The church here was founded in the 9th century but the current Romanesque building was built in 1214. Its most important aspect is as the home of Nuestra Señora del Manzano, of whom the 13th century king of Castile and León, Alfonso X, wrote several cantigas, songs.
The icon in the church today is the same one from the 13th century and is fabled to be the exact same one that miraculously appeared here.
The legend of Our Lady of the Apple Tree, which is what manzano means, begins with Saint James. One day, in his post mortem state, hail and fit, he was out riding his white horse. Suddenly, without explanation, the white horse made a great leap and landed at the castle of Castrojeríz on the side where it had an apple orchard that bordered the Camino along which medieval pilgrims walked. He looked toward the orchard and saw that inside one apple tree’s trunk an image of the Virgin Mary was hidden.
I get this telling from Spanish writer Juan G. Atienzo. It varies from that of many tellings, which say variations of this, that Saint James was so startled by seeing Mary in an apple tree he jumped heavily on his horse, or his horse reared up, so much so as to leave deep hoof marks in the stone before the church.
I like Atienzo’s version simply because it makes more sense. Saint James was never startled before when Mary visited him, and his horse alighting toward her seems more logical than him jumping on it in shock or excitement or it rearing up. He was after all, already dead by now, a saint, and inducted into the mysteries of the universe.
And his horse was a magical creature, not an ordinary horse.
This is a different Mary because in this appearance she has shown herself not to a mortal, not a shepherd, not washerwoman, but to Saint James. She appeared to him twice before, but both times—at Zaragoza and at Muxía—were before his martyrdom when he was still alive (and so was she) and on his ministry in Iberia.
Her miracles were numerous and powerful and many were directed toward the stonemasons whose lives she saved, making her their patroness saint, also called Nuestra Señora de los Canteros, Our Lady of the Stonemasons.
On numerous occasions Nuestra Senora del Manzano saved several masons from falling to their deaths. On one occasion she kept collapsed stones from falling on and killing the men below. And on yet another, she prevented a beam that had dislodged and tumbled from the ceiling from hitting the mason toward whom it was falling.
From here the Camino continues toward Frómista.