The Romanesque in Navarra
The Way of Saint James heads into Navarra through the town of Roncesvalles. During six stages, it passes through several villages that have become the home of some of the best examples of Romanesque in Spain.
In the 11th century, the Iberian Peninsula was divided into two. In the north, the Christian kingdoms were consolidating and gaining strength. Meanwhile, in the south, Islam was still resisting. Despite that, the new kingdoms were regaining territory and gaining ground on the invaders.
Christian civilisation was based on the heritage that the Romans and Visigoths had left on the Peninsula. At this time, an artistic movement arose simultaneously throughout Europe that came to be known as Romanesque art.
It is considered the first international art, and its expansion was made possible by the crystallisation of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The economic growth that drove the comings and goings of pilgrims allowed the construction of great Christian temples.
Romanesque art in the Kingdom of Pamplona
At the beginning of the 11th century, the Kingdom of Pamplona was ruled by Sancho Garcés III the Great. The role of this monarch was crucial for the consolidation of the Way of Saint James and the arrival of Romanesque art on the Peninsula. Pamplona became the meeting point for pilgrims coming from France and Europe across the Pyrenees.
Despite its initial independence, in 1076, the Kingdom of Pamplona was annexed to the Kingdom of Aragón until 1134. It was not until the reign of García Ramírez that it regained its political independence. It acquired the name of Kingdom of Navarre between 1150 and 1194, during the reign of Sancho the Wise, which was to be its political affirmation.
Romanesque art in Navarra shares many characteristics with the Romanesque in Aragón, due to its annexation. The same is true of the examples of this art in La Rioja since the lands of the present-day province originally belonged to the Kingdom of Navarra.
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Santa María la Real is in the heart of the historic centre of Pamplona. Pilgrims who start the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago in Saint Jean Pied de Port can visit it at the end of stage 3.
The original church was built between 1100 and 1127 in Romanesque style. It consisted of a central nave and two side naves crowned by three apses. Despite its importance at the time and despite being considered one of the great examples of Romanesque art in Spain, the Cathedral was reformed in the Gothic style, completely hiding the Romanesque style.
Some remains of this first temple are preserved in the Museum of Navarra. Several capitals and carvings belonging to the Romanesque period of the church can be seen there. The façade was destroyed in the 18th century and replaced by the current neoclassical façade.
Puente de la Reina
From the city of Pamplona, the pilgrim continues along the Way of Saint James to Puente la Reina. On arrival, they come across a Romanesque bridge that has become the icon of the town and after which it is named.
The construction dates from the 11th century and is made up of seven semicircular arches that cross the river Arga. It is believed that Doña Mayor, wife of King Sancho III el Mayor, ordered this bridge to be built to allow pilgrims to cross the river and continue their journey to Santiago de Compostela.
Also, in the town of Puente la Reina is the Church of Santiago el Mayor. It is right on the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago de Compostela, on the main street. It dates from the 12th century but was rebuilt in the 16th century. Some exterior walls and two of its doorways remain from the original church.
Church of Santa María de Eunate
Two kilometres from Puente la Reina, the pilgrim will find the Church of Santa María de Eunate in the middle of the route. This octagonal church with a gallery of 33 arches is one of the most singular Romanesque buildings on the peninsula.
At this point, two variants of the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago meet: the French and Aragonese. The church dates from the second half of the 12th century, and it is thought to have originally housed a pilgrims’ hospital.
Church of San Pedro de la Rúa
The next Romanesque monument that pilgrims can visit is the church of San Pedro de la Rúa in the municipality of Estella. Its 12th-century cloister is considered one of the richest Romanesque sculptural ensembles in Navarra.
The cloister dates from 1170, is late Romanesque in style, and only the north and west galleries remain. It has a square floor plan and combines the iconography of the Way of Saint James with plant and animal motifs.
Palace of the Kings of Navarra
Also, in the town of Estella, the pilgrim can find the Palace of the Kings of Navarra. It is one of the few surviving examples of civil Romanesque architecture and the only one in the Autonomous Community of Navarre. The Palace dates from the last third of the 12th century and faces the Church of San Pedro de la Rúa.
It has a rectangular floor plan and a three-part façade with two towers. Its lower floor consists of a gallery with four semi-circular arches, while the second floor has four large windows.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
At the end of the sixth stage, the pilgrim reaches the town of Torres del Río. Here we find the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The church dates to the 12th century, but not all its composition is Romanesque.
It is of Templar origin and was built between 1160 and 1170. It has a circular floor plan, and its design is reminiscent of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Since its origins, it has been linked to the Pilgrims’ Route to Santiago de Compostela, and its lantern serves as a beacon for pilgrims.