San Juan de Ortega Monastery was probably built by Saint John of Ortega himself, with the help of his friend and fellow saint, Domingo de la Calzada, around 1142 as a help point to the pilgrims who walked to Santiago de Compostela along the Way of Saint James. The monastery was originally staffed by a community of Augustinian canons.
The monastery belonged to the Order of Los Jerónimos from 1432 until the 1835, when the monastery was disbanded. During their tenure, the monks developed a pharmacy known throughout the area. In the sixteenth century, the hospice had room for sixteen beds. At one time a welcomed refuge for pilgrims, over time the area declined and the monastery was abandoned in the nineteenth century, with the local farmers using the church as a barn for hay.
The hamlet is very small and sparsely inhabited. With the increase in pilgrims along the Camino since the 1980s, the former monastery has undergone some gradual restoration. A portion of the premises has been fitted out as a albergue with fifty beds. The monastery has a café where pilgrims can rest and eat.
The church is an example of late Romanesque art, constructed during the 12th and 13th centuries. The oldest part of the church is the three twelfth century apses, built either by or under the direction of St John. Isabella I of Castile had Juan de Colonia, architect of Burgos Cathedral, add Gothic arches in the fifteenth century. She also financed construction of the Chapel of St Nicholas.
The illustrated capitals deserve special mention, as well as the tomb of the Saint, in the crypt. in Each year in March and September at 5 pm (solar time) on the equinox light penetrates through a small window placed in the main façade and a small beam of light illuminates the Annunciation of Virgin Mary, sculpted in stone in the top of a pillar.References:
The Externsteine (Extern stones) is a distinctive sandstone rock formation located in the Teutoburg Forest, near the town of Horn-Bad Meinberg. The formation is a tor consisting of several tall, narrow columns of rock which rise abruptly from the surrounding wooded hills. Archaeological excavations have yielded some Upper Paleolithic stone tools dating to about 10,700 BC from 9,600 BC.
In a popular tradition going back to an idea proposed to Hermann Hamelmann in 1564, the Externsteine are identified as a sacred site of the pagan Saxons, and the location of the Irminsul (sacral pillar-like object in German paganism) idol reportedly destroyed by Charlemagne; there is however no archaeological evidence that would confirm the site's use during the relevant period.
The stones were used as the site of a hermitage in the Middle Ages, and by at least the high medieval period were the site of a Christian chapel. The Externsteine relief is a medieval depiction of the Descent from the Cross. It remains controversial whether the site was already used for Christian worship in the 8th to early 10th centuries.
The Externsteine gained prominence when Völkisch and nationalistic scholars took an interest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This interest peaked under the Nazi regime, when the Externsteine became a focus of nazi propaganda. Today, they remain a popular tourist destination and also continue to attract Neo-Pagans and Neo-Nazis.