La ermita de Santa Bárbara de Valdespartera
The Hermitage of Santa Bárbara, Valdespartera, Zaragoza
Spain is littered with relics from the past, you can barely kick a rock without unearthing some ancient tomb or cursed talisman.
The most common architectural bookmark, annotating the countryside is the ruined Hermitage, tower or other religious building. In Zaragoza, atop a hill that overlooks the city, well known to the locals but perhaps lesser-known to neighbourhoods beyond is the Hermitage of Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara is the patron saint of mathematicians, storms and artillerymen and is celebrated on December 4th. She was born in the 3rdcentury in Nicomedia, Ancient Rome and her story, like most Saints, is complicated and violent.
Her Father, named Dioscorus was an overprotective pagan who kept his daughter guarded in a tower against her will. While her father was away on business she secretly converted and ordered three windows to be put into a bathhouse he was building instead of two, to represent the holy trinity.
On his return she told him she had become Christian, in ancient overdramatic style, he drew his sword to kill her whereupon she prayed and was transported to a mountainside. Two shepherds tending their flocks noticed her. However, one of the shepherds betrayed her by running to the village and revealing her whereabouts, she was captured, imprisoned and beheaded by her father. He was struck by lightning on his way home from the execution, there is no evidence to believe he was whistling, yet many do.
The hermitage sits 346 metres above sea level and offers extraordinary panoramic views of the undulating territories that surround the city of Zaragoza.
Due to the raised strategical position of the site it has been occupied since time immemorial, in its vicinity pre-Roman remains have been found and it would seem there has always been someone and something standing on this hillside, looking out across the plains of Aragón.
During ‘La Reconquista’ in the 12th century, a fortress was built here. On its ruins, in 1690 the brotherhood of the Glorious Santa Barbara built the hermitage. Later, during the War of Independence, the French occupied these buildings during their attacks on the city, later a pilgrimage to the hermitage would be celebrated every May 1st.
Notes from a 19thcentury chronicler give more detail “with the usual animation, the pilgrimage to the hermitage of Santa Bárbara, Valdespartera was celebrated every May 1st, organized by the Illustrious Brotherhood of Workers of the parish of San Pablo. The butler of the Brotherhood, Don Juan Vitaller, presented the clergy and other guests with succulent food served in the rooms of the hermitage.”
By1905 the traditional pilgrimage of May 1stwas no longer celebrated, which accelerated the ruin of the hermitage due to its diminished connection to the people of the city. There were plans for maintenance in 1910, but they were never fulfilled.
By the end of the Spanish Civil war, the Santa Barbara hermitage had been completely destroyed. Restoration attempts failed and in 1946 the brotherhood proposed to move the festival-pilgrimage to the church of the Miralbueno neighbourhood and the hermitage of Santa Barbara was abandoned and finally dismantled. The brotherhood of Santa Barbara still exists and is based in the Church of San Pablo.
The hermitage was inside the military enclosure of the Valdespartera Quarter, surrounded by barbed wire fences, where many took their military training during the years of national service. One of the training assault exercises was to take and hold the position of Santa Barbara.
In 1958, in a trough at the base of the mound on which the ruins of the hermitage of Santa Bárbara rise, a battle between Solomon's troops and those of the Pharaoh was filmed for the movie “Solomon and Sheba” directed by King Vidor and starring Yul Brynner and Gina Lollobrígida.
You can still visit the ruins today for one of the best views of Zaragoza city and the surrounding areas.
To go by tram, get off at the Mago de Oz stop and walk past the supermarket to the park. On the other side of the park is an underpass or tunnel that leads under the motorway. Watch the video for a clear idea of directions.