After the tranquility of the countryside, our guidebook warns about the hustle and bustle in Burgos (population 180,000), not to mention the possibility of being overcharged or becoming the victims of theft. Actually, we are pleased to be in a city for a day or two where we walk less than on other days and rest more.
We spend most of our time in or around the Catedral de Santa Maria and nearby the Plaza Mayor. We watch people of all ages and families of various sizes taking their weekend promenade on a tree-canopied pedestrian street along the Rio Arlanzon. It lies just beyond the cathedral and through Arco de Santa Maria, a sturdy arch that served as the ancient gateway to the city. How comforting to see people enjoying themselves in that way.
The cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is both sprawling and striking with its many lacy, steel-grey gothic spires. The building is filled with tourist visitors and we do a full tour using audio guides. Construction on the cathedral began in the 13th century and took several hundred years to complete. Its most elaborately carved doorway shows Christ flanked by the evangelists and indoors there is an elaborate and elegant stairway of gold in one of the transepts.
Embedded in the stone floor in the very middle of the cathedral is a tomb containing the relics of the legendary El Cid and his wife Dona Jimena. It was his Muslim opponents who gave him the name el Cid or lord. His real name was Count Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar and he was born near Burgos in 1043 C.E. He is credited with leading the armies that pushed the Moors ever farther south in the 12th century. El Cid is the object of great admiration in Spain where he is commonly known as compeador or champion and even has an epic poem written about him. On the other hand, he may have been a violent mercenary who was prepared to pillage and murder on all sides. The full truth about him is lost in the mists of time.
21 side altars
The cathedral’s nave – the church’s main body – has 21 altars arranged along its side walls. Rich and prominent families, it appears, were able to secure these altars in their own names, hiring the best Spanish and European builders and artists to construct shrines to them. While individually the altars are lovely to see, they are also a window into the mentality of the church, at least in a bygone era. Some individuals, mostly the bishops, abbots, and influential families who are celebrated in the chapels, seem to have counted for a lot. The vast majority of people, such as those who probably laboured to build cathedrals such as these, likely counted for not much at all. Perhaps that’s why 500 years ago there was a Reformation
The largest of the chapels, a fine one but off in a corner of the cathedral, is called Santa Tecla, named after a young woman of noble birth who apparently decided to remain a virgin after hearing Saint Paul’s discourse on that topic. We attend the sung Sunday mass there and by my count it holds about 500 people and among them we recognized several who we have encountered on the Camino. Early tomorrow morning we will once again be on the trail.