History of



From the beginning, Roncesvalles’ strategic location in the middle of the Pyrenees favoured development of Orreaga- Roncesvalles itself as an essential point for the travellers and the soldiers who wanted to cross the Pyrenean mountain range. The travel of many different people made many cultures meet around the area, even though their cultural legacy did not remain in the area.

Aizpea Woman (Aribe). Dated to be about 6660 years old. Museum of Navarre.

The Romans, experienced engineers and specialised route designers of the roads that crossed Europe, chose this area to plan the Roman Road which was going to link the Gaul with the westernmost point of the peninsula, the famous “Bordeaux-Astorga” road was placed here because this was a highly important crossroad. We have enough archaeological remains from that area and time to demonstrate the entry of a great surge of people during the prehistoric times

This territory was settled during the last years of the Palaeolithic, around 10.000 b. C., in where we find some remains with similar appearance in areas nearby: the northernmost Baztán and the Low Navarra.

Cromlech in Sorogain / Dolmen in Soroluce

During the Bronze and Iron Age , the seminomadic hunters have began a sedentary lifestyle and their presence in the area of Orreaga- Roncesvalles and the territories nearby is more continuous. In this context we can explain the amount of megalithic remains that are scattered around this area, specifically the presence of funeral monument stone called dolmens. Those around Roncesvalles belong to a subgroup which is included inside a dolmenic group from the north part of the peninsula named ” Urepel-Ibañeta-Orbaiceta “.

Besides the groups of people who were more or less established there, it is important to keep in mind that there were also influences from other groups, due to the facility of the Pyrenean way, who arrived to the area of Orreaga- Roncesvalles. The so-called ” Celt invasions ” used this Pyrenean way as an essential path into the peninsula. The Celts brought new urban ways and some new concepts about social organisation. Although these settlements have not survived, they have left us the ” cromlechs “( a megalithic monument related to funeral rituals, in which the stones are placed in a circle surrounding the tomb)Some of them are visible on the southern hillsides of Urkulu..

In the beginning of our age, the Roman world contacted with this heterogeneous group of people, who were more complex and better organised than many had known. To satisfy their transport necessities, Rome built a stone road network over the old Pyrenean routes. In the town Espinal, near Orreaga- Roncesvalles, many remains of the romanized Basque city have been found, and on the vertex of the Roman Road, a curious triumph-tower crowns the “Summo Pyreneo ” and watches all.

The Pyrenean Road it consolidated itself slowly and its roads give evidence of the passage of the Roman Legion, varied travellers, barbarian invasions, Visigoths and Moslem troops in their way to the defeat Poitiers, Christian missions in one way and another, the most famous French army from the Middle Ages: the best chivalry and the most dazzling retinue that had ever crossed the Pyrenees with Charlemagne in 778.



Although Roncesvalles has always been an important communication route, it became famous with Charlemagne’s campaign in Spain. In the course of this retreat, after he lost the battle in Zaragoza, Roland the hero, with the French rearguard, was defeated in the deep hollow of Luzaide-Valcarlos.

19th-century engraving. Charlemagne mourns Roland the knight.

The 8th century was characterised in Pamplona by a continuous conflict between Moslems, more or less linked with important families from this territory, and the French kingdom, with deeply Christian features, related to other Christian groups inside the peninsula. In this context, during the summer of the year 778, the Charlemagne’s great campaign took place. Though his aim was the conquest of Zaragoza, it affected the territory of Pamplona, because on his way to Zaragoza, Charlemagne destroyed Pamplona’s walls just to guarantee himself, that if something went wrong in Zaragoza, he could come back.

In his defeated return from Zaragoza and before he began the ascent of the Pyrenees, in the area of Luzaide – Valcarlos, the French army rearguard, lead by Roldán, his most beloved knight, and the rest of the twelve knights, were defeated by some unknown troops. The legend tells that in that place he sounded his ivory horn just to advice the rest of the army, and when he and the twelve knights were injured, threw his glorious sword “Durandal” to the water, to avoid it being taken by the enemy.

The exactly location of this battle is another question that has not been answered. The tradition has wanted for the song “The Chanson de Roland” to keep up the image of Roland as a knight playing his horn, until his death, at the Ibañeta vertex and Charlemagne shattered by the heartrending image of his army lying there.

It is also a question who the winners were. Historians have three hypothesis. The first says, that a group of Basques and Moslems; the second, a combination of Basques from both Pyrenean hillsides; and the third, some High Pyrenean Basques dissatisfied with the strengthening of the French regime in Aquitania.



Although in the beginnings of the 9th century, the worship of Santiago and the veneration of his remains began,The exact moment in which the pilgrimages began is unknown. In any case, it was not until the beginning of the 10th century, once the Christian monarchy succeeded and consolidated itself, when the movement of pilgrims became safer.

Frequently, the consolidation and the “new design” of the way to Santiago de Compostela was attributed to Sancho III el Mayor (1004- 1035). Although nowadays, we know without a doubt that Sancho Garcés I (905- 925) was the person who, while he was organising a Christian Monarchy aimed at the enlargement of the territory at Moslem’s expenses and was also very interested about the relationships between the other Christian groups from the Peninsula, secured the Jacobean Way which roams along the Roman road to Pamplona and from there to Nájera and goes on to the west following the “way of the stars”.

It is also true that the first information about an Assistance Centre in Summo Pyrineo refers to the late middle part of the 11th century, when the monarchs from Pamplona and specially Sancho el de Peñalén, entrusted the attention of the pilgrims to the Monastery of Leire, located at the entry of the Jaca way in Navarra. Leire received a donation, a small monastery, an already existing one. Located at the top of Ibañeta, its construction date is unknown. Nowadays, it serves as a chapel. Of that primitive construction that was sometimes also called “Charlemagne’s Chapel” or “Roland’s”, there is not a trace remaining.

However, with the temporary union between Navarra and Aragón (1076- 1134), the new dynasty decided to contribute to the “Colegiata de Somport”, which was responsible for attending the Tolosan route in its entry into Aragón and prepared since the beginning of the 12th century a small hostel in the way down from Ibañeta.

Some years would have to pass for the bishop of Pamplona to decide to take part in the assistance policy, which until that moment had been managed by the “Colegiata de Somport” and the monastery “San Salvador de Ibañeta”, at the main entry point of pilgrims.



In 1127, the bishop from Pamplona, the prelate Sancho De Larrosa, decided to create a fraternity joined by priests and lay people, which was going to be in charge of taking care of the pilgrims nearby Orreaga- Roncesvalles. The politic circumstances turned that small hospital, into a very important assistance centre.

The division of Navarra and Aragón in 1134 made the “Colegiata de Somport” and “Monastery of Leire” collaborate with the neighbouring kingdom, so the new King García Ramírez decided to promote the hospital from Roncesvalles to the detriment of their neighbours. The monarch convinced the bishop Sancho to create a canon’s chapter to manage the hostel and the church, and also the endowments from the valleys nearby and some places near Pamplona. The hospital that in the beginnings had been created as a small one, became a very important religious centre.

As the time went by, the King and his successors and the bishops, always protectors, members of nobility of Navarra, even thankful pilgrims, gave in some donations and small pieces of land in Orreaga- Roncesvalles or even some in other areas of Navarra.

This prosperity and the economic bonanza let them build a chapel named “Sancti Spiritus”, and perhaps, a “first hospital” of which there is nothing left today, although some references are made in the “Poema de Roncesvalles” in the beginning of the 13th century.

The organisation of Roncesvalles was similar to that of the Cathedral of Pamplona. The canon’s chapter from Roncesvalles followed the “Saint Agustine’s Rule” and was presided by a prior.



13th century was a very outstanding period for Navarra and also for Orreaga- Roncesvalles, which underwent an important process of growth and expansion. Due to this flowering process, the chapter strengthened itself as an independent and strong chapter and its territories and its ecclesiastic rights were extended, a privilege which continued during the 14th century.

Since the final years of the 13th century, the Collegiate had been supported by the monarch Sancho VII el Fuerte, which is buried in the “Capilla de San Agustín” with some other nobles from Navarra. This made that each time the Collegiate had more incomes. Also its religious community became more famous between the clergy in Navarra, though this does not mean they did not have to struggle with the Cathedral’s chapter. Since around the middle of the 13th century, the priors from Roncesvalles had all the pontificial privileges, they wore a ring, they could use the bishop’s staff and the other badges like any other bishop. The prior of the Roncesvalles Chapter turned himself into the first figure of the clergy in Navarra after the bishop and one of the monarch’ s advisers.

The conflicts between Roncesvalles and the See in Pamplona, were due to the Collegiate’s need to become independent of the Pamplona’s chapter. After some disputes and arguments, the Collegiate was successful and at the end of the 13th century was clear that it was set up by a community of regular canons, who followed Saint Agustine’s Rule, and they chose a prior for life and managed their goods with plenty of freedom.

The development of Orreaga- Roncesvalles and its wealth reached a point, in which they could create their own system of tax collectors and an administrative organisation chart whose basic unity was the “encomienda”. Orreaga- Roncesvalles extended itself even outside its frontiers because of the donations and they acquired some territories in the peninsula. Of all these donations, we can stress two of them, the royal donation of “Villa de Villagra” (León) and the place “Luimil” (Castelomendo) in Portugal. On the other side of the Pyrenees, the most important properties were: Charing (London), Santa María Mascarella (Bologna) and some other in Tolousse.

The economic strength it is demonstrated by the collection of historic buildings of this area. The “Iglesia de Santiago”, the stunning building that looks like a hospital (Itzandeguía) and “Iglesia de Santa María” as the heart of the Collegiate. Orreaga- Roncesvalles’ wealth was increased with several donations like a silver Gospel and a chest of gold- plated silver. The good economic situation was embodied in the “Códice de la Pretiosa”, which has a copy of the documents from that period.



The Collegiate received very important economic support as a result of the process that it had been through. At the end of 13th century its statutes noted about 60 people established there. Orreaga- Roncesvalles had such a good economic position that they even lent money to the Crown. When the patrimony stopped rising, they focussed all their efforts on managing what they already had.

The disputes with Pamplona were cleared up and it was established that the See from Pamplona could not interfere with the Pyrenean chapter’s government in the election of the prior; the only thing necessary would be the bishop’s approval, and in the second half of the 14th century not even that. The Pope was the one had to sign the election. These circumstances marked definitively marked the importance of the prior from Roncesvalles, not only in contrast to the clergy of Pamplona, but also in the political life of the kingdom. These circumstances, made the prior of Roncesvalles, become stronger than the clergy of Pamplona and also an important figure of the political life of the kingdom.

During the first half of the 14th century, the first problems took place between the prior and the members of his chapter, due to his sometimes arbitrary excesses of authority in managing the Collegiate’s patrimony.

Almost at the end of the 14th century a definitive solution for the internal problems of the chapter was found: the recognition of the canonical condition of its members. The prior was satisfied with this decision because he had the authority to manage the incomes, although the community had some parts already fixed.

At the end of the 14th century, the priors involved themselves in politics. The King Carlos III defended a way of management and government, which was focused basically on personal relationships, negotiation and diplomacy. The priors from Roncesvalles increased their power in the reign of Carlos III, who worked with them in all the questions related to the schism of the Church, which ended in 1417. After that, they worked for his daughter (“the white Queen”), as her personal secretaries and ambassadors and after they collaborated with prince Carlos when he stood in for king Juan II.

Since the last period of the 14th century, the decline of the Collegiate’s immense artistic heritage began to be noticed. Orreaga- Roncesvalles focused its attention on managing their properties in Navarra correctly because the other properties they had in the peninsula, had been lost due to several conflicts and because they were too far away to be able to manage them properly. For the first time the Collegiate was no longer the moneylender anymore but the one who had to ask for loans.

Once the Civil war started, Juan II and his son tried for the priory not to fall on a priest loyal to any of the two factions (Beaumonts or Agramonts). When the war ended and the prior from Roncesvalles could not place anybody from the Beaumont faction, he lost his pre- eminent place at King’s court. The solution to these conflicts was to take turns in running the priory between the Agramont and Beaumont faction. This situation helped the Collegiate during these years and by the first part of the 16th century, the situation became stabilised. At this point, a political reform became necessary, but it did not happen until 1512 and after.

Above all, the works which arrived to Orreaga- Roncesvalles during 16th century, we must mention the “Virgen del Tesoro”, “Virgen de Roncesvalles” and the “Ajedrez de Carlomagno”; a very original gothic reliquary from the second half of this 16th century.

If we had to talk about architecture of this period, we should mention the tower of the church, it is important to say that the two first known fires in the church, happened during this century, but the reconstruction did not take place then.



The difficult years from the past century are followed by a century of vitality with the prior Francisco de Navarra. This prior advised by another illustrious member of the cultural world of this period, Martín de Azpilicueta, decided to end the hospital’s disorganisation and also the economical difficulties.


The Prior Francisco de Navarra, a university intellectual who arrived to Orreaga- Roncesvalles from exile, began a period of stability in the economic management that lasted three centuries. He was advised by Martín de Azpilicueta, a canon from Roncesvalles and, above all, a renowned international jurist. In 1531, he inaugurated a new way of management and sharing out of the numerous incomes that reached the Collegiate. This reform consisted of fair division of the incomes in three parts: one for the prior, another for the chapter and the third for assistance needs, construction, and building reforms.

This new economic policy, in addition to the fall in the number of pilgrims, allowed the third part of the income to be allocated almost in its entirely to reform the architectural heritage of the Collegiate. So, when in 1600, the weight of the snow ruined the roof of the gothic cloister, they did not have any problem in putting up a new one.

Also, the continuous wars between Spain and France forced them to liquidate their French interests and changed them for others in Navarra. The fall in the number of pilgrims, was due to (besides the different wars with France) the schism of Christianity in western Europe.

Even though the number of pilgrims was at minimum, the good economic situation allowed the Collegiate to build some more, such as the building for the Beneficiaries (priests who belonged to a lower ladder in the ecclesiastic hierarchy than the canons).

During the 17th century, the hostelry was also built and at the end of it the old mill. In this context, it is no wonder that they also decided to build a new hospital at the end of the 18th century.



With the French Revolution in 1789, the monarchy and the principles in which all the regimes in Europe in the last century had been based, collapsed. Orreaga- Roncesvalles and the valleys nearby suffered during this time because of the numerous wars that took place.


The fact that the hospital had a strategic location near the borderland, led it to be used by General Ventura Caro and his army as headquarters, and for the first time, since its foundation, he demanded for chapter to leave their rooms.

When the war was over, the outlook was discouraging, so the chapter had to help in the reconstruction of the nearby villages and churches, which were dependent on the Collegiate. They also had to restore their own Collegiate. This situation made them to share the income in a different way.

With the new distribution of the income, the project of building a new hospital was taken up again, now it was more urgent because of the damage that the old buildings had suffered. But this project was stopped again because of the Napoleonic invasion in 1808, commonly known as “La Francesada”.

Once again the Collegiate was used as headquarters, and in 1819 the prioral palace was built, as a new residence for the canons. The years after the War of Independence, were a truce before the revolutions in 1820; the decline of absolutism, the outbreak of the Carlist War and the attempts that Isabel II did to sale the Church’s lands. From 1844 to 1866 the decline of the community began, and they almost disappeared.



The 20th century was a period of peace. The nominations of canons and priors, some projects to renovate the statutes, the teaching activities and not too much assistance work, increased by the revived pilgrimages during the second half of the century. All these have been the features of these last 100 years. During the seventies a very intense reform of the rules, which managed the activities of the regular canon’s chapter of San Agustín, took place. This reform and a new resurgence of the Jacobean Way, happened at the same time and a special devotion to the Virgin from Roncesvalles was shown in all the pilgrimages.

In 1983, a new chapter about the history of Roncesvalles was written. After a long process, which started in 1979, the regular Chapter changed itself into a secular one, composed by canon priests with the same rules as the diocesan clergy. The purpose of this change, was to consolidate the ecclesiastic life in Orreaga- Roncesvalles, which had been suffering from some weaknesses. Nowadays, the chapter is attended by priests who live in the Collegiate, and are in charge of the parish churches from the towns nearby.

The associations “Friends of the Jacobean Way” (pioneers in Navarra), started a process to recover the Jacobean movement, which was supported by the civil and ecclesiastic authorities. The culmination to these efforts was, without a doubt, the “Año Santo Compostelano” (1993) in where a large number of pilgrims walked to Santiago de Compostela. The rise of the Jacobean Way, revitalised the Collegiate’s life, and this was evidenced by some changes such as the opening, inside the Prioral House, of an office service for pilgrims.

Although the Collegiate is a place to entry to Navarra, has become a centre and a starting point to several itineraries that have to do with nature and culture through the areas nearby.

The maintenance of Roncesvalles comes basically from the incomes that come from the surrounding lands, from some agricultural and cattle dealers, and from the hotel and catering industry. Nonetheless, economic help from the official authorities is still vital for the conservation of the historic and artistic patrimony.

During all these centuries, a great devotional tradition to the Virgin of Roncesvalles developed, and it has been manifested in numerous pilgrimages. These are colourful and solemn celebrations at the same time, full with religious fervour and happiness. They are a sign of the links that Roncesvalles has with other towns, the solidarity and cohesion between them.


List of all the priors who have managed the Collegiate of Roncesvalles since the hard beginning in the 12th century, until the crisis in the 19th century and the resurgence of the Jacobean Way.

Pedro de Aibar
Fortún de Badostáin
Martín Guerra
García López (Ochoa)
Andrés Ruiz de Medrano
Juan Sánchez de Airaga
García Ibáñez de Viguria
Sancho García de Echagüe
Miguel de Tabar
Jimeno de Aibar
Sancho de Meoz
Juan Galiondo de Tafalla
Juan de Egüés
Fernando de Egüés
Francisco de Navarra
Antonio de Fonseca
Juan de Silveira
Francisco de Toledo
Antonio Manrique de Valencia
Diego González
Diego Balbás
Lope Valdivieso de Velasco
Martín Manso de Zúñiga
Pedro Miguel
Juan Manrique de Lamariano
Pedro de Hoces
Juan de Velasco y Acevedo
Andrés Santos de San Pedro
Francisco de Torres Grijalba
Marcelo Lópe de Azcona y Dicastillo
Miguel Cruzat
Martín Martínez
Gil de Echauri y Zárate
Gabriel Agudo Sendín
Francisco Marín y Rodezno
José Íñiguez y Abarca
Francisco de la Torre y Herrera
Jaime de Solís y Gante
Juan de Aristia
Féliz Rubín de Celis
José Joaquín de Úriz y Lasaga
Juan Bautista de Reta Santesteban
Lino Barricarte (abad)
Francisco Polit González
Nicolás Polit González
José Urrutia Beraiz
Fermín Goicoechea Jaunsaras
José Iturria Miranda
Agapito Martínez Alegría
Máximo Echeverría Sanz
Jesús Labiano Villanueva
Jesús Idoate Gil
Juan Carlos Elizalde Espinal
Francisco Javier Izco Barbería
Bibiano Esparza Tres

1152 – 1155
1194 – 1199
1203 – 1216
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1232 – 1267
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1419 – 1454
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1518/24 – 1542
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History of