April 14, 2010



Dying on the Road

Ms. Carmen Jusué Simonena (UNED of Pamplona) and
Mrs. Mercedes Unzu (Gabinete Trama)

To make reference letter to the pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela, is to evoke one of the events that has had more influence on the configuration of the socioeconomic Structures , mental attitudes or cultural life of large sectors of the peninsular Christian kingdoms from the eleventh century. Because, what began as a religious event, without ever losing its original character, also became a vehicle of fertile demographic, cultural, economic contributions...

The cult of St. James created the Camino. The flow of pilgrims, traders or adventurers, continually renewed, especially numerous in the Holy Years or "years of forgiveness", has made the history of this Way. In this context, it is worth bearing in mind that, as a primarily religious event, the pilgrimage must have had repercussions on the Christian life of the people of Navarre. It is difficult to measure its impact on individual consciences and habits. On the other hand, certain social indicators are very eloquent, such as the renovation and proliferation of temples and other liturgical and pious elements and, above all, the expressions of divine charity in works of mercy.

Evangelical hospitality had always inspired the care of the wayfarers and the destitute at the doors of cathedrals and monasteries. The rise of pilgrimages encouraged in Navarre, as in other places, a spectacular increase of the assistance devices. Hospital establishments were set up, promoted by bishops and abbots, as in Pamplona and Irache respectively. In the Pyrenean entrances of Aragon and Navarre, large complexes of hospitality for pilgrims arose, attended by Augustinian observance councils, Santa Cristina de Somport and Santa María de Roncesvalles. It was not long before centers of orders specialized in assistance tasks were added from their origins in the Holy Land, the Templars and, in particular, the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem.

The religious attendance was not limited to the reading of sacred texts. Hospices were installed near churches or hermitages, or had their own chapels, attended by religious, and the care given to the sick was not always sufficient for their recovery. If the pilgrims died, it was also the duty of the hospitals to give them a dignified burial. The carnarium of Roncesvalles in the chapel of Sancti Spiritus is one of the best examples of this work of mercy.

The archaeological evidence related to death and pilgrims in Navarre is numerous, as can be seen in various burial sites in San Salvador de Ibañata, Roncesvalles, Pamplona (Cathedral, place de San José, Navarrería Street, Casa del Condestable, place del Castillo), Eunate, Estella, Torres del Río, Artajona, Santa María de Arlas in Peralta and Ujué.

Female burial with scallop shell

Female burial with scallop shell found in the old convent of Santiago at place del Castillo de Pamplona. 

Excavations on the exterior of the sanctuary of Santa María de Ujué

Excavations outside the sanctuary of Santa María de Ujué. Under the eighteenth century burials, two medieval burials were excavated, one of which carried a pilgrim's shell.