The Camino de Santiago (the St James Way) in the Bierzo region
How to discover the Bierzo region through the St James Way
The body of the Apostle James the Eldest was discovered in Galicia in the ninth century. Soon afterward a lot of pilgrims headed to Santiago de Compostela in order to visit the sacred relics of the apostle to be granted a plenary indulgence, execute civic or religious punishments or just for the pleasure of traveling.
A lot of pilgrims, then called “francos” (in medieval Spain any person living beyond the Pyrenees was called a “franco”) were arriving from all around Europe, following the French path or the St James Route. The discovery of the St James´ tomb meant for the Bierzo an opening of a new cultural and economic via of utmost importance.
Pilgrims came into the Bierzo through the pass of Foncebadon (centuries XI-XII) where they could see the Cruz de Ferro (iron cross), and where, according to the tradition, they should leave a stone at the bottom of the cross in order to frighten away dangers of the path. There pilgrims were attended by the hermit Gaucelmo. Then pilgrims passed Molinaseca, Ponferrada (where there was and still is the Queen hospital built up by the catholic kings at the end of the fifteenth century), Cacabelos and Villafranca where we can see the famous Door of Pardon (Puerta del Perdón).
At that time the wine of the Bierzo region was exquisite. Traveler Küning von Vach once said about Villafranca: “Drink the wine with discreet consideration because it can blow your mind out”.
The Bierzo region was then left behind when reaching the Cebrero, where some traditional straw huts of St Marie of the Cebrero can be seen. In Triacastela, which is already in Galicia, pilgrims used to pick up stones to take them to the Santiago Romanesque cathedral which was under construction at the time. Finally they were coming into the city of “Santiago de Compostela” singing songs of jubilee.
The St James Way has had an influence on the Bierzo region in several ways:
- in raising or increasing towns
- in changing religious rituals
- in enabling trading.
- in bringing news from other parts of Europe...
To sum up, the St James Way played a decisive role in helping the Bierzo to remain in steady contact with the rest of Europe and in being part of a more universal culture.