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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When in León…

General Tips:

  • Coming into León from Madrid is best by train: if you can buy your ticket online in advance you can save yourself about 20 euros. Also, make sure to show up about 20 minutes early so that you can grab a four seater on the train with table, especially if you’re traveling with friends or planning to work.
  • Make friends, with the people in your group, but also with other pilgrims.
  • Spanish fluency is priceless, but you would be surprised how far you can go with “Hi, may I have that… Where is this (Gesture to your map)… How much is that… Don’t shoot” In Spanish these phrases are, “Hola, puedo tener eso… Donde esta este… Cuanto cuesta eso… no me dispares” respectively.
  • León is beautiful but it is particularly special in that it is a city that you get to be in for more than one day. Take advantage of that, as there is much to see and do.
  • The first day of walking from León is one of the longest on our camino… Go to bed early the night before, future you will thank you.

General History about Leon:

  • Originally a Roman city that was built to protect adjacent mining interest in Galicia from the local tribes from the north. Also, the name León comes from the Roman legion that protected the city.

Things to See:

  • The Cathedral de Santa Maria de León: Along with those at Burgos and Santiago de Compostela, it is among the most important cathedrals on the Camino de Santiago. The 13th century Gothic cathedral was built upon 2nd century Roman bath house. The main facade has two adjacent towers, three carved portals, and a gigantic rose window. The over 125 stained glass windows cover approximately 1,800 square meters. The cathedral itself is built from limestone to further brighten the exterior and interior of the cathedral. There is a 15th century altarpiece by Nicolas Frances. Silver urn containing some remains of San Froilan who is the patron saint of León.
  • The Cathedral Museum: Middle age paintings, Romanesque baptismal fonts, Relics, tabernacles, 13th and 14th century vellum volumes… Don’t forget to get a stamp for your credential.
  • Women’s Benedictine Monastery: Many of our group went here to receive a blessing from the nuns, but we ended up staying for mass. I spoke to one of the nuns who told us about their 9 euro dinner.

Places to Eat/Drink:

  • Meson La Perla: Great spot for smoked salmon and mixed salad
  • Valor: Small chocolate shop where I bought 1lb of milk chocolate truffles for 4 euros!
  • Barrio de Humedo: neighborhood whose streets are loaded with great tapas spots such as the Calle de azabacheria or the Calle de las carnicerias… Pick a restaurant, you can’t go wrong!
  • Vinoteca: restaurant near the Cathedral de León where I had tapas and wine. Try the steak tartar and the octopus.

-Dan Sullivan