El Camino Frances

The Traditional Route from France

Western Meseta

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León to Hospital de Órbigo

1 June 1993 and 18/19 June 2002

After clearing the industrial suburbs and roadworks of León this stage follows the N120. My notes for 1993 describe our day as a route march with nothing much of interest to look at. In 2002 it was much the same and on both occasions my feet were sore from the prolonged stretches of asphalt.

1993. We crossed the long multi-arched bridge into Órbigo, famous for the “Paso Honroso”, and claimed bunks in the refugio by 2pm. We then hobbled down to a restaurant by the river bed for a long slow meal and then back to rest in the refugio. Here I met Susan from Bristol who was on a cycling tour to Santiago. She had become temporarily detached from her seven companions in order to do more sightseeing and stay in refugios. Later I walked her to the restaurant and we only just got back before curfew.

2002. This was a cloudy day and much more suited to walking. As we crossed the bridge into Órbigo my feet were really hurting and I had to balance on the only flat stones which ran along the centre of the bridge between the cobbles. There is a bar/restaurant just over the bridge and we sat on the balcony drinking beer and watching other pilgrims arrive. We had to move inside when it started to rain, finally indicating the end of the heat wave.

The restaurant seemed to cater for more conventional tourists and the menu was much more expensive than we had previously been used to. There are plenty of other bars in the town with special pilgrim’s menus.

Heavy rain during the evening forced us to grab our laundry from the outside lines but it was still welcome after six days of relentless heat.

Hospital de Orbigo

One of the most colourful stories of the Camino is the tale of the jousting tournament that took place in July and August 1434, a Jacobean Holy Year, beside the bridge at the entrance to Hospital de Órbigo. The tournament was organised by a local Knight, Suero de Quiñones, and is known as the Paso Honroso or the Honourable Passage of Arms. Several variations of the incident have emerged but the main facts were recorded by chroniclers of the day. This was the age of chivalry and Don Suero sought leave of his king, John II of Castile & León, to hold a tournament in honour of a mysterious lady. Challenges were sent to all Christian courts and Don Suero gathered with nine companion knights to await the arrival of any foreign knights willing to test their arms. Evidently the tournament became a large gathering of the nobility of Europe who, with their hangers-on and the normal flow of pilgrims in a Holy Year, must have attended the medieval equivalent of the Olympic Games or the soccer World Cup.

The Quixotic nature of this enterprise is reinforced by the fact that one of the knights taking part in the tournament was Gutierre de Quijada who was an ancestor of the knight on whom Cervantes reputedly based his novel. Many years later, after Don Suero had been sent into exile following a quarrel with the Knights of Santiago, he was killed by Don Gutierre in another test of jousting skill.