As you get close to San Carlos del Valle you notice its monumental grandeur. The dome of the Church draws our attention and makes us walk towards it, looking for its plaza, one of the most beautiful in Spain. It is a monumental caprice that contrasts with the simplicity of the environment. The best is to walk by it slowly and to enjoy it in silence, so that it wraps us. This is another of the great places and pleasures that Campo de Montiel offers.
San Carlos del Valle, as its name indicates, is located in a valley between two sierras, Sierra del Cristo and Sierra de los Bailones, Northeast of Campo de Montiel. San Carlos del Valle is also known by the surrounding inhabitants as “el pueblo del Cristo” (the village of the Christ).
Although they have been found remains of prehistoric civilizations such as Roman and Arab, the origin of San Carlos del Valle is associated to the former and disappeared hermitage of Santa Elena, probably built in the 12th or 13th Century. Until the 18th century it was just a mere hermitage, that hosted a very venerated and miraculous painting of the image of Santo Cristo del Valle.
The increasingly intense pilgrimages to pray to the Christ made the Crown and the Military Orders build a new hermitage and dormitories to accommodate the pilgrims, although the real intention could be to perform an emblematic construction for the Crown purpose.
The works finished during the reign of Felipe V, and caused an increase in population, that made necessary a new urban layout which was carried out by Pablo de Olavide, already during the reign of Carlos III. In December of 1800, Carlos IV issued a Royal Charter of Privilege authorizing the independence of San Carlos del Valle and making it be an independent municipality.
San Carlos del Valle is another of the great places and pleasures that Campo de Montiel offers
The “Vatican” of la Mancha
This is the way as it is commonly known the landmark formed by the Church and the plaza in San Carlos del Valle. In 1993, the landmark was declared “Bien de Interés Cultural – BIC” (National Cultural Heritage) with the category of Monument.
As said before, the church of Santísimo Cristo del Valle was attached to the former sanctuary-hermitage of Santa Elena. Its construction lasted 16 years, form 1713 to 1729, and it has been refurbished several times.
The square was created as atrium of the splendid church. Its shape is rectangular, with 53 m long and 21 m in the central part. It is formed by Tuscan columns that hold floors and galleries of lintels, footings and wood balusters.
In the plaza they are currently located the Town Hall and the “Casa Grande de la Hospedería” (Inn Great House), a typical popular building that was built in 1704, including a chariot courtyard. It was used as a resting place for travellers and pilgrims, as well as to host the builders of the plaza and the church.
Several sculptures decorate the façades of the Church, highlighting a Relief of the Santísimo Cristo del Valle, on the higher body of the West gateway and another Relief of Santiago Matamoros, located on the upper body of the South gateway, and the four statues on the towers of uncertain meaning. The neighbours say that they correspond to the builders of the Church, although there other hypothesis that say that they might be four comedians, buffoons and ridiculous play actors, like those who used to take part in the pilgrimages and other fiestas to the hermitage. This plaza makes a perfect stage to celebrate bullfighting, plays and dancing and other celebrations.
Regarding the inside of the Sanctuary, it was completely devastated in 1936, so losing most of the images, altarpieces and woodworks. Today, to highlight in the inside the painted image of Santo Cristo, in a side chapel, as it faithfully keeps the features of the primitive medieval image that was taken as miraculous.
Fiestas and traditions
Pilgrimage of San Marcos
Although it is not considered a real pilgrimage, on the 25th April, the “cristeños and cristeñas” (people from the village), celebrate San Marcos. Most of the people go to a valley to the East of the village to spend the day there with their friends and relatives, going picnic and having fun. On this day, the bakeries bake the traditional “hornazo” that consists in a bun stuffed with boiled eggs. Some bakers add sweets to the hornazos.
Fiestas of Santa Elena
Fiestas to honour the Patron Saint Santa Elena. The great day is the 18th of August. During the week, the people from the village who have had to emigrate, come back to meet their relatives and friends.
Fairs and fiestas to honour Santísimo Cristo del Valle
It is the main fiesta in the village and usually lasts 4 intense days. The holy fiesta is on the 14th of September. A religious parade is celebrated and a lot of people take part in it to visit Santísimo Cristo del Valle in the church.
Bonfires to honour Virgen Inmaculada Concepción
On the 7th of December, eve of the day of Inmaculada Concepción, the neighbours light bonfires all through the village, gathering friends and relatives around them and baking food for dinner and having fun until late at night.