Itinerary Belorado - San Juan de Ortega
The tenth stage of the Camino de Santiago on the French route is divided into two parts. A first section will be similar to yesterday’s, with small towns that we will encounter along the way. And a second stage, from Villafranca Montes de Oca, which will be much more desolate.
Belorado (Km. 0). Beginning of stage
Practical tips for this section: Tosantos is about an hour’s walk from Belorado. Here you will find a bar where you can take your first break this morning if you’d like. Buen Camino!
To leave the town of Belorado, we cross Hipólito López Bernal street and Camino de Santiago avenue. Afterwards, we cross the N-120 road and, on a wooden footbridge, we go over the Tirón River (km 1.1).
Parallel to the wooden bridge is the El Canto bridge. We continue to walk on a trail that runs along the riverbed of the Retorno, a tributary of the Tirón River. We pass by a rest area with tables and barbecues, to then arrive at Tosantos (km 4.7), with its simple church.
From this town, we can see the hermitage of La Virgen de la Peña, located on the other side of the N-120 road on a rocky slope. Following the signs for the French Way, and with no chance of us getting lost, we reach the neighbouring town of Villambistia.
Villambistia (Km. 10,7)
Practical tips for this section: Next to the church of San Esteban, we will find a fountain that, according to legend, has healing powers. They say that the water that flows from its four spouts helps to regain vitality and do away with fatigue. So getting your head wet may be a good idea before facing the next few kilometres. Buen Camino!
At the entrance to the town, we pass the parish of San Esteban. After visiting it, we once again come out on the N-120 and continue on to Espinosa del Camino (km 8.2), where we can visit the modest church of La Asunción. From this town, the trail becomes a bit more difficult.
Taking our time, we reach the ruins of the Mozarabic monastery of San Félix, and past the ruins we turn left to reach the shoulder of the national road, which we will follow to Villafranca Montes de Oca.
Villafranca Montes de Oca (Km. 11,7)
Practical tips for this section: We have almost 3 hours of walking from this town to San Juan de Ortega, approximately 12 kilometres, so we recommend stocking up on water and food for this section. After the climb, you will find the fountain of Mojapán, however the water is not treated and therefore is not drinkable, even if locals say it is. Whether or not you decide to drink from it, you should learn about its peculiar legend. Buen Camino!
In Villafranca Montes de Oca, the church of Santiago awaits us, next to which we will exit the town and leave behind the N-120. We get ready to cross the mountains of Oca on what used to be a very dangerous stretch in the past but is now a quiet section full of beautiful nature, albeit slightly secluded.
We calmly face the steep climb that heads uphill next to the church, until we reach the viewpoint over the mountains of La Demanda and San Millán, as well as the Mojapán fountain (km 13). At this point, the hill begins to even out.
We continue to head uphill surrounded by oaks, heather and junipers until we reach an antenna and, shortly after, the monument to those who died during the Spanish Civil War (km 15.2). At this point, we begin the sharp descent to the river bed.
After getting close to the river, we go back uphill on a gravel path. This ascent is short but quite steep. The gravel trail gives way to a wide forest path surrounded by repopulated pine trees that will accompany us for the next seven and a half kilometres.
San Juan de Ortega (Km. 23,7). End of stage
Practical tips for this section: Some say that terrestrial energy flows through this small town, try and see if you can feel it and don’t forget to visit the magnificent work of San Juan de Ortega and the legend that surrounds it. See you tomorrow!
Before entering the centre of San Juan de Ortega, we are received by the monastery with the same name, with its monastic church.
Many pilgrims decide to extend the stage to the neighbouring village of Agés, which is located almost four kilometres away, an hour’s walk. However, we choose this location as the end to the stage because it has more things to see and makes today’s walk more manageable. Tomorrow the beautiful city of Burgos awaits us.
Comments Belorado - San Juan de Ortega
In today’s stage, we will find a steep hill and will cross the N-120 road several times. Below are a few tips for completing today’s stage and some culinary recommendations to replenish your energy.
Precautions stage Belorado - San Juan de Ortega
The climb from Villafranca Montes de Oca is tough, although not very long. We recommend resting in Villafranca Montes de Oca before tackling the climb, and to take your time. From the Mojapán fountain, the steep slope will begin to soften.
As for the N-120 road, we will need to cross it when leaving Belorado and then once again before entering Espinosa del Camino. Remember to be careful. To access Villafranca Montes de Oca, you will also need to walk for 800 metres along the shoulder, you should pay special attention in this section.
For people with reduced mobility, this stage is practically impossible, except for a few small sections. The easiest thing to do is to take an alternative mode of transportation to San Juan de Ortega, from where you can continue on the Jacobean route. For cyclists, some sections will be complicated, but this stage can be completed by bicycle.
On days with heavy rain, some sections of the stage may be impassable, especially the ascent from Villafranca Montes de Oca. In these cases, there is no other option but to change routes and follow the N-120 road on the shoulder, very carefully.
Food stage Belorado - San Juan de Ortega
After the climb from Villafranca Montes de Oca, the best way to get your strength back is with a good meal of local food. These are our culinary recommendations for this section in the province of Burgos.
- Blood sausage from Burgos, made with ingredients such as: onion, pork blood, lard, rice and spices; and fried.
- Fresh cheese from Burgos that you will find mainly in salads and desserts.
- Honey from Las Merindades
- Egg yolk cakes (“yemas”)
What to do Belorado - San Juan de Ortega
Today you will find various towns with small parishes and the monastery of San Juan de Ortega. Below, we’ve provided a bit of information on each of these sites.
El Canto Bridge
The El Canto bridge is located in the municipality of Belorado, over the Tirón River. It is believed to have been built by Saint John the Hermit (San Juan de Ortega in Spanish) and Saint Dominic de la Calzada. The construction was carried out during the reign of Alfonso VI.
It used to have a scaffold or wooden pillbox at the entrance to the bridge, which is proof of this structure’s strategic value in the past. The structure was formed by eleven unequal arches.
The middle section was demolished in order to make way for the road. Nevertheless, the outer parts have been preserved: several Romanesque arches made of siliceous stone.
The municipality of Tosantos has an area of six square kilometres and just over 50 inhabitants. This small town has a simple church dedicated to Saint Stephen.
In front of the town, crossing the N-120, is the hermitage of La Señora de la Peña with greater historical value. In the vicinity of the town are the caves of Los Arancones, a group of caves located east of the village.
Most of the caves are inaccessible. These perforations in the rock are supposed to have been the work of the Arabs, although some of them have been recently altered.
Hermitage of Nuestra Señora de la Peña
The hermitage of Nuestra Señora de la Peña is built into the face of the rocks, across from the town of Tosantos. Its location means that only its main façade can be seen.
The façade of the hermitage is in a Renaissance style. There is a steeple on the upper part, along with a belfry with two bells.
Inside, the small temple is formed by a main chapel, a transept, a central body and a small choir. The main chapel is separated from the rest of the church by an iron gate, which is where the altar and Baroque altarpiece are located, which houses the figure of “Our Lady of the Rock”.
On the other side of the fence and next to the main altar, there are two other altars with altarpieces, both of which are also in a Baroque style.
In the area surrounding the hermitage, there are a few caves. In the past, these were used as dwellings by some of the hermits who were devoted to worshipping the Virgin.
The town of Villambistia has an area of 13 square kilometres and a population of less than 50 inhabitants. In the small town, you can visit the parish church of San Esteban and the hermitage of San Roque.
The church of San Esteban has a nave divided into five sections. In the presbytery there is a painting of Saint Stephen from the Italian school. Inside, you can also see various Renaissance altarpieces.
To access the hermitage of San Roque, you have to cross a small bridge over the Ranaza stream. Inside, it houses an altarpiece from the convent of San Francisco in Belorado. The piece is in a Rococo style and is decorated with red and blue.
Villafranca Montes de Oca
Villafranca Montes de Oca is a municipality that covers more than 50 square kilometres and is home to around 120 residents. The town dates back to Roman times and was originally founded by Auca somewhat south of its current location.
The Muslim invasion in the 8th century practically destroyed the town. As it was rebuilt during the Middle Ages, its location moved further north, situating itself in the Oca valley.
The town has many different buildings of historical interest such as the church of Santiago el Mayor and two old pilgrim hospitals. One of them, the current pilgrim shelter, was founded in 1380 by the Queen of the Castle, Juana Manuel.
The other, the Royal Hospital of Pilgrims, is a landmark on the Jacobean route. It was here where medieval pilgrims prepared themselves to face the dangerous crossing of the Mountains of Oca. In addition, the hospital was also famous for its wealth and charity.
In this town, you can also visit the archaeological museum, where you can see many of the findings from the archaeological sites in the area.
Church of Santiago
The church of Santiago el Mayor, located in Villafranca Montes de Oca, dates back to the late 18th century, although its construction continued up until 1821. It is a temple in a neo-classical, Baroque style.
The parish has a Latin cross plan and its structure is formed by a single nave. From the outside, we can observe its clock tower with a square base and topped with a belfry with a bay, in which the bell is located.
The most interesting part of this church is found inside, where the largest shell of the entire Camino de Santiago is kept. A scallop brought back from the Philippine archipelago and that functions as the parish’s baptismal font.
Espinosa del Camino
The town of Espinosa del Camino has an area of 7 square kilometres and just under 50 residents. The municipality has a group of typical houses that are well preserved, on which we can highlight the timber framing on the upper floors. You can also visit the town’s modest church.
Church of la Asunción
The church of La Asunción in Espinosa del Camino is a modest church in a Renaissance style. It was built in the 16th century.
It has a Latin cross plan structure, with a striking alabaster on the portal from the 18th century, along with a polychrome statue of Saint Indaletius from the 12th century.
In 1544, the temple was enlarged and the greater chapel was added and covered by a starred vault. This expansion was carried out by the stonemasons Juan de Landeras and Juan de Carasa, and the materials used for this work were provided by the town.
Monastery of San Félix
The ruins of the church of San Félix are located at the foot of the mountain, in the area surrounding the town of Villafranca Montes de Oca. No one knows exactly when it was founded, however the first written reference to it goes back to the year 863.
In this document, it is said that San Félix de Oca was exalted by Abbot Severo and Count Diego Rodríguez Porcelos, who is believed to have been buried within its walls. As of 1049, the temple became part of the monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla, a fact that is included in written references.
Of the remains that have been preserved, the church’s chevet is still standing, with a square floor plan that is accessed through a horseshoe arch. The excavations showed that the structure of the temple had a basilica plan and that its foundations go back to the Visigoth period.
The Mojapán Fountain
The Mojapán fountain is located on the way up through the mountains of Oca, on the French Way, just after the first two kilometres of the climb from Villafranca Montes de Oca. It was a very famous fountain in ancient times.
According to locals, its name comes from the pilgrims who took advantage of it to rest from the tough climb. To replenish their energy, they would drink from its water and eat the hardened crusts of bread from their pouches, dipping the bread in the fountain’s fresh water to soften it (Mojapán in English literally means “wet bread”).
The fountain also has its very own legend, according to which there was a group of pilgrims who spent the night in Villafranca Montes de Oca and the next morning when they woke up, one of them had disappeared, taking with him the shared pouch that contained their very last crusts of bread.
The group went to look for him and found him at the Mojapán fountain, exhausted and suffocating with a huge ball of bread that had formed in his throat. He had tried to soften the bread in the fountain, but it had dried up suddenly.
The pilgrim thief, who was desperate to eat, had crushed up a piece of bread and began to eat the small crumbs until they ended up forming a ball of bread in his throat that choked him. His companions, finding him in such a predicament, instead of giving him a beating as they had planned, decided to help him in honour of the Apostle Saint James. It was in that very moment that the fountain began to spout water once again.
San Juan de Ortega
The town of San Juan de Ortega belongs to the municipality of Barrios de Colina and has an average population of 18 inhabitants throughout the year. The peacefulness of the town is only altered by the hundreds of pilgrims who spend the night in the town every year, especially in spring and summer.
Many of the buildings that can be visited in the town were built by Saint John the Hermit, such as the monastery, the hermitage of San Nicolás Bari and the monastic church, as well as the hospital. The Saint, returning from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, collaborated fervently with Saint Dominic de la Calzada and together they built roads, bridges and churches at the service of pilgrims.
Monastery of San Juan Ortega
The monastery of San Juan de Ortega is located at the entrance to the town. It was built as a result of the Saint’s trip to the Holy Land.
During his return, San Juan de Ortega (better known as Saint John the Hermit) was shipwrecked and faced with the impending disaster, the Saint entrusted Saint Nicholas of Myra with saving his life. In this situation, Saint John promised Saint Nicholas that if he arrived safely on land, he would build a chapel in his name.
When Saint John the Hermit reached the town, he kept his promise with the help of the Order of Canons Regular, building a small hermitage where the chapel of San Nicolás de Bari is currently located. The building ended up becoming a pilgrim shelter, with a few cells and the chapel.
Later, the construction of the monastic church began, but it didn’t end up being finished due to a lack of vaults. With the death of Saint John the Hermit in 1163, the monastery was placed in the hands of the Canons.
Without Saint John, the Order began to build the great cloister, creating new rooms in the monastery where the Order lived until the arrival of the Confiscation of Mendizábal, in 1835. As of this date, the Order left and the monastery was uninhabited up until today.
As the years passed and the facilities continued to be abandoned, the monastery gradually fell into ruins. In 1964, the monastic church was restored, and later on restoration work began on the great cloister, although it was never finished.
Monastery´s Monastic Church
The monastic church of the monastery of San Juan Ortega is in a Romanesque style and dates back to the 12th century. In the 15th century, the naves were expanded in a Gothic style.
In recent years, various restoration work has been carried out on the church. The roofs and façades were restored, thus embellishing the entire monastic complex. The remains of Saint John the Hermit were also moved from the crypt to the upper floor, placing them in the left apse, as a result of the flood that affected the crypt in 2005.
Inside the church, we notice the whiteness of its stone and the natural light that illuminates the temple. The baldachin of Saint John the Hermit is in a Gothic style and dates back to 1464. The work represents diverse scenes from the life and miracle of the Saint.
When you enter the prayer area, we can see the Romanesque central apse, which has three splayed windows that give clarity to the structure. In the left apse is the altarpiece that narrates the life of Saint Jerome. Presiding over apse is the image of Saint Dominic de la Calzada.
This apse houses one of the tombs of Saint John the Hermit, which is still unfinished, despite being one of the most important works of funeral art in the territory of Burgos. On the cover, there is a depiction of the death of the Saint and his ascension. Christ can be observed on the ark, surrounded by the apostles and four tetramorphs.
In the right apse there is the altarpiece portraying the Virgin Mary and purgatory. The Saint’s tomb is provisionally located in this area. It is a simple sepulchre, without any ornaments.
In this apse, you can also appreciate one of the temple’s gems, the capital depicting the Annunciation of Our Lady. This capital in a Romanesque style, also called the “Capital of Christmas”, shows a detailed portrayal of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Visitation to her cousin Saint Elizabeth, the Birth of Jesus and the Annunciation to the shepherds.
During the spring and autumn equinoxes, a ray of light illuminates this capital in a surprising way, producing what is known as the “miracle of light”. A ray of light sweeps across the story depicted on the capital for ten minutes. This phenomenon occurs at 6 in the afternoon on March 21st, and at 7 in the afternoon on September 22nd.