The Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James, was one of the most common paths of pilgrimage during the Middle Ages. The path technically began at the pilgrim’s door, but there were a dozen routes that all led through Spain to Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of Saint James were said to have been interred. This path fell into disuse over the years due to the Black Death, political turmoil, and other challenges, but starting in the 1980s it began to see an increase in popularity. Today the pilgrimage path is trod by the curious, the spiritual, and by those who want to experience nature and history at once.
One thing many of these modern-day pilgrims don’t think about, though, are those who walked this path before them. Many of those medieval pilgrims were just simple men and women, but others were not. Others were there to keep the peace, to observe holy vows, and to ensure the flock was safe. The Knights Templar, the most famous of the holy orders of warrior monks, had a regular presence on the Camino de Santiago, and that continues to intrigue pilgrims to this day.
What Were The Knights Templar Doing There?
The Knights Templar were charged with overseeing the safety of those on the path of pilgrimage. While we popularly think of these knights as remaining in and around Jerusalem, they were not limited to a single road. One of their duties was to watch over all the pilgrims, and to provide security and safety to those engaged in holy travels. In those days, pilgrims were quite often attacked and even killed by the robbers and marauders.
The knights had a heavy presence on Camino de Santiago and one of their most famous landmarks was nearby. Located a few days journey from the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela is the impressive Ponferrada Castle, which was a Templar stronghold during the height of pilgrimages along St. James’s Way. This castle, originally built by Ferdinand II of Leon in 1178 was gifted to the Knights Templar to assist them in their duties, and to provide them with a sturdy base of operations. It was also the seat of the order’s last grand master, Jacques de Molay. While his name is rarely known these days, those who once walked this path would have known exactly who it was that looked down on the road from his castle, and who commanded the men that patrolled their road.
The End of Templar Stewardship
While the Knights Templar watched over the Camino de Santiago, their stewardship of the pilgrims came to an abrupt end when the order was declared heretics. They were disbanded, and though there were rumors of great wealth (some of which said it may even have been hidden in Ponferrada Castle), none was ever found.
With the famous crusaders gone, though, someone had to watch over the holy road and its travelers. This duty fell to various lords and stewards, all of who held Ponferrada Castle, until it was once more declared property of the Spanish crown. Improvements and additions were built by the various owners and stewards, and after the castle was opened to the public it has become a regular tourist attraction. Particularly for those who want to travel the old pilgrimage paths, who have an interest in the history of the Knights Templar, or who want to see one of the most unique, and historically significant, castles in Europe.
If you are interested in learning more about Camino do Santiago, and all of the history and sights along the way, simply contact Adventure Camino today!