Monastic church
in Saint John of Ortega

Dear visitor, traveller or pilgrim, who walks the Jacobean route that has passed through these lands for centuries towards Compostela, you are welcome at the Sanctuary of Saint John of Ortega. Saint John of Ortega is one of the most famous and emblematic places on the French Way. The origin of this monastery is linked to the personality of the saint who was concerned with the care, both material and spiritual, of the walkers and the gratuitous service to them.

In the 12th century this temple that you now visit was built. It joined to the pilgrim hospital and the original Saint Nicholas chapel that you can also visit, if you have not already done so.

The original project of this temple is attributed to Saint John of Ortega. The temple has three naves with a single section, a transept and three chapels at the head, with a novel Greek cross plan, unique in Spanish Romanesque. It may have been an idea imported by John from his pilgrimage to the East. The temple was expanded in the mid-15th century with a new section of naves in the Gothic style. The change in style can be clearly seen on the ribbed vault.

The visit begins. After crossing the threshold to access the sacrum, you are at the back of the temple, under the choir. Raise your gaze to discover the striking vault with its polychrome nerves. You will see two huge columns supporting the choir framework.

Lower your gaze and you will see to your left a sober baptismal font. Baptism is the foundation of all Christian life, portico of life in the Spirit and door of access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism received here we are freed from sin and regenerated as children of God, becoming members of Christ and incorporated into His Church. Placed on the west wall and facing the font, you can see a magnificent carving of Saint John the Baptist attributed to the Gil de Siloé’s School.

“I tell you for certain that before you can get into God’s kingdom, you must be born not only by water, but by the Spirit”

Saint John 3, 5

The visit continues through the nave of the epistle, located to the right of the main entrance. On the south wall, under a grandiose oculus through which the midday light enters, is the Renaissance altarpiece dedicated to Saint Jerome. Its spirit followed the Order of Saint Jerome settled in this monastery for four centuries, from 1432 to the beginning of the XIX century. This magnificent work was erected at the end of the 16th century and has a lower part and two bodies divided into three streets plus a semi-circular finish.

Start at the bank. At the bottom, there are three reliefs on the legend of «Saint Jerome and the lion». On the left you can see the monks’ startle at the appearance of a fierce wound, while our Saint heals the animal by removing a thorn from its leg. In the centre, the lion is used as a beast of load to replace the stolen donkey. In the right relief, you can see the lion making the merchants flee, robbers of the donkey which he leads back to the convent with various camels laden with rich merchandise. Legend has it that the merchants as proof of their repentance sent provisions every year to the monastery.

The carving of Saint Jerome penitent occupies the centre. It represents his ascetic stage of retreat in the desert dedicated to penance and contemplation. At the top, there is a delicate high relief of the Virgin Mary with the Child blessing. Escorting these images, four reliefs show the intercession of Saint Jerome on various religious who were placed under his protection. In the first body and from left to right, God appears in dreams censuring Jerome for his intellectual pride, while the saint is flogged, taking to his retirement in the desert as a form of atonement. On the right, a religious man with mitre on his deathbed is accompanied by three friars who can do nothing against the traps of the devil who seeks the loss of his soul. However, from above, Saint Jerome comes to the aid of the dying man.

In the upper body, another miracle of our saint is represented. He appears in the sky to stop the sword with which a soldier wanted to cut the throat of Silvanus, Bishop of Nazareth. At the same time, the person responsible loses his head as punishment for his action. Finally, on the right, the devil tempts a group of nuns without achieving his objective, because he finds them in fervent prayer before the image of the saint. In the semicircular finish that crowns the ensemble, there is a mitre abbot sitting at his desk who receives the inspiration of Saint Jerome, author of the Vulgate -translation of the Bible into Latin and official version of the Holy Scriptures for the Catholic Church for centuries-.

“Let us love Christ and everything difficult will be easy for us”

Saint Jerome Ch. 22, 40

Next to the altarpiece you can see the curious carving of Our Lady of Patrocinio, accompanied by angelic figures, while the adjacent chapel is dedicated to Saint Dominic of the Causeway, master of Saint John of Ortega.

In the centre of the temple and behind a sober grille that only opens during liturgical celebrations, you can see the extraordinary Gothic Sepulchre-Baldachin with the reclining effigy of the saint made in alabaster. This funeral monument was commissioned by the constables of Castile to Simón de Colonia and Gil de Siloé, in the middle of the 15th century. Six reliefs are carved on its sides with scenes from the life and miracles of Saint John of Ortega.

The oldest scene is carved at the foot: Juan prays to Saint Nicholas not to be shipwrecked on his return from the Holy Land and promises to consecrate a temple in his honour.

The miracles performed before the tomb of the Saint is represented in the head. «There were so many miracles with which God attests to the holiness of his servant, that if we took them as the sole issue of his life, a great book would come out».

On the left side, you can see the following scenes: A poor man resurrected by the prayer of the Saint and Saint John cures blindness to the thieves who had stolen his oxen. The blindness was produced by his bad action.

Finally, on the right side, the scene of Saint John of Ortega appears praying among the trees and the Miracle of Bread, an evangelical event carried out to support pilgrims. At half height, there are six polychrome images from the Baroque period corresponding to saints of Jerome charisma. On the bases of the left side; Saint Marcella, Saint Jerome and Saint Eustochium; while, to the right are the sculptures of Saint Paula, Saint Pauline of Nola and San Eusebius of Cremona, successor of Saint Jerome.

“Love has no limits and impatience knows no measure”

Saint Paula

At the back of this spectacular funerary monument is the central apse where the peculiar structure of its windows creates a curious play of light and shadow, when the light of sunrise falls on them. The centre of the apse is occupied by the main altar which is presided over by a sober crucifix. Christ Crucified freed us from sin and death by giving his life on the cross. The cross is not understood as defeat, but as a prelude to the definitive triumph over death that will come with the Resurrection.

On the sides you can see the carvings of Saint John of Ortega and Saint Jerome. In the previous part, there is a carving of the Virgin of the Pillar. Mary appeared to the Apostle Saint James in Zaragoza around the year 40, making it the oldest Marian apparition recognized by the Church.

If you go around the fence, you get to the left nave. You can see the sculpture of Saint Paula, disciple of Saint Jerome, who is a co-patron of the Jerome Order and one of the most relevant figures of female monasticism in the early days of Christianity.

The patriarchal cross is carved on the side wall. Only temples that have the Patriarchal Cross can grant plenary indulgence to pilgrims.

Here is also the striking Romanesque tomb. It is an extraordinary rectangular sarcophagus that is decorated on the front and on the sides, while the lid is sculpted double-sided. It is a work carried out at the end of the 12th century, although the grave was never used.

In the centre of the main side, you can see Christ “Pantocrator” in an oval frame, Almighty and full of majesty. Christ blesses with his right hand and carries a book on the left. He is accompanied by the symbols of the four evangelists -Tetramorphs-: the angel of Saint Matthew, the lion of Saint Mark, the eagle of Saint John and the bull of Saint Luke. The rest of the front presents the apostles, six on each side, under semi-circular arches. Above them, there are a series of architectures that symbolize the Celestial Jerusalem. Only Saint Peter is identified with the keys, located to the right of Christ.

On the right side there are a man on horseback and another on foot, which could be Saint Martin  giving his cape with a beggar, because it was a very appropriate subject for places of pilgrimage such as this monastery where free service has always been essential with the needy.

On the left side, inside a medallion held by four angels, the “Agnus Dei”, mystical Lamb holding a long cross, is represented. The back has no ornamentation, which suggests that it was originally attached to the wall. In the previous part of the sepulchral cover we see the death of Saint John of Ortega. He is lying on his deathbed, while two «psycho-pomp» angels raise his soul, represented as a human being with a cloth. Flanking this scene, on one side, there are sculptures of the bishop and four abbots from nearby monasteries. On the other side, there are five regular canons of the monastery in prayer. The unfinished back has circular compositions, while the sides have only vegetal ornamentation.

“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them!”

Saint John 3, 17

Now stop in front of the left apse. You can see the altarpiece of the Last Judgment or of the Souls of Purgatory from the end of the 16th century in a Romanist style. Denial of the existence of Purgatory by Protestants increased intercession and prayer for the souls of the faithful in the Catholic world. For this reason, many altarpieces were erected with this theme.

In the first street, there are souls condemned for rejecting the Grace of God. Above, we distinguish the souls in Purgatory in a supplicating attitude, while purifying their sins and at the top; the Apostles are in an intercessory attitude towards Mary, «Gate of Heaven». The image of the Virgin with the Child in her arms presides over the altarpiece. Crowning the structure, the resurrected Christ shows his redemptive wounds. Our salvation is a free gift of God and of his love for us and does not depend on our works and merits.

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After delving into this suggestive altarpiece, raise your gaze to see on the left the extraordinary triple capital where a sequence of the CYCLE OF NATIVITY is developed: the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Birth and the Announcement to the shepherds.

The cycle begins with the scene of the Annunciation, in which the Archangel Gabriel can be seen, carrying a staff topped with a cross, kneeling before Mary who receives the supernatural announcement and, admired, raises her hands in acceptance of the divine will. This scene is followed by Mary herself, meditating on this mystery.

Next, the Visitation of the Virgin to her cousin Saint Elizabeth is represented. They hug and Isabel puts her hand on Mary’s belly to highlight her state of grace.

In the central part of the triple capital is the culminating moment of the cycle, the Birth of the Saviour, performed with numerous anecdotal details. At the bottom, the Virgin is lying on her bed. Above, the manger with the Child Jesus is protected by the mule and the ox. Three oil lamps hang from a ceiling board and the Star of Bethlehem crowns the Nativity. On the left, Joseph’s Dream completes the scene. In a disposition alien to what is represented, Saint Joseph appears. In dreams, an angel reveals to him the divine nature of the state of Mary. The cycle ends with the Announcement to the Shepherds. It is a scene simplified by the limitation of space and represented by a single shepherd who listens to the «Good News» communicated by the angel.

It should be mentioned the curious phenomenon that occurs on this capital every year, on both equinoxes, at 5 in the afternoon, solar time. The phenomenon of light is specially designed so that on March 24, at the eve of the Feast of the Annunciation, the light illuminates the scene of the annunciation of the angel to Mary and later, the whole mystery of the incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

“This very day in King David’s hometown a Saviour was born for you. He is Christ the Lord”

Saint Luke 2, 11

The visit where we have joined art and faith ends. We hope it was pleasant. Before leaving the temple to continue your Journey, we invite you to have a few moments of recollection and prayer, as Saint John of Ortega did to develop his work. Or you can praise and give glory to the Lord in front of the Tabernacle.

For that, we put at your disposal some prayers that may be useful and various links to deepen the life of Saint John of Ortega, Saint Nicholas, Saint Jerome and many other saints who dedicated their lives to following the Lord and helping the brother. Also, in the following links, you will find readings and prayers that can help you in your meditation.

Pilgrim blessing

O God, you brought your servant Abraham out of the city of Ur of the Chaldeans, kept him on all his pilgrimages, and were the guide of the Hebrew people through the desert. For this reason, we ask you, through the intercession of Saint John of Ortega, before whose grave we are, to deign to guard these children of yours who, for the love of your name, make a pilgrimage to Compostela.

Be a companion on the road for them, guide at the crossroads, breath in tiredness, defence in danger, shelter on the road, gentle breeze in the heat, shelter from the cold, light in the dark, comfort in their discouragements and firmness in their purposes so that, with your help, they reach the end of their journey well and, enriched with graces and virtues, they return home safe and sound, filled with eternal joy. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer to the Apostle Saint James

Towards you and with you, Saint James, each pilgrim finds his own miracle.

In you and with you, Saint James, who looks towards heaven feels that he is called to live with Christ, to feel and advance on the paths of life, with the One who, on the way, left a cross with his seal.


José María
Alonso Marroquín

The devotion to Saint John of Ortega and the care for pilgrims and the poor have been maintained throughout the centuries since he founded this place. Hospital work regained special importance in the 80s of the 20th century, thanks to the priest Mr. José María Alonso Marroquín (1926-2008), who, following in the wake of Saint John, created the parish hostel and attended personally and closely to pilgrims they were getting closer. His “garlic soups” with which he invited pilgrims to dinner were famous.


On June 2 the festivity of Saint John of Ortega is celebrated, although nowadays the Pilgrimage is organized on the first Saturday of June. The inhabitants of the nearby towns come to Saint John of Ortega with banners and processional crosses to parade together in procession with the Saint. It ends with an act of thanksgiving at the tomb of the holy protector.

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Enter and navigate the temple.

Help the Sanctuary

The temple is the house of God and ours. Let’s collaborate to keep it worthy.

If you wish to collaborate in the conservation and restoration works of this Sanctuary of Saint John of Ortega, deposit your donation here.



(Caja Viva)