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Map of the Camino de Compostela / Camino Frances - from the excellent MSM book "The Roads to Santiago de Compostella"


The huge church ("temple") of Santa Maria la Blanca is one of the points where pilgrims going to Santiago de Compostela can get another stamp on their document of passage.


The present bleak treeless post-restoration setting disguises the fact that the church was built under Cistercian supervision for the Knights Templar, and backed onto the south side of a large Templar castle or commanderie (now gone).  


The original (larger) church was built in the second half of the the 1100s in one go.  It's most striking surviving external feature is the huge portico / narthex on the south side.  If this looks a bit unbalanced it is because only half of it is left - and there was originally a tower above.  There were also major portico and facade structures on the now completely bare west wall, which were compared to the west entrance to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in magnificence !


Of most interest, the church contains the tombs of Prince Felipe, younger brother of Alfonso X ("the Wise") and Knight Templar, 1229 - 1274 (45), and his second wife Doņa Leonor Ruiz de Castro y Pimental.  Clearly the celibacy / two-to-a-horse / sheepskin underwear days of the Templars were over by then.


Incidentally, in Dom P's inimitable tradition of providing fascinating contextual information, Alfonso VIII set up a university at nearby Palencia in 1214 which predated those of Salamanca (1218) and Valladolid (1346).  The earliest university in Europe was Bologna (1088) followed by Modena (1180).  Paris, Oxford, Cambridge, Padova, Siena and Naples (the first State University in Europe - established by Frederick II in 1224) were amongst several 1200s university startups.













This style of doorway and extended richly sculptured portal, with no tympanum or archivolts, is also common in some areas of the the west of France.






The Villasirga church contains two of the seminal Spanish tombs of the late 1200s.  The sepulchres still contain excellently preserved mummies, which we know because they were officially checked out in 1497, 1702, 1815, 1844, 1857, 1865, 1897, and 1911, and, rumour has it, unofficially several other times.  The 1800s were obviously more curious years! 


Nearest the camera is the sepulchre of Doņa Leonor Ruiz de Castro y Pimental, second wife of Prince Felipe, younger brother of Alfonso X ("the Wise") and Knight Templar.  Felipe died in 1274 at the age of 45, and his sepulchre is similar and unphotographically hidden behind that of his wife in an inaccessible chapel.  At the back is the not so grand c1300 tomb of Juan Pérez, another Knight Templar.  It is thought that all three tombs were sculptured by the same person, who was also responsible for sepulchre(s) at Aguilar.   The Templars were an order of monks - presumably with vows of poverty, chastity and obedience (to which the Cistercians, who were closely related, added silence, prayer and work).  Monks did not do marriage, so either Felipe was not a Templar or someone had changed the rules!  Or maybe the rules just did not apply to royal blood - Roger II of Sicily managed to marry and father numerous children and he was said to be a Templar as well ! 


In the late 1200s the Templars were entering the final phase of their life (they were dissolved in the early 1300s, though in Spain and Portugal there was usually a seamless transfer of assets and functions to other military orders like the Knights of Santiago).   Although almost everything medieval would have been painted at the time it was carved or sculpted, it is rare to see either stone or paint that has lasted so well.




Some Other Memorable Tombs in Portugal and Spain



Inčs de Castro (d1355) and King Pedro I of Portugal (c1329 - 1357 - 1367 (38))



Cistercian Moisteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaįa, Central Portugal



Queen Leonora (Eleanor Plantagenet Jr) (1160 - 1214 (54))



Cistercian Royal Abbey & Nunnery of Santa Maria la Real de Las Huelgas, Burgos



Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (c. 1040 – 1099 (59)), aka "el Cid"



Abbey of San Pedro de Gardina, Burgos



Abbess la Beata Urraca Lopez de Haro 1170 – 1262 (92)



Cistercian Abbey (for nuns) of Santa Maria del Salvador ("El Monasterio de la Luz"), Caņas (la Rioja)



The "Catholic Monarchs" Isabella I of Castile (1451 - 1474 - 1504 (53)) and Ferdinand II of Aragon (1452 - 1479 - 1516 (64))

Queen Joan (1479 - 1555 (76)) and her King Consort Philip I (1478 - 1506 (28))



Capilla Real, Granada








Doņa Leonor Ruiz de Castro y Pimental (guidebook Photo).  Doņa Leonor is holding a sweet red pepper ... There are five peppers on the Pimental coats of arms next to the Templar crosses on the coffin lid border and also around the sepulchre's base.




The above photo is as close as it gets to being able to capture the other side of Doņa Leonor's sepulchre.  In contrast to the sepulchre of her husband (which she probably supervised as she lived a lot longer), neither end of her to tomb is sculpted.


On the second panel in there is a group of unarmed uncroziered Templar knights (right).  They are clearly identified as Templars and yet unlike most places (like Hereford) no attempt has been made to deface or remove their insignia.




Knights Templar on the tomb of Doņa Leonor Ruiz de Castro y Pimental (guidebook photo)



Prince Felipe and scenes from his tomb (below) (guidebook photos)









In 1987 the Pilgrims' Route to Santiago de Compostela was declared "The First European Cultural Itinerary" by the then European Council, a predecessor of the EU.  Since then lots of lolly has flowed into route infrastructure, including roadside maps and sculptures ..... but walking is as hard as it ever was.  Mostly the Camino parallels the road structure, as below, though sometimes it branches off on a cross country course undisturbed by cars!





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