It is part of an extensive region located in the northeast of the province of Burgos, immersed in the Montes de Oca and very close to the Sierra de Atapuerca, in an environment rich in natural resources, landscapes, art and history. The village of San Juan de Ortega together with the neighbourhoods of Colina and Hiniesta form the municipality of Barrios de Colina. At the administrative level San Juan de Ortega is what is known as Minor Local Entity or Neighborhood Board in which the mayor is the chairman of that board in turn composed of the assembly of residents registered in the locality. It is at the end of the ninth century when they begin to rise small settlements that were consolidated as villages in the tenth century and with their own autonomy, but gradually were integrated into each other. In the Middle Ages these places are not yet known by the name of Barrios and it is in the seventeenth century when the villages, which then integrate it, are welcomed under this name. Although the year 1000 had already passed and the danger of Almanzor, the Montes de Oca, with copious snowfalls in winter and habitat of wolves and bears, were propitious for hiding of thieves who assaulted the pilgrims who passed through here in their Jacobean route.
The ups and downs that the area experienced at this time did not prevent Juan from one day deciding to found a small monastery in this place and build a church. Born in 1080, in Quintanaortuño, in the bosom of a noble family, he collaborated with his teacher Santo Domingo de la Calzada in opening roads and building bridges to facilitate the passage of pilgrims through this area of the Way of Saint James. After the death in 1109 of his teacher Domingo, Juan decides, in 1111, to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where his fame as Saint Miracle begins. On the journey back to his homeland he suffered a shipwreck from which he was saved, entrusting himself to Saint Nicholas of Bari, "patron saint of sailors and savior of shipwrecked people, protector and defender of peoples" and in gratitude for this he promised to build a chapel in his honour. The place for it, now known as San Juan de Ortega. The royal support of Queen Urraca and her son Alfonso VII, of whom he was confessor and adviser, and under the protection of Pope Innocent II and with the collaboration of regular canons of the order of St. Augustine in the twelfth century the monastery of St. Nicholas, known since the thirteenth century as St. John of Ortega, began its existence becoming a custodian of multiple relics that St. John brought from the Holy Land. Next to the monastery he also built a hostel and a hospital to accommodate pilgrims. In the 15th century the bishop of Burgos ordered the monks of San Jerónimo to inhabit it and they promoted the spirituality of the Sepulchre of the Saint and created a pharmacy that assisted many villages of the Merindad and others outside it, they were in the monastery until the disentailment of 1835, when the goods of the monastery were sold at public auction. San Juan de Ortega as he is known dies on June 2, 1163 but his work, as we have seen, continues for years giving rise today to this beautiful monastic complex.
Of all this emblematic architectural ensemble, born from the construction of different buildings between the 12th and 17th centuries without losing the meaning of their origin or the purpose for which they were built, the oldest building is the Chapel of Saint Nicholas of Bari or what is the same "Chapel of the Saint", but the most representative is that of the church, in which the transition between Romanesque and Gothic is evident. Within it, the radiance emitted by the whiteness of its stones let us admire a beautiful set of structural and monumental works. The first thing that attracts attention is the Baldachin of San Juan de Ortega, carved with different scenes about the life and miracles of the Saint, it is of Gothic Elizabethan style from the year 1464 and the most curious thing is that here are not the remains of the Saint. The church has a head of three apses, on the left-hand side we can see presiding over it, the image of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, master of the young Saint and in this same apse there is a great jewel of Burgos funerary art, it is another of the sepulchres arranged to house the body of San Juan de Ortega, in Romanesque style, it is also unused..
In the right apse a simple Sepulchre, which is here provisionally, is the one that actually guards the remains of San Juan de Ortega. The Baldachin and the two sarcophagi were moved from the Chapel of Saint Nicholas, where they were initially located, to the church, leaving the two sarcophagi in a crypt below the Baldachin, but a flood in the crypt caused them to be placed in the apses. Of the sculptural sample of its capitals the most famous is the one located in this same apse, the Capitel de la Anunciación, also called the Christmas, because it represents the whole process from the Annunciation of Mary, through the Nativity until when an Angel appears to the shepherds to give them the good news. It is in this chapitel that the famous miracle of light takes place. Next to the church are the rest of the buildings that complete the architectural ensemble of the large monastery, the hospital hostel, the small cloister and the large cloister, some of them in the process of restoration. Outside, the beauty of the buildings is also evident and we can contemplate the monumental head of the church, as it is one of the most beautiful apses of Spanish Romanesque. All this together with the peace and beauty of the surrounding landscape make San Juan de Ortega a charismatic place.
The patron saint fiestas of San Juan de Ortega are on 6 December in honour of San Nicolás de Bari, and on the first Saturday of June San Juan de Ortega is celebrated, with its fiesta being on 2 June.
Every year, on the first Saturday of June, a pilgrimage is held in honour of San Juan de Ortega, with the participation of all the towns in the region that come with their banners, there is a fair and market, with plenty of stalls. Also taking part is the College of Quantity Surveyors, whose patron is this saint.
The Miracle of Light takes place in the Church of San Juan de Ortega. At five o'clock in the afternoon, solar time, in the equinoxes of spring and autumn, a ray of sun penetrates through a window and illuminates the historic capital of Romanesque style that represents the Annunciation of the Virgin and goes through all the scenes from the Annunciation to the Adoration of the kings. This of the equinoctial light is not the extraordinary thing, because it happens in other places and emblematic buildings, but if we think that the Romanesque church was constructed already oriented in this phenomenon and making coincide the last ray of sunset with the only historical capital of the temple, The image of Mary here looks directly at the ray of sun that illuminates her belly and not as is typical in the representations of the Annunciation of the Virgin who looks at the Angel, being at that moment when the Virgin's face seems to emanate a smile as she wraps her eyes dazzled by the sun, is what makes it truly remarkable. Coincidence or not, the spring equinox occurs just nine months before Christmas. In spring, the sun also makes the earth reborn and fertilized, so it is not surprising that this place is linked to fertility, and that its saint, among other things, is the patron saint of women who wish to have children..
The visit to the monumental complex is free and the schedules are from 10 in the morning to 7 in the afternoon uninterruptedly every day of the week from spring to autumn.
San Juan de Ortega immediately became famous as a miracle worker, especially for promoting fertility and protecting pregnancies, and such was what the people of the village said, that several noble ladies and even queens came here to ask for grace. Queen Isabel the Catholic herself went to the sanctuary where she prayed fervently to grant a good end to her pregnancy and before leaving she asked that the stone chest in which the remains of the saint rest be opened to be able to observe him; her insistence was so great that the monks agreed to it. Legend has it that when the lid of the sarcophagus was opened, a swarm of white bees came out and fluttered over the heads of those present until after the queen saw the incorrupt body of Saint John of Ortega and closed the lid. It was then, and through a tiny hole, that they got back into it. Since then "The Bees of St. John" are identified with the souls of the unborn who waited for the saint to grant them a destiny to become mortals. After this visit Elizabeth the Catholic gave birth to a boy and named him John.
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As far as San Juan de Ortega we arrived following the local road that leaves in the surroundings of Zalduendo, in full N-120 that joins Burgos and Logroño, and that passing by Santovenia de Oca arrives until the locality. We can also arrive by this same road but from Barrios de Colina, located in the BU-701, road that departs from the N-I, in the proximities of Quintanapalla.
There is a daily regular bus service covering the Logroño-Burgos route that stops at the N-120.
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