Sahagún

“The Cluny of Spain”

Sahagún, the site of the torture of two famous martyrs, was popularized by the Camino de Santiago, attracting French monks from Cluny. Its powerful Monastery of San Benito had a significant impact on Christianity in the Kingdom of León.

Plan your visit to Sahagún

Sahagún is a stop along the Camino de Santiago, so it makes sense that the things to see are churches and the monastery that stimulated the town’s growth. Don’t forget to visit the nearby Santuario de la Peregrina (Sanctuary of the Pilgrim) before leaving the area. Touring the buildings mentioned in our section about “What to see in Sahagún” will take half a day. In the afternoon, you can continue the trip by heading to Palencia to the town of Saldaña; to get there, take the highway towards the east and then take the exit onto P-235. On our pages about sleeping and eating in Sahagún, we describe the local dishes and recommend places to stay.

Want to Get to Know this Place?

The name Sahagún derives from the contraction of “San Fagunt” (Saint Facundus), who was martyred in Roman times alongside his brother, Saint Primitivus. They were decapitated in the year 304 and their heads were thrown into the Cea River. The town was located along the road that connected the camp of Claudius’ Seventh Legion, in present-day León, to Italy, passing through Astorga, Zaragoza, and Tarragona. A chapel was built there which was turned into Domnos Santos Monastery during the time of the Visigoths; it was attacked by the Moors in the years 714, 791, and 988 and was rebuilt by Kings Alfonso I and Alfonso III. In 872 the abbot Adefonso from Córdoba restored monastic life; over the course of several decades, a monastery was built and then consecrated in the year 935 by seven bishops and eight abbots, presided over by King Ramiro II of León. Relics of the two saints became a place of prayer for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago.

As a result of the Battle of Golpejera (1072), King Alfonso VI of León was forced into the Monastery of Sahagún by his brother Sancho of Castile, where his head was shaved and he became a monk. He only stayed there for a short while before escaping to the taifa of Toledo. He had such fond memories of the place that when he once again became king (this time of Castile) he refurbished the city and handed it over to the French monks of Cluny, who introduced Catholicism to Sahagún. In the year 1085, King Alfonso also granted the town a fuero which greatly benefited it. The abbey was converted into a mausoleum for King Alfonso VI, Sancho IV, and numerous queens, infantes, and Castilian aristocrats. As a result, Sahagún received several privileges, including the right to mint its own vellón coins, as well as receiving land and monasteries that earned it the name “the Cluny of Spain.” A period of splendor ensued that also extended to the cultural arena, due to the coexistence of the French monks and the Mozarabs.

In 1087, the abbot and lord of Sahagún authorized the townspeople to build a wall around the city. In 1110, Queen Urraca of Castile—in the process of annulling her marriage to King Alfonso I of Aragon—took refuge in the monastery while waiting for the papal bull. The townspeople of Sahagún, who were very opposed to their lord and abbot, got permission from Urraca’s spiteful husband to attack and plunder the monastery. The former abbot was then replaced by Ramiro the Monk, the brother of King Alfonso (and future king of Aragon).

In the mid-12th century, the French monk Aymeric Picaud, the author of Codex Calixtinus (considered the first travel guide), passed through Sahagún on a pilgrimage. Here he heard of a battle in which Emperor Charlemagne defeated the Muslim commander Aigolando, which he mentions in his fourth book, although today the tale is considered a legend.

In 1245, King Alfonso X made a visit to Sahagún. The Franciscan friars requested his help to build a convent in the town, known as Alto de San Bartolomé. In the following years, the Sanctuary of the Pilgrim was built there in the Rvomanesque style using brick.

In 1419, Juan González del Castrillo was born. Once ordained as an Augustinian friar, he was canonized as San Juan de Sahagún and was later named the patron saint of Salamanca.

On December 21, 1808, a battle took place nearby between the English cavalry of General Moore and the French cavalry, who were defeated. As the English retreated towards La Coruña, they destroyed every bridge in their path and plundered several towns.

In 1820, the Benedictine monks were expelled from the Monastery of San Benito. The property was sold off in the confiscations that followed, and the extraordinary building was lost in the ruins.

Sahagún boasts the title of “Muy Ejemplar Ciudad” (“Most Exemplary City”) for being, alongside Jaca and Éibar, one of the first cities to proclaim the Republic on the dawn of April 14, 1931.

The irregular streets of Sahagún converge in the Plaza Mayor, the center of the city’s life and culture, which maintains a classic feel. North of the plaza is the Church of San Lorenzo, a Romanesque-Mudejar building from the 13th century, located in the old Moorish neighborhood. Made of brick, it has three apses and blind arcades in the shape of a horseshoe. Its tower is composed of four bodies arranged in order of decreasing width.

The Church of San Tirso is also in the Mudejar style, dating from the 12th century. Its tower is adorned with stained glass windows. The area of the apse combines ashlar stone and brick.

You can see the ruins of the Benedictine abbey which gave rise to the city, built on the site of an old shrine dedicated to San Facundo and San Primitivo along the bank of the Cea River. Very little of the original building, from the 12th and 13th centuries, remains because the Monastery of San Benito de Sahagún was seized during the Confiscation. The monumental arch of the Renaissance façade remains. The monastery also contains the Chapel of San Mancio—which has been refurbished although it can only be viewed from the outside—and a clock tower, which is in the Neoclassical style and has been refurbished.

The tombs of King Alfonso VI and their wives were moved to a nearby convent of Benedictine nuns. In the convent there is a museum which displays works from the abbey, such as a gold and silver monstrance attributed to Enrique de Arfe (from the 16th century).

On the outskirts of Sahagún is the Sanctuary of the Pilgrim, declared a historical-artistic monument. A 13th-century work, it conserves its Mudejar structure and delicate plaster decorations; the altarpiece in the main chapel is from the 16th century. There were more altarpieces and chapels whose remains are preserved in the Museum of the Benedictine Mothers. The lengthy restoration process and the findings (arches, stone capitals, new stained glass windows in the apse of the church, and more) are documented in the Camino de Santiago Documentation Center. The exhibit consists of the church and chapels. The main altar has been reserved for worship and there is a pavilion that houses the multipurpose room.

The old Church of the Trinity, located on Calle del Arco, was renovated to accommodate the town auditorium, the tourism office, and an inn for pilgrims.

On the outskirts of town is the Shrine of the Virgin of the Bridge, found behind a half-buried bridge of medieval origins. This small shrine is in the Mudejar style and has one nave adorned with a blind arcade and a small bell gable—one of the important things to see in Sahagún.

Tower of San Tirso's Church

Just 4 kilometers from Sahagún is San Pedro de las Dueñas, the town that cropped up around the Benedictine monastery of the same name which was established in the late 10th century. The 12th-century Romanesque-Mudejar church with Gothic additions was recently refurbished. It houses a collection of capitals featuring sculptures of fantastical tableaus and a crucifix by Gregorio Fernández. In the monastery the nuns run a hostel.

If you take the LE-613 highway in the Palencia direction you’ll reach the town of Grajal de Campos, 6 kilometers away, which is noteworthy for its castle, 16th-century mansion, and the Church of San Miguel (16th-17th centuries) whose tower conserves Romanesque remains.

The Mudejar Church of Santa María del Monte de Cea, 11 kilometers to the north of Sahagún, is also worth visiting. Here you can see murals by local artist Marín de la Red.

Essentials

Arco de San Benito
Puente de Sahagún sobre el río Cea

Practical Information

Coordinates

42º 22’ 19’’ N, 5º 1’ 49’’W

Distances

León 56 km, Palencia 63 km, Madrid 321 km

Altitude

828 m

Population

2,791 (2013)

Romería (pilgrimage) of the Pastor bonus (15 days before Easter Sunday).

Holy Week, which has attracted tourists since 2007.

San Marcos Festival (April 25). Romería of bread and cheese next to the Shrine of the Virgin of the Bridge, tantáriga (a folk dance), and tastings of cheese, snails, and hazelnuts.

Patron saint festival in honor of San Juan de Sahagún (June 12). Running of the bulls, bullfighting, and verbena (a street party)

Pilgrim Festival (July 2)

San Lorenzo (August 10). Followed by the Summer Festival (August 15)

Sahagún Tuning Show (car show), first weekend in July; Leek Festival (end of October)

San Pedro de las Dueñas, Grajal de Campos, San Nicolás del Real Camino

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