O Cebreiro and the Gates of Galicia

After a morning walk from La Laguna savoring the silent company of our fellow peregrinos, we crested the top of a mountain range separating the Spanish province of Leon from Galicia and enjoyed spectacular views from the summits of the Galician village of O Cebreiro.

Crossing into IMG_5687Galicia, the landscape and character of the Camino Frances is markedly differe
nt. The descent from O Cebreiro is the end of the last hard mountainous stretch of the Camino. From the summits of O Cebreiro, the Fordham peregrinos had sprawling panoramas of the O Courel Mountains and the Lor River watershed.

The O Courel are part of a series of mountain ranges that ring the Galician interior and geographically isolate the province from Portugal and the rest of Spain. Galicia is culturally and linguistically distinct from neighboring regions of Spain. Gallego, along with Spanish, is a co-  official language of Galicia.

Once we entered O Cebreiro, our silent walk was concluded and everyone began to speak, especially me [Shanly] as I was filled with energy. O Cebreiro was quiet, but it gradually became louder as more Fordham peregrinos arrived. We all found ourselves in front of the church of Santa Maria la Real, which prides itself as being one of the oldest landmarks on the Camino. Originally constructed as a pre-Romanesque church in the 9th century, it has since been the site of a holy miracle. As tradition holds, O Cebreiro is the site of the Holy Grail. During the 14th century, a terrible storm snowed in the village, causing the local priest to believe that no one would come to celebrate mass. He was provedIMG_5704 wrong when a farmer from the next town arrived. The priest belittled this man and called him a fool for going out in the storm. In that moment the communion transformed into the flesh and blood of Christ, thus demonstrating the importance of the farmer’s devotion. It is said that a statue of the Madonna leaned over in adoration when this event occurred. She is now called “La Virgen del Milagro.” During the Monarchical pilgrimage to the Compostela, Queen Isabella was so moved by the story of the miracle that she had a crystal shrine made for the relics.

       

Unfortunately, during the Spanish War of Independence, the Church of Santa Maria was burned down and what we see now is a reconstruction of the church built from 1965-71. During this time, the Camino Frances was being rediscovered and modernized by a priest by the name of Don Elias Valina Sampedro. One of Don Elias’s most visible contributions to the Camino is the yellow arrows that so graciously point our way. Don Elias is buried in the church and there is a bust to celebrate his contributions to the Camino.

The day was not over yet and we still had many more miles to march as we made our long descent into Triacastela. Luckily there were many bars to stop and rest along the way! In one of them, Sarah and Louisa were delighted to find chestnut cake characteristic of the region’s historic chestnut agriculture. Chestnuts were introduced by the Romans to Galicia and were a staple of the Galician diet until the 18th century, when they were near-eradicated due to a blight and replaced by the potato. An ancient and stately chestnut tree along the Camino entering Triacastela greeted the blister-weary Fordham peregrinos, welcoming them to the charming town named after the three castles that once defended this strategic mountain pass into Galicia.
~Sarah and Shanly

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O Pedrouzo

Oh how the road was long from Melide to O Pedrouzo, but it was quite a lovely one. While beginning in the dark was rather disorienting, the experience led to one of the most beautiful landscapes we encountered along the Camino. As we began to be able to see with morning’s first light, the fog from Galicia’s humid air left a eerily beautiful aura to everything we saw. Although the trek did not have much altitude, the walk was about 25 miles, which can take a toll for sure. It is recommended that even the most active should take regular breaks to prevent overuse injuries the next day, especially considering this is the day before one would be walking into Santiago.

Because of its length, the walk to O Pedrouzo gave us ample time to ponder the topics that we discussed the evening before. As our time on the pilgrimage drew to a close, Owen challenged us to think about how our own pilgrimage fit into the vast array network of global pilgrimages.

When we talked about Pilgrimage around the world, we recognized that the Camino has two different experiential shocks to our system. the first is a culture shock of being in another country with all its differences. The second is a lifestyle shock due to the fact that walking the Camino is a lifestyle that none of us is really that used to. Beyond that, we talked about different pilgrimages around the world and how they are similar or different. the one mentioned were the Camino of course, the Hajj to Mecca, and a buddhist Pilgrimage call the Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan. From there we considered what are some possible pilgrimages that we can see in the United States. Some mentioned were backpacking trails like the Appalachian trail, religious routes like a route that mormons take to commemorate the beginnings of Mormonism, and, most comically, Disneyland, which for some conjures up enthusiasm and commitment similar to religious fervor.

I13521854_10204840036439317_292669504313480556_nn order to complete any of these pilgrimages, preparation is key. We found this to be particularly true for this, the longest walk. Many of us left far before the sun was up, in some cases as early as 5:00 or 5:30. At that hour of the morning, flashlights become a hot commodity, so it is important to either come prepared or, in many of our cases, make sure to befriend people who seem responsible enough to be prepared.

On walks this long, it is also important to take lots of breaks. Breakfast breaks, coffee breaks, lunch breaks, stretch breaks, and second lunch breaks are all completely acceptable forms of rest and much needed relaxation. It is essential not to be afraid of stopping when your body needs it. Be aware that the beginning of the walk has a few places to stop, but there is a long stretch where there is very little. Make sure to stock up on snacks and water when possible.

By this point of the Camino, we were all a little tired of tortilla. A lot of us tried to branch out whenever possible (contrary to popular opinion, some of us thought trying the pig’s ear was an adventure and not to be missed). Lots of places like Melide provided a great opportunity to try assortments of food we had never encountered before. The seafood in all of Galicia is world renowned, and can give any pilgrim’s palate a welcome respite from the ever present pork of the Camino.

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The presence of pork products like ham and lomo (loin) is no accident. Historical anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim sentiments have contributed to the prevalence of pork products in Spain. Pork was used as a way to reassert a “Christian identity” after the Moors left Spain, and was used by the Inquisition to root out Jews in hiding. While pilgrims should enjoy traditional Spanish foods like lomo and croquetas, awareness of the historical background of these staples can help peregrinos understand the ways in which seemingly benign aspects of the Camino are subtly political in nature.

  • By Owen and Mary

 

 

Portomarín

The 20 kilometer walk from Sarria to Portomarín was fairly flat and a mix of isolated dirt paths and roadside walking.  Near the end, the path split in two and we could either walk on a shorter, very steep path or on a longer, flatter path that followed the road. As I have been having some knee problems, I opted for the longer road path, which followed a small road past homes and small farms.

To get to Portomarín, pilgrims walk across a large bridge that ends with a large staircase leading to the town. Portomarín is a town in the Lugo providence and currently has a population of about 2000. A bridge across the Mino river by this town has existed since at least 993 and was the site of many conflicts during the Medieval period. As such, Portomarín was an important military and commercial town throughout history.

However, the old town of Portomarín did not exist in the exact place where the current town is. In 1956, construction began on the Embalse de Belesar dam. As a result, the water level in the Mino river rose, putting the entire town of Portomarín under water. However, the most important buildings in Portomarín were saved from the flooding as they were moved up to higher ground brick by brick. When the water in the river is low, one can still see remnants of the old town  and bridge in the water.
One of the buildings moved was the Church of San Juan of Portomarín, which is a late Romanesque church originally designed to be both a church and a castle. As a result, the building contains components of both structures including walkways protected by battlements as well as tympanums and rose windows. The church has the largest single nave in a Romanesque church in Galicia. In the late 12th and early 13th century the church housed knights and was visited by many catholic monarchs. Today, the church houses the parish of San Nicolas. Next to the church, the Pazo de la Marquesa de Boreda, a 17th century palace, has also been reconstructed.
Our albergue in Portomarín was one of the most unique hostels we stayed at on our trip. Rather than staying in rooms housing 6-25 of us in each room, this albergue had only a single dormitory room with well over a hundred beds all in the same room. Though staying in a room with that many people was mildly overwhelming, all appreciated the cleanliness and efficiency of the albergue. Since most of us were quite tired upon arriving to Portomarín, we had a relaxed evening in the hostel and at restaurants nearby.
sada
Alison

Melide

Day 12 is the walk from Palas de Rei to Melide and is one of the more unremarkable on the Camino. The walk is 14.6 Kilometers or 9.1 Miles and is actually one of the shorter walks! This is because the walk that follows, from Melide to O Pedrouzo is the longest on the Camino. The walk itself is more of the Galician countryside you will have by this point grown accustomed too since Triacastela. It follows a winding path through farms in which you will be surrounded by more cattle than people for a vast majority off. This path is actually remarkably shady especially compared to the walks both directly preceding and after it. The walk to Palas de Rei from Portomarin the day before is a remarkably ordinary one of 24.1 kilometers or 15 miles and should not cause any injury for this day’s walk. MelideAs the walk to Melide is short enough that someone moving at 15-minute miles can actually complete it in 2 ½ hours it is tempting to race in order to maximize the time spent in recovery at your destination. I would advise against this however for three reasons, firstly the way is particularly shaded and thus you are spared from the sun, especially near the end where you are completely off road and traveling on a dirt path enclosed on both sides by foliage. The second relevant point is the fact that the Albergue we stayed in during the Camino of 2016 year did not open until 11am anyway. The third and most relevant point is the fact that Melide is an uninteresting city when compared to others on the Camino and carries no large historical connotation besides its inception and continued existence being reliant as a rest stop on the Camino. After sampling two of the regions signature dishes, Octopus and Pigs Ears, we made the interesting discovery of a Restaurant that specifically catered to a Vegan diet, among other options! The Albergue itself featured a floor of dormitory living as well as the first reliable Wi-Fi since Sarria. In closing Melide should be a restful stopover, as you will most likely be pushed to leave earlier tomorrow then any other day.

Also do not allow any amount of peer pressure influence your decision to partake in the Pigs Ears.

Conner

  • Photo credit to Tiffany!

Sarria

On the walk from Triacastela to Sarria peregrinos have the choice between two routes. The most direct will involve a walk of about 18.7 kilometers. The other involves a detour that adds a little over 6 kilometers to the trip. This extra bit of walking is worth it, though, as it offers the opportunity to visit the Samos Monastery.

This monastery was founded in the 6th century by Benedictine monks. In the 11th century a pilgrims hospital was added, which is still in use today. The monastery features a Baroque facade that was added in the 18th century. If you decide you want to have a look inside, you can take advantage of a guided tour. We were able to go on a tour that was given in both English and Spanish. On the tour you will have the opportunity to see the cloisters, which feature some amazing gardens and one scandalous fountain, murals depicting famous visitors to the monastery, and a chapel filled with ornate Baroque elements.

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Perhaps even better than the tour is what can be found in the gift shop. Here you can purchase chocolate made by the monks. There are three different bars to choose from: milk chocolate, dark chocolate (which happens to be vegan), and a large bar for making chocolate a la taza, in case you want to create a breakfast of chocolate y churros at home.

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On the walk from Samos to Sarria, keep your eyes open for storks. The birds are rare in Galicia, but a few pairs usually nest in Sarria and this may be your last chance to see them. Once in Sarria, you will be in the last town where pilgrims can start walking and still cross the minimum distance required to receive a Compostela. Our guidebook recommended passing through Sarria in order to avoid hostels crowded with pilgrims just starting their journey, but I found Sarria to be a pleasant place to stay, especially after having some trouble with the walk earlier that morning. If your feet are feeling crammed in your boots, you can do what I did and stop by Peregrinoteca to pick up a pair of hiking sandals.

We spent the night at the Los Blasones albergue, which is conveniently on the Calle de Maior. Across the street is a restaurant called Casa Manuel, which offers a variety of tasty food, including salads, burgers, and sandwiches. Vegetarians will be happy to find several options that offer a reprieve from the usual eggs and potatoes. I enjoyed a vegan tempeh burger with caramelized onions, followed by a dessert of brownie con helado.

Sarria is home to several interesting sites, including the Romanesque Iglesia de San Salvador and the modern Iglesia de Santa Marina. We visited the Monastery of the Magdalena. This monastery was originally founded in the 12th century by Italian monks who wanted to set up a hospital for pilgrims. In the 13th century it became home to an order of Augustinians, and is now home to the Mercediarians, officially known as the Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of Captives. This order was founded in Barcelona in 1218 in order to free Christian captives who were taken during the wars between Christians and Muslims. In addition to the usual vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty, these monks also take a vow to give up their lives for anyone in danger of loosing his or her faith.

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We happened to be in Sarria on the feast day of the Sacred Heart. This gave us the opportunity to hear some unexpected fireworks and to watch a religious procession. This feast day is in honor of a particular devotion that focuses on the love of God as embodied by the heart of Jesus. These kinds of processions were used in the middle ages to mark important feast days. Seeing this procession gave us the opportunity to see how Medieval traditions remain an important part of Spanish devotional practice today.

-Jennifer