Day 30-Hontanas to Castrojeriz

Distance today:                  5.8 mi

Distance Camino 2017:   211.9 mi

We “slept-in” this morning, not leaving El Pundito albergue until 7:30. Rain is expected so we decided to try to miss it by using our hour-by-hour forecast app.

In 2014 when we walked this section of Camino we had walked over 12 miles the previous day in extreme heat and were exhausted when we got to Hontanas. The next morning we got up very early, still recoverying from the day before. As we left the village in the dark we followed a road which we assumed was the Camino. After about a half-mile, six pilgrims were walking toward us, visible only by their headlamps. They stopped us and after overcoming typical language barriers, we realized they thought they had missed the Camino. Jim consulted his guidebook in more detail and found that for a 4km section there were actually two Camino routes, one that went partially back up to the meseta and the other which continued along the road we were on, both merging after 4 km (2.5 miles)… since the next town was in the same valley as Hontanas. We decided, after our previous day experience and 3 nano-seconds of consideration, we would continue on the road. Four of the six pilgrims took the dirt path route, the other two came with us.

So today as we left Hontanas, to commemorate our good fortunes in 2014 and since, we once again took the easier section of Camino.

After about 3 miles we passed the ruins of San Antón church complex, started by the Order of St. Anthony, a 11th-century order devoted to the 3rd-century Egyptian hermit, whose relics it held and dedicated to helping pilgrims.

In the Middle Ages, a pilgrim brought his stricken daughter to the relics and she was healed of a particularly pernicious disease reminiscent of leprosy. This disease spread in the Middle Ages and became known as St. Anthony’s Fire, which caused a terrible burning feeling, loss of circulation and eventually gangrene. This disease was in fact likely ergotism, caused by a fungus that grows on rye bread.

The order developed a reputation for healing this disease, though serendipitously, pilgrimage was an excellent antidote to the disease as vigorous exercise and plenty of wine helped to overcome it. Also, St. Antón is the patron saint of animals, and across Spain people bring their pets to be blessed on his saint’s day.

An unusual but beloved albergue has existed since 2002 in the ruins of convent, consisting of communal meals by candlelight, no electricity or hot water: a very basic, but unique experience for some.

Shortly after we cleared the bend in the road at San Antón, the road straightened again and we could see Castrojeriz (pop.873) in the distance.

Towering above the town is Castillo de San Esteban. The Romans used the castle, said to be founded by Julius Caesar, to protect the roads to Galicia’s lucrative gold mines. The city changed hands frequently until coming under Christian rule in the 10th century. The charter for the city was progressive for its day—the punishment for killing a Jew was the same as for killing a Christian. Franks and Jews settled in the town, which became a way station on the pilgrimage road with five churches and seven pilgrim hospitals along the “long road” through the city.

Also prominent upon entering the town is the 14th century Iglesia de Santa María del Manzano (“apple tree”). Legend has it that Mary appeared to St. James from an apple tree and he was so startled that his horse reared up and came down heavily, leaving hoofprints in the stone outside the entrance.

We stopped at Bar Manzano for breakfast, then walked hurriedly another mile to the other side of town as the inevitable rain closed in.

Arriving at Meson de Castrojeriz (36€), at 10:30, we were warmly received and the housekeeper quickly prepared our room & home for the afternoon and evening.

We were very pleasantly surprised at the general ambiance, hospitality and relative elegance of this Hotel Rural (HR).

After we got settled in our room we had a nice salad for lunch in the hotel restaurant, sat a while in the cozy living area, then returned to the our room, where we spent a pleasant, relaxing afternoon while the windy, gray, rain continued outside.

At 7:00, our hotel restaurant opened for cena (dinner) and we had a routine pilgrim dinner. We asked if they could prepare us one ham and cheese bocadillo (sandwich) to take with us and share for tomorrow morning as there will be no place to get food for the entire walk.  When we had completed our meal the waitress brought us a bag with a ham & cheese baguette sandwich as requested plus a small bottle of orange juice, a small bottle of water, a yogurt, a plastic spoon, a banana and four packaged cookies for 5€!!!

We paid the remainder of our dinner bill including a bottle of wine (20€) and retired to our room to complete day #30 for Camino 2017. We love Spain and we love the Camino!

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