Camino de Santiago - French Way - Stage 23, page 1 - Villadongas del Páramo to Astorga
Total distance: 27.1 km
At the end of the village turn left to return briefly to the main road. After a little while fork left onto a path running parallel to the road. Try to follow this track as far as you can before you have to rejoin the road and walk along the hard shoulder. There is no choice but to walk along the road here as the land hereabouts is criss-crossed with canals, dykes and irrigation channels. After about 4 kilometres you come to the village of San Martin del Camino.
Accommodation at San Martin del Camino can be found in 2 private albergues and 1 municipal one. There is a café, a bakery and a shop.
Walk through the village and cross the road forking right down the path running parallel to the road. After about 2 kilometres take a left turn crossing a bridge over a dyke and unfortunately, return to the main road. After about 1.5 kilometres you come upon a gravel works, take a right turn down a lane walking through fields heading towards the town of Hospital de Orbigo. Take the Calle Orbigo walking adjacent to the river and cross the fabulous medieval bridge into Hospital de Orbigo.
This 13th century bridge is the longest one on the Camino at 204 metres long (approximately 670 feet) and has 20 arches. The river that it crosses doesn't seem to appear to warrant such a lengthy bridge, but prior to a dam being built at Barrios de Luna the river was a lot wider. The bridge also has the legend of El Paso Honroso (Honourable Pass) attributed to it.
El Paso Honroso was the name given to a jousting tournament of sorts undertaken by the Leonés Don Suero de Quiñones. Don Suero was in love with a lady by the name of Doña Leonor de Tobar, who unfortunately did not feel the same way. This 15th century knight considering himself a prisoner of her love, decided to wear an iron collar around his neck every Thursday as a symbol of being enslaved by his love for her.
As a way to empress both the lady he loved and King Juan II, as well as a way of freeing himself from his enslavement, he decided to embark on a surprising joust in the style of the knights of old. At a meeting in January 1434, Don Suero proposed to the King that he would break 300 lances on the bridge over the río Órbigo close to a pilgrim Hospital run by the order of San Juan (Saint John) and only when he had accomplished this would he remove his iron collar.
Many knights arrived from all manner of places including Germany, Italy, Portugal and especially from the kingdom of Aragón. The tournament started on the 10th of July 1434 and lasted a month during which time Don Suero and his 9 fellow knights defeated 68 men, killing only one and managed to break nearly 200 lances. The men who were judging the contest decided that this was enough and during a ceremony removed the iron collar from Don Suero's neck.
On the bridge at Hospital de Orbigo there is a plaque commemorating the tournament showing the names of the 10 knights who were involved:
Don Suero de Quiñones
Don Diego de Bazán
Don Suero Gómez
Don Lope de Aller
Don Pedro de los Ríos
Don Lope de Estúñiga
Don Pedro de Nava
Don Sancho Rabanal
Don Diego de Benavides
Don Gómez de Villacorta
The plaque also contains the following:
Y con codicia de fama durable
Concertó con nueve caballeros más
Defender el Paso Honroso junto a este puente
Rompiendo lanzas contra más de setenta caballeros
Que al camino de romería del Apóstol Santiago
Llegaron de Castilla, de Aragón, de Cataluña
De Valencia, de Portugal, de Bretaña
De Italia y de Alemania
Roughly translated it says:
And desiring long lasting fame
He set out with 9 other knights
To defend the honourable pass close to this bridge
Breaking lances with more than 70 knights
That to the pilgrim road of the Apostle St James
They came from Castilla, Aragon and Cataluña
From Valencia, Portugal and Britain
From Italy and Germany
There is a slightly different story in that Don Suero offered the tournament to Saint James saying that he and the other 9 knights would challenge those undertaking the pilgrimage to Santiago until 300 lances were broken.
When the tournament was finished all the participants went to Santiago de Compostela to offer the arms with which they fought to the Apostle. It is also said that the iron collar (now gold) worn by Don Suero is hung around the neck of the image of the Apostle that is used in processions.
Unfortunately like so many of these stories it doesn't have a particularly happy ending. A few years after the tournament Don Suero lost his life at the hands of one of the knights that had been defeated and who was seeking vengeance for his defeat.
Every year in early June since 1997 the Fiesta de las Justas del Paso Honroso takes place in a field close to the bridge in commemoration of the legend.
The story of el Paso Honroso is mentioned in Don Quijote and may have been an inspiration for the old knight himself.
The Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, on the other side of the bridge is what remains of the pilgrim hospital which had been built in the 12th century by the Caballeros de San Juan de Jerusalén (Knights of the Order of Saint John).
Accommodation can be found at one of the 3 albergues or one of the 3 hostals in the town. There is also a camping site. There are a number of restaurants near the bridge that offer a pilgrim menu and there is also a small shop in the village.
Walk through the town down the Calle Álvarez, past the Iglesia de San Juan Bautista and the Iglesia de Santa Mario, continuing down the main street right to the end of the village until you come to some crossroads. Again you have two options the first is to continue on the road to Astorga. This is considered the historic route, or alternatively you can choose to follow a route through the countryside to San Justo de la Vega where both routes meet.
If you want to take the first option and follow the road, keep walking straight ahead following the way markers and you come to a gravel path which runs parallel to the N120 road. Just follow the markers all the way to San Justo de la Vega.
The other route as we mentioned takes you through the countryside and is a much nicer route. At the crossroads take a right turn and keep walking straight until in about 2 kilometres you come to the small village of Villares de Órbigo. Here there is accommodation available in a private albergue and a café bar and pharmacy.