Apart from forgetting one of our party as we left the hotel (we quickly discovered that we were missing her and managed to get her back) we made our way into the Placa Major of Burgos. It is a very ancient place, founded in the 9th century and important place in the history of this part of Spain. This after all is where El Cid is buried and though the truth may not be quite as depicted by Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren, it was good to see his statue there in the heart of the city.
We went to the cathedral which is huge and very impressive. The original Romanesque building was replaced by a gothic building that was built over five centuries. So in fact, whilst the main structure is gothic it contains some wonderful examples of renaissance art and architecture. The Golden Stairs are an amazing sight. They were the manin entrance for pilgrims. They looked as though they must have been created for the monarch and so it was staggering to hear that they were for the ordinary people travelling the Camino. It makes you realise just how important pilgrims have always been.
The structure of these cathedrals is so different from the English model. The choir in this cathedral was beautiful. The woodwork was superb and the back of each stall was decorated with exquisite marquetry. One panel amused me, two cherubs relieving themselves in a fountain! It reminded me of some of the misericords I’ve seen at home with lovely amusing carvings depicting ordinary life. There can be humour in the choir – believe me!
There were so many treasures in the place. The altarpiece in one of the side chapels was a sheer riot of colour, magnificent carvings depicting the Jesse Tree. The roots of the tree were set in the side of a recumbent Jesse. Above were the characters in the genealogy of Christ we find in the gospels.
If that chapel was a riot it was nothing in comparison with the Sacristy. It had exuberant baroque decoration, wonderful vesting chests and lovely mirrors in which the clergy could check themselves before heading out to say Mass. Above the chests was a magnificent peacock. There was something of the peacock about the whole place, proud, beautiful and magnificently over decorated.
Following a much needed coffee, sat in the sun which had appeared whilst we were in the cathedral, we got on the coach and headed for the Monastery of Huelgas Reales. This is a royal monastery, I suppose in the way in which Westminster Abbey was and in some ways is. The foundation is Cistercian and 12 sisters still live there in a simply massive collection of buildings.
As with the Cathedral the artistry and craftsmanship are staggering. The altarpieces were gilded and full of imagery, the cloisters beautiful and calm, the royal tombs impressive. What was amazing was the display of clothes taken from the royal tombs when they had been opened. It was incredible to see 13th century fabrics, clothes for men, women and children, still perfect. There is something that puts you in touch with the person who wore the clothes. These too were clothes for peacocks, royal garb for royal persons.
We headed back to the centre of Burgos for tapas and for a break from such splendours.