All  
Ponferrada Castle, ‘Castle of the Templars, Leon, Northern Spain. 12th century Castle of Ponferrada by night.

The Mysterious Stories of Castle Ponferrada: Knights Templar, the Camino de Santiago and the lost Sword of Jacques de Molay

Every pilgrim who is traveling along the French route of the Camino de Santiago, going to Santiago de Compostela, will pass through the Ponferrada in the Spanish section. Most of them have no idea that centuries ago along the same route passed the legendary Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Templar Order.

Did they travel in their famous armors? I don't think so. It is more likely that they wore comfortable clothes, similarly to other pilgrims of their times. Just imagine, the famous Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Templar Order, traveling from France to Santiago de Compostela, located in the northwestern part of Spain. The journey was long and perhaps took a few weeks depending on the physical condition of the pilgrim. However, at the end of the route was waiting the majestic Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The primary reason to make this pilgrimage was, and still is, to offer a prayer to the Apostle James the Elder.

St James the Great by Guido Reni, 1636

St James the Great by Guido Reni, 1636 ( Public Domain )

The Story of the Monumental Castle

Ponferrada is known due to Castillo de Los Templarios, the Castle of the Templars which is the impressive size of 16000 square meters. Its appearance brings to mind legendary stories about the Spanish knights. A visit to the castle might inspire one to learn about the remarkable Spanish medieval history but also can allow you to travel back through time to a long lost era.

Ponferrada Castle, ‘Castle of the Templars, Leon, Northern Spain

Ponferrada Castle, ‘Castle of the Templars, Leon, Northern Spain ( CC BY 2.0 )

The site was known as a valuable place of defense from at least the Roman period. For centuries this land was covered with gorgeous vineyards and a heartwarming landscape. The castle was built in 1178 AD by Ferdinand II of Leon to protect the pilgrims of Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James).The property belonged to the Knights of the Templar Order. It was confiscated in 1311 when the order faced the cruelest drama among all of the Christian Knight orders. In 1340 it became the property of the Count of Lemos. 146 years later, the King of Spain incorporated the monumental Castle of Ponferrada into the crown.

Although now some defense elements of the construction have been removed, the castle still retains its characteristic style. Currently, the castle is in the process of ongoing restoration. It hosts the Templar's Library and the Ponferrada Investigation and Study Center. Although many secrets of this place have been told, there  are dozens of stories related to the pilgrims of the Camino de Santiago still await revelation. One of the known tales is related to the famous Jacques de Molay, a Grand Master of the Templar Order.

Jacques de Molay, Last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, with sword

Jacques de Molay, Last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, with sword ( Public Domain )

In The Shadow of Camino de Santiago

As mentioned, the existence of the Templar Order and the story of Camino de Santiago were intertwined in medieval times. ''Much of the route described in a 900-year old guidebook is still in use today. Some of it wends its way over the remains of pavement laid down by the Romans two millennia ago. It’s a route that writer James Michener—no stranger to world travel—calls “the finest journey in Spain, and one of two or three in the world.” He did it three times and mentioned passing “through landscapes of exquisite beauty.” The European Union has designated it a European Heritage Route. Christians are attracted to this remote corner of Europe because of a legend that Santiago de Compostela is the burial place of the apostle James the Greater. As such, it ranks along with Rome and Jerusalem as one of Christendom’s great pilgrim destinations. The Camino de Santiago has its origins in pre-Christian times when people of the Celtic/Iberian tribes made their way from the interior to land’s end on the Atlantic coast of Galicia. For them, watching the sun set over the endless waters was a spiritual experience. As part of their conquest of Europe, the Romans occupied Iberia by 200 BC. They built infrastructure, including a road from Bordeaux in modern France to Astorga in northwest Spain, to mine the area’s gold and silver. Some of the original road remains on today’s Camino.''

(http://magazine.nd.edu/news/history-of-the-camino-de-santiago/)

Templar Castle on the bank of the Sil River, Ponferrada ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The impressive cultural heritage of the route became a puzzle that created one of the most famous pilgrimage routes in the history of the world. This is where thousands upon thousands of people since early medieval times were traveling hoping for God's mercy or for many different reasons. Some of the pilgrims traveled there due to the political aspects. In the case of Jacques de Molay, the pilgrimage was caused by the mixture of political and religious reasons. As he was passing through the Camino, he visited the fortresses that belonged to his Order.

The story says that when Jacques de Molay was leaving the Ponferrada Castle and going to the sanctuary, he decided to leave in the chapel his sword as a votive relic.

The Mysterious Missing Sword

The sword of Jacques de Molay is considered a legend. Although from time to time someone starts to repeat the old legend, there are no clues as to what happened to this artifact. If the story about the remarkable Templar relic is real, what happened to this object?  The answer to this is unknown. According to some stories told by the locals, it existed until Franco's times, but it seems to be unlikely. The times of Franco reduced the number of priceless artifacts in Spain, but perhaps not in this case. The explanations that are much more convincing say that the sword was lost in the medieval period, used during fighting or taken by the cocky local ruler who wanted to look more glamorous wearing the sword of the famous de Molay. It is also possible that the sword is lying somewhere hidden under stones or earth, waiting for the glorious moment when it will be rediscovered.

Feature Image: Ponferrada Castle, ‘Castle of the Templars, Leon, Northern Spain. 12th century Castle of Ponferrada by night. (CC BY-SA 2.0 )

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

Mary Victoria Wallis, Among the Pilgrims: Journeys to Santiago de Compostela, 2003.

The Castle Of The Knights Templar Of Ponferrada by Ashleigh Mell, available at:
https://www.andaspain.com/castle-knights-templar-ponferrada/

My Visit to the Ponferrada Castle, On The Camino De Santiago, available at:
http://www.caminomyway.com/my-visit-to-the-ponferrada-castle-on-the-camino-de-santiago

CAStillo de Ponferrada, available at:
http://www.castillosnet.org/espana/informacion.php?ref=LE-CAS-003

History of the Camino de Santiago, available at:
http://magazine.nd.edu/news/history-of-the-camino-de-santiago/

Comments

Very good article about Galicia! Thanks a lot!!

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Next article