The French Way is the most popular route for the pilgrims who head to Santiago. And that’s not just a coincidence: this UNESCO World Heritage site is also a top-notch artistic and cultural experience. The cathedrals in Burgos, León, Pamplona or Santo Domingo de la Calzada are, undoubtedly, incredible Romanesque and Gothic gems, but the little, lovely churches shouldn’t be missed as well. These are some of our favorite French Way churches along the Way to Santiago.
Collegiate Church of Roncesvalles
Roncesvalles acts as a starting point for a lot of pilgrims due to its historical significance, but also for its wonderful artistic heritage. You shouldn’t leave before visiting its Collegiate Church, which is one of the most important French Way churches and the greatest example of Navarra’s French-inspired Gothic architecture. This 13th century church, inspired on Notre-Dame de Paris, contains a beautiful Madonna and child, and is also home to the tomb of Sancho VII El Fuerte, a celebrated king from Navarre who was said to be strangely tall.
Santa María de Eunate (Muruzábal)
This is one of the most original French Way Churches due to its octagonal layout. Its mysterious origins -the temple was built on the 12th century and it’s been associated to the Knights Templar but also to a pilgrim hospice- make for a great excuse to walk through its beautiful Romanesque archways. After the visit, you can delve into the stoned streets of Puente la Reina, which is less than 5 kilometers away.
San Martín de Tours (Frómista)
As the pilgrim enters the region of Palencia, he’ll stumble upon Frómista, a villa that is home to one of the most remarkable Romanesque buildings in Spain: San Martín de Tours. This French Way church was once part of a monastery founded by Doña Mayor de Castilla, Queen Consort of Pamplona on the 11th century. The ancient building has undergone several restorations, but its beautiful interior capitals and exterior corbels with more than 300 fantastic and mythological figures are nonetheless impressive.
San Isidoro, in the city of León, is an essential stop when visiting French Way churches. Even though it had to be rebuilt on the 11th century after being destroyed by the Andalusian ruler Almanzor, it is in fact the first Romanesque basilica in the region of León. If you love Spanish art and history, you might want to see its two spectacular porticos –Puerta del Cordero and Puerta del Perdón– and to visit its Royal Mausoleum.
Sanctuary of Santa María la Real (O Cebreiro)
Once in Galicia, visiting the parish of O Cebreiro can become a true delight. Here you’ll find one of the most ancient temples on the Camino: the Sanctuary of Santa María la Real, founded on the 11th century by a group of Benedictine monks who had an hospice and a hospital back then. This is one of the most memorable French Way churches not only for its age, but also for its restrained ornamentation and thick walls.