinaseca is linked to this bridge known as the "Bridge of Pilgrims” for it allowed pilgrims, travelers and traders to cross the river Meruelo.
The first structure would have been Roman, but the current one is mainly Romanesque, although it has undergone other modifications and restorations, from the eighteenth century down to the twentieth. The present buildings bears witness to a wide range of architects and stone masons, preserving traces of its medieval origins in its seven arches or eyes, but it is the first three that would appear to have suffered the least alteration. Also the variation in the width of the bridge will not have escaped pilgrims’ notice, for it starts at just over 2 meters at the beginning and then broadens out to almost 4 at the other end, at the entrance to the village.
After crossing the bridge, the pilgrim continues on his way past an old stone cross which stands in Calle Real, the street which leads to the village centre. Among the many houses, some can be seen to bear the coats of arms of various noble families. These attest to the fact that Molinaseca was an important royal domain during the Middle Ages, directly under the authority of the king.
The Molinaseca Manor was created in the time of Alfonso VI and his first lord was Count Ramiro Froilaz, nephew of the Cid. From that moment on began the construction and decoration of the first hermitages and chapels of the town, and in the eleventh century we can already read of the shrine of Our Lady. Ms. of Sorrows and St. Marina and the Hospital of St. Roque. The current Sanctuary of Sorrows, which stands on the right of the Camino de Santiago, probably originated in the small chapel that was built then.
The great monument of Molinaseca is the Baroque church of St. Nicholas of Bari, just near the bridge. This majestic church of commanding height was built in the second half of the seventeenth century and dominates the town, and its beautiful bell tower has a clock that was certainly useful to many pilgrims from other times.
Moreover, the village is full of hostels, restaurants and pleasant cafes... and for once that much overworked word ‘charming’ is really applicable!
Photo: Commons Wikipedia, José Antonio Gil Martínez