Culture on the Camino: in the footsteps of the Templars (Part I)

According to several research studies, interest in the medieval has grown considerably in the last decade.

One of the topics that unleashes passions among fans of medieval history and mystery is that of the Templar Knights. There are many legends and anecdotes about them. What is certain is that they played an important role in the reconstruction of the old Roman Empire to which they infused a new mysticism from the East and from some traditions present in primitive Christianity.

templariosThe Order of the Temple was founded in 1118 by nine French knights led by Hugo de Payns after the First Crusade. They had a dual purpose: religious and military. Their purpose was to protect the lives of Christians on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

In 1129 the Order was officially approved by the Catholic Church during the Council of Troyes. Little by little it gained prominence, accumulating wealth and material goods. Over the course of two centuries, the popes exempted the Templars from the payment of charges and tithes, despite which they gave exceptional importance to humility, charity and service to others.

The non-combatant members of the Order managed a complex economic structure within the Christian world. Their domains extended from the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem to Anatolia, Armenia and the British Isles. Their imprint on medieval culture and art of the time is indisputable; especially from the Mediterranean Sea to the Holy Land where they built numerous fortifications, revived ancient esoteric traditions and founded many universities and educational centers such as the School of Translators of Toledo or the Universities of Palencia and Coimbra.

Regarding the Camino de Santiago, they played an important role as guardians and protectors of the pilgrims. They were warrior monks. They built their own sanctuaries and places of worship along the main routes.

Outside Galicia, for example, the Church of Our Lady of Eunate (Navarra) deserves special mention. “Eunate” means in Basque “one hundred doors” and supposedly refers to the arches that surrounded this octagonal church. In the spring equinox, during the Middle Ages, a pilgrimage was held in this place. It is very possible that a ritual dance was performed consisting of the entrance and exit through each of the doors, symbolizing the path of the Sun.

Nuestra Señora de Eunate

In Romanesque symbolism, the doorways of churches represent heaven. The nine archivolts that surround the doorway of Nuestra Señora de Eunate would be the nine heavenly realms. In the last one there are some strange engravings. They could be the twelve symbols of the zodiac and the Sun (the central image with the head of Baphomet).

Also in Puente de la Reina, at the confluence of the French Way in Navarra, we find the church of Nuestra Señora de los Huertos (1130) which houses a Germanic Christ and the church of Santiago where we find the image of a warrior killing a beast (symbolizing in Templar mysticism the triumph of faith over sin and fears, represented in the animal).

At 50 km from Eunate we can see another small jewel of Templar art: the church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was built in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century and also has an octagonal structure, characteristic of the Order of the Temple. However, the most impressive feature is its Gothic sculptural legacy: centaurs shooting arrows, lion-headed corbels and a profuse medieval bestiary that contrasts with the sober austerity of its interior. The vault is of caliphal type, with ribs that do not cross in the center and that trace a Templar cross.

Iglesia del Santo Sepulcro en Estella

Already in Burgos we will find many remains of monasteries of Templar origin. The Colegiata de la Virgen del Manzano, the convent of San Antón dating from the 13th century and the church of San Juan deserve special attention.

In the Bierzo region, following the Camino de Santiago, we have two important Templar enclaves. The first of these is an immense fortress (10,000 m2) that had a triple wall and twelve towers, each engraved with a tau cross. A few kilometers past Villafranca del Bierzo is the imposing castle of Sarracín, which experts attribute to the Order of the Temple.

Castillo de Sarracín

To be continued…

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