Useful information about the Camino of Saint James Pilgrimage and Santiago de Compostela

The Collegiate Church of Sta. Maria de Roncesvalles

Posted in The Camino Villages.

Roncesvalles is a magical corner of northern Navarra, one of those places which once visited is never forgotten. It is located next to the French border at the foot of the Pyrenees, and owes its worldwide celebrity both to its natural beauty and to the fact that it was the place where one of the most legendary battles in the West took place: the Battle of Roncesvalles. The legendary battle occurred in 778 and went down in history for being the subject of “The Chanson de Roland”, the most famous epic poem of the Middle- Ages.

Colegiata de Roncesvalles. Foto Marianne Casamance

 It was in 1127 that King Alfonso the Battler urged the then Bishop of Pamplona to Roncesvalles to found an institution that could receive and assist pilgrims arriving through the Pyrenees, most of whom were heading to Santiago. Thus was born the first hospital institution (shelter-hospital) that later, in the early thirteenth century, would be endowed by King Sancho VII of Navarre who was responsible for the current architecture of the church, as well as for its title as the Royal Collegiate of Roncesvalles.

The church is considered to be one of the finest examples of the French Gothic style, which in plan and elevation follows the same pattern as the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. Throughout the centuries the Collegiate has suffered several fires and been forced to make several changes to its church, the most profound of which was a reconstruction made in the early seventeenth century, which partially transformed its outward appearance, masking in part its Gothic origin.

A visit to the Collegiate should include the sculpture of the Virgin of Orreaga, an image of Mary with the Child in her arms which, in addition its beauty, is a figure of popular devotion. We also recommend visiting the cloister and the chapter house or chapel of St. Augustine, both of which adjoin the main church. In the chapel lie the 13th century burial remains of Sancho the Strong, whose recumbent statue corresponds, if legend is to be believed, to the actual height of the monarch: some 2.25 meters!

The group has also museum-library, with rooms in which numerous documents and book treasures are preserved, including what is known as the Chess set of Charlemagne, a singular work that has given rise to many legends and traditions.

Other small architectural constructions complete the set: the Itzandegia house, a Gothic-style architecture that could be originally a dwelling or part of the hospital of pilgrims; the chapel dedicated to Santiago and located between these two buildings, the Monument to the Battle of Roncesvalles, whose carved reliefs illustrate the history of the mythical encounter.

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