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Tales from the Camino: Burgos Cathedral

As we made our way into Burgos, we were hot and tired. We had wanted to take the more scenic “shaded river route” into town, but we crossed highway N-1 and missed the turn-off point. We walked in the searing sun for miles before we saw a sign that said: Burgos – 10km. What? We were already in the outskirts of Burgos, yet had another 6.2 miles to go to get into the heart of town? We decided we need a break and grab some lunch. We needed to fortify ourselves for our final push into the city. The final stretch was blazing hot, so we tried to walk in the shade cast by the buildings as much as possible. We walked across the river and into the fancy hotel area. When we finally saw the Burgos Cathedral, we knew we had arrived. With its rich Gothic exterior, it was living up to everything Mary Klaff had said about it. In a word it was magnificent.

Lindsey Klaff saluted the church and we made our way, after a few false turns, back across the River Arlanzon to our hotel. Tracy and I had a beautiful room that overlooked the Arco Santa Maria and we could see the tops of the spires on the cathedral in the distance. Lying in our queen bed, we had the best view in Burgos.

We showered, washed clothes, and went on a tour of the city via train (on rubber wheels, no less), which proved a great introduction to Burgos. We saw the Plaza de Santa Maria, the Fernan Gonzales, the monuments to El Cid, the Paseo Espolon, and the Plaza Mayor. It was fun to be a tourist and to be driven around for once. We ran into the Irish teacher, Avril, and many other pilgrims in the Plaza Mayor, where we could say good-bye. These peregrinos were all headed in different directions, as Burgos is a frequent stop/start point for many on the Camino.

We had some drinks and walked around the squares trying to find a restaurant. We picked a spot that was not too crowded and we ate overlooking the main dining area. We walked back to our hotel and made plans for going to the Cathedral and shopping (Zara and shoe shopping are on the dance card) in Burgos the next day.

The next morning, Tracy and I were up early and walked the perimeter of the Cathedral. Mary had said it was her favorite church in northern Spain. Having spent a lot of years in Sevilla, she has a soft spot for the Cathedral there. It is her favorite church in the entire country. The cathedral in Burgos is apparently second in size only to the Cathedral Giralda in Sevilla.

The Cathedral is designated as a World Heritage site and is well worth the designation. We spent the better part of the day inside the church.

The exterior of the church, while essentially Gothic, combines many different styles. Different designers and architects have made their own embellishments over the centuries. It is easy to soak in the magnificent edifice and inspirational spires and the bustle of the medieval streets around the cathedral. We were surprised to find the area relatively uncrowded and relaxed, as the big city (pop. 180,000) is all around. The doors were all interesting to me. The most interesting exterior doors were the West Door, with it’s pinkish tint (though not often used for access and egress), and the South Door, which is the main entrance and where ticket checkers and headphone distribution occurs.


Burgos Cathedral: Views from the Outside

In the morning light the the outside spires and gargoyles are extraordinary. We saw again the images we had spotted while on the train yesterday. Having the time to look at them closely, and standing still, made for a more memorable image

We did not spend time in the bookstore, but we did in the rooms which showed the progress on the church restoration. There seems to be something called stone disease, which is wearing down the exterior rocks at an incredible rate. The work to restore some of the statues and masonry already accomplished is superlative and it was fun to be there and imagine what the before and after. The image of the church footprint on the sidewalk outside the church was overshadowed by the scale model of the entire structure in the basement. So much to see and so little time.

Burgos Cathedral: The Inside Story

We enjoyed the inside even more than the outside. With its 21 separate chapels dedicated to different church leaders and benefactors, it has some saints of note along the way. There are commemorations to El Cid, Santiago the Moor Slayer, St. John, Santa Maria, and many more. Designed by Diego de Siloe, whose grave we passed in the Ruins of St. Felix, the church had spectacular altars, frescoes, paintings, wood carvings, architecture, plaster, gold leaf, stone tombs, masonry, cloisters, and museums.

We listened to the tour in English and we heard all of the back story of the Cathedral, the chapels and the artists. It made for a very special day of contemplation. It was also cold in the church, as the thick walls did their job of keeping the cool air in and the hot air out.

Perhaps my favorite part of the Cathedral’s inside was the cloister. The long hallways with stained glass windows on the inside facing the court yard and great works of art on the solid interior walls made it a great place to linger and reflect. The court yard had some unusual statues and the day was perfect, so no one was in a poor mood. We had time in this space to ourselves, which made it very special for the four of us. The pictures we took in the inside court yard were the best of the inside and outside combined, as the blue sky against the Gothic spires, and the lazy cumulus clouds, gave us a rare treat.

Our cameras were on NO FLASH mode and we took lots of pictures of each other and the astonishing collection of art. Of course I noticed the birds in the paintings and statuary, even spotting a hoopoe in one of the many chapels.

More than a few angles, devils and demons showed up along the way to keep the Catholics in line! And the crypts were in the floor, on pedestals and everywhere in between. And let’s not forget the doors, which are at the top of my list of doors inside and out.

There were several extra chapels that we not open to the public, but we found that if we remained quiet and prayed, no one bothered us. Signs warned tourists that this is a house of worship, and although we did not stay around for the Pilgrim Mass, which we heard was excellent and moving, we did get some great prayer time in these superlative chapels with gold leaf galore.