Roland’s legend, one of the most beautiful legends of the history of Navarre, was born in 778. Aymeric Picaud (12th Century) included it in his Codex Calixtinus, considered the first guide of the Road to St James (Camino de Santiago) as it passed through Roncesvalles, in the Pyrenees.
According to the legend, it was in August of 778 when Roland, Frankish military leader under Charlemagne also known as Charles the Great, was defeated and killed by rebellious Basques at the Battle of Roncesvalles.
The legend tells that when Roland saw himself fighting a losing battle, tried to break his own sword, named Durendal. But he could not. Instead of breaking the sword against a rock, it was the rock what got broken into pieces. As the Codex Calixtinus tells, the hilt of the sword had embedded one tooth of Saint Peter. Roland was also equipped with the olifant (a signalling horn) but he blew it so strongly to call Charlemagne that his lungs burst.
When the Emperor arrived it was too late. The Twelve Peers of France and Roland were dead. It is said that for that reason it was built in Roncesvalles the Chapel of the Holy Spirit or Charlemagne’s Bunker. The brave warrior Roland is supposedly buried there.
Aymeric Picaud, travelling through these mountains in his way to Santiago, wrote in his Codex Calixtinus: ‘Next to that mountain, facing the North, there is a valley, named Valcarlos, where Charlemagne himself and his army camped when his soldiers were killed in Roncesvalles and where many pilgrims travelling to Santiago walk through to avoid climbing the mountain.