The route of the ermitas at Santa Orosia is a great hike at any time, but after a heavy rainfall when the waterfalls are in full flow it’s truly specatacular. So, with all of the rain we’ve had recently and the weather not good in the higher mountains last weekend, I headed up there to take a look.
I’m glad I did! The path goes right behind the waterfall which was looking brilliant – I don’t think I’ve seen it better. The cloud base was just above the waterfalls which made it very atmospheric. The final climb was into the clouds, on a that path follows a natural rock ledge along the conglomerate cliffs.
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The route of the Ermitas
Santa Orosia is a local saint and the meadows on the plateau above the cliffs are where the legend of Santa Orosia took place (see below). There is a path that winds up through the cliffs and the route is lined with ‘ermitas’. This strictly translates to hermitage, although some of these ermitas were once used by hermits, more normally and ermita describes a small religious building we’d normally call a shrine. The first few are just small white little shrines, but higher up the shrines are built into caves and under overhangs and are fantastic. The highlight are the two ermitas that lie directly behind the waterfall. ‘Rock-shrines’, such as these, built into caves are a feature in the area and are always very atmospheric.
The path up is a geology lovers dream! You start hiking in an eroded anticline and then climb up to a syncline. The path begins in an area known as ‘margas’ (badlands). These are sandy, sedimentary deposits which haven’t had the pressure or time to convert them into harder rock such as limestone. Here you can often find fossilised shells in the sandy/muddy deposits – particularly after a heavy rainstorm that uncovers new fossils in the easily eroded margas. I found a great patch of fossils just next to the path which I collected for the kids. Further up you reach some lovely red conglomerate cliffs. On a dry day, in the evening sun, these cliffs are a striking red colour.
The Legend of Santa Orosia
Santa Orosia is the patron saint of Jaca. Legend tells that Orosia was a Spanish or French Christian noblewoman in the 8th century. She was betrothed to a Moorish prince and not wanting to marry a Muslim ran off and hid in the hills that are now Santa Orosia. Smoke from a fire gave her location away and the moors promptly found her and beheaded Orosia on the mountain making a Christian martyr of her.
In the 11th century, an apparition of the virgin Mary directed a shepherd from Yebra de Basa to Orosia’s bones. The skull was taken to the church in Yebra (where it still resides). Sancho Ramirez, the king of Aragon, realised the importance of Orosia’s relics and took the rest of her remains to Jaca – then the capital of Aragon. This drew a lot of pilgrims who were walking the Camino de Santiago (Way of St James) to the city as Saint Orosia had quite a devoted following during medieval times.
June 25th is Santa Orosia day and hundreds of people follow a procession to the convent where a mass is held followed by traditional dancing in the meadows. In Jaca, it’s a big fiesta and parties go on all night. Santa Orosia is also the patron saint of the demonically possessed and traditionally if you joined the procession in Jaca where an urn with Orosia’s relics are paraded through the streets you would be cleansed of your demons. This practice was stopped in 1947 as Jaca was attracting too many ‘possessed people’ who were never leaving!
The balcony path
As you reach the conglomerate cliffs the path turns into a lovely balcony type path, following a ledge in the rocks that slopes upwards. You can climb up some steps to reach the upper ermita behind the waterfall. It was open which was great – I’ve never been inside before as it’s usually locked. I have to say it was a bit spooky in the dark cave! It was pretty empty inside with just a small altar with some statues and a painting of Santa Orosia. On one side there was an big old font sculpted from a single piece of stone. Behind the altar was a door that leads to a viewpoint directly behind the waterfall. It was fantastic to see the torrents of water cascading down in front of me.
They say that in 1680 a miracle took place here when a boy from Yebra, while sleeping in the cave of the upper ermita, fell 24 metres to the lower ermita below. Miraculously, he suffered no injuries in the fall.
After the waterfalls the path led up into the mist and it was very atmospheric. There are a couple more ermitas, San Blas and Santa Barbara, which are built under big overhangs. One of these I used for shelter while having my lunch.
The path tops out by a final ermita, onto what is usually a big, grassy plateau. In summer it’s filled with grazing sheep and cows with views of the high mountrains behind – it’s like a scene from the Sound of Music! Today there was still quite a lot of snow on the plateau and visibility was really quite low. You can hike a kilometre across to an old convent (where they hold the masses on Santa Orosia day) but it would have been a navigational challenge in these conditions so after letting the dogs roll around in the snow for a bit I headed back down.
Santa Orosia makes for a great hike on days when the weather isn’t so good and on the occasional rainy day in the summer we often take hiking groups up there. It’s still a decent climb of 700 metres and although I did it as a there and back route today, you can lengthen it into a really nice circuit, coming down a different route.