Puente la Reina is the Navarrese village where the two main branches of the Camino de Santiago are located: the one from Roncesvalles (Navarra) and the one from Somport (Huesca).
It owes its name to its strategic bridge essential to cross the mighty Arga river. Built in the 11th century, the bridge was an infrastructure where you had to pay a pontazgo (toll) to be able to cross it. Because of its strategic importance, it was originally fortified with three towers, one on each side and another in the center; Such a high level of protection gives an idea of its importance to avoid the passage of bandits or an enemy army. Inside the central tower of the bridge was placed a Renaissance carving of the Virgen del Puy, patron saint of the town.
From the year 1824, the chroniclers of the town were documenting the periodic visits of a txori (that means bird in Basque language) that fluttered around the image. Before the stupor of the locals this one cleaned with his wings the cobwebs that were accumulating in the image and even gave quick passes by the surface of the river to wet the tip and with this one to wash the face of the Virgin carefully. Few in the village doubted that it was a miraculous action.
The visits of the txori -or “choris”, because they lasted more years than the maximum life cycle of a bird- became an annual tradition. Those evolutions of the txori became a great event for all the people, celebrating the arrival of the bird with the tolling of church bells, religious celebrations and even rocket launches. So much noise and turbamult did not seem to scare away the bird that performed its tasks of cleaning the image without caring about the celebrations.
In the winter of 1834 a detachment of troops of the Royal Army, commanded by the Brigade Cristobal Manuel de Villena, VI count of Vía Manuel, was stationed in Puente la Reina to defend the population from any possible attack by the Carlist army of General Zumalacárregui. With the periodic spring arrival of the txori and its evolutions around the image of the Virgin, the habitual agitation of the settlers resumed, even more nervous than usual for being in its great majority of Carlist sympathy.
So much agitation must have made even more nervous the government troops, who were aware of being in a locality that was hostile to them. They soon learned about the spiritual interpretations that were given to the txori. The young count (24 years old) reacted by publicly declaring that those village interpretations were a superstition; statement that ended up facing him bitterly with almost all the townspeople. To get the bird away from town Cristobal Manuel de Villena went to the extreme of firing his guns at the side of the bridge. That challenge to a firm belief of the locals ended up generating public disturbances. In response, the Count of Via Manuel ordered the imprisonment of some notables of the town.
About two weeks after the incident, on August 19, the so-called Action of the Peñas de San Fausto took place. During this, the troops of Zumalacárregui defeated the Liberals of the Baron de Carondelet. When he was about to be captured, his subordinate Cristobal Manuel de Villena sacrificed himself to protect his escape; for that reason he was captured by the Carlists and transferred to a prison in the village of Aranaz. The high commanders of the Royal Army recognized the gesture of courage of the young Cristobal sending to Don Carlos de Borbón a proposal of exchange; due to the recent execution of a Carlist colonel. For that reason, General Zumalacárregui ordered his execution on August 26, 1834.
When the news was known in Puente la Reina, the inhabitants interpreted it as a divine punishment for having mocked and tried to scare the txori, which further increased its celebrity and fame as a divine sign.
After the war, the txori continued returning. Its visits are documented between 1840 and 1843; that year was the last, as the authorities of the liberal government decided to demolish the central tower of the bridge where the image of the Virgin was housed. Could this decision have been motivated by the bird’s reputation? Was it a reprisal for the execution of Cristobal Manuel de Villena? The truth is that in the absence of shelter the image was transferred in solemn procession to the parish of San Pedro, whose altarpiece currently remains. Yes, without txori visits. Would you call it the txori legend? Do you consider it the locals’ imaginations?
Text by Ignacio Suárez-Zuloaga and illustrations by Ximena Maier.
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