Friday, May 24, 2013

Roncesvalles: Ibaneta Hill, Chapel, Church, Charlemagne, San Salvador, Roland

It is difficult to appreciate the cultural significance of interpretations of the battle here. Read alternate translations, Epic Song of Roland: by Scott Moncrieff or Moncrief at; and a version by Leonard Bacon at

The site is comprised of memorials, structures, and a hostel for pilgrims on the Way of Saint James, the Camino de Santiago.

Originally the tale told of Basque outliers seeing an opportunity to assert their rights to their territory as Charlemagne retreated, leaving the cocky younger nephew Roland behind to bring about defeat.  Then the story changed; it became the Moors themselves who became the bad ones defeating Roland.  Culture and religious cohesiveness required that legend, and of those, most important was the need of the Church to create a rallying point.  It appropriated, manufactured a new battle: Saracens by the hordes against impulsive but endearing Roland.

 Epic Poetry, with its need to create larger than life characters and situations to support the might of the power du jour, the militant church and the Holy Roman Empire -- said it was hordes of Saracens who followed them there, won, but Charlemagne Himself returned in time to teach them some lessons, although beloved Roland was dead.

 Cultures:  grab any event, spin it.

What is left on site at the battle area? Who won?  Does it matter.  Again, history says that the attackers were local Basques; but

This place is also, and even primarily, a way-station, resting point for pilgrims on the Way of Saint James, walking to Santiago de Compostela.  Hikers converge through the pass here from many points in Europe, today as in centuries ago.

1. Ibaneta Hill 2. Chapel of the Holy Spirit 3. Chapel of Charlemagne 4. Collegiate Church Ibaneta Hill is the destination point for memorials of the old battle of Roncesvalles -- Charlemagne about 778 AD, his nephew Roland (Other relation? No relation?) who overestimated his own judgment and capabilities and was defeated with the forces he led protecting the rear guard of Charlemagne. Song of Roland:  epic poem, keep an old paperback in the car, and read ongoing every word. How old stories become propaganda vehicles, showing the righteousness in victory or defeat for whoever can pre-empt the basics.

2. Chapel of the Holy Spirit, Silo de Carlemagno, Espirito Santo

This Chapel was built in the 12th Century, tradition says the building was to house bones from the surrounding battlefield areas, Frankish knights.  More likely:  this houses the remains of pilgrims, clergy who died in the area. Still, an ossuary.  Rounded arches, small windows above, Romanesque.  Not the soaring Gothic that the later institutional church developed, to impress, impose.

The interior of Silo de Carlemagno, Chapel of Charlemagne, Chapel of the Holy Spirit

The inside of the Chapel of Charlemagne, is sparse. This is a 12th Century structure, perhaps built on an earlier.  Do a google translate at  It is said that Charlemagne originated a building on this site to house Roland's remains, see

Inside the Chapel, there is an ossuary, and legend says that Frankish soldiers killed at the battle in 778 are here. That is doubtful, see, but there are many markers lining the walls. From the field? See that the window light was originally through ground stone, alabaster?  The grave markers are lollipop shape, not meant to be disrespectful, but not a familiar grave marking form.  These kinds of grave markers reappear in La Couvertoirade, France, in a Templar village remarkably intact for having been off the usual ways.  Ossuaries in France from WWI look like these in the simplicity, the cavernous spaces, the markers to the side.  See Verdun.

Searches for place names in other languages means multiple identifications:  Here, Capilla de Sancti Spiritus; as well as Silo de Carlomagno.  The Chapel is the oldest edifice at Roncesvalles.

Saint James Chapel, The Santiago Chapel

This smaller Chapel is also from the 12th Century, and holds a statue of Saint James. It is called early Gothic at, but very, very early. No soaring heights, airiness.

One of the routes of The Way of Saint James, the Pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela in Spain (Saint James of Compostela) passes through here. This was built in the 13th Century, and was a parish church.

Then come to the modern chapel, Church of San Salvador.  This replaces an earlier chapel, at the Puerto de Ibaneta, for pilgrims passing through. See

With this St. James' Chapel closed, peer through the keyhole.  Click.  This valley is on the Way of St. James, to Santiago de Compostela. 

There have been memorials through the years -- this erected in 1967.

At a distance away is the Gothic Church, the Collegiate Church of Roncesvalles, built by King Sancho VII in the 13th Century as part of a larger complex including a hospital ; and Augustinian Abbey dating from 1130.

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