The North and East Ways
María Ceide Cancio
This way, whose main origin point is the city of Oviedo, was the one taken by the King Alfonso II, the Chaste in 9th century when the Apostle’s tomb was discovered. In times of this Asturian king, news of this discovery that happened in the Libredon mountain arrived to the court and he was the first person who made the Way.
This way was followed by pilgrims from the north of Spain and Europe; it was a safe and highly travelled road until the consolidation of the French Way.
The Asturian road to Compostela was a relevant alternative, especially because of the spiritual value that some pilgrims granted to the relics’ collection of San Salvador of Oviedo and the cathedal of Lugo, which exhibits permanently the Holy Sacrament.
In Asturias the Primitive Way has the following stages: Oviedo- Grado- Salas- Tineo- Borres- Peñaseita (with an alternative route Borres-Berducedo)- La Mesa- Grandas de Salime- Alto do Acevo.
The entrance in Galicia is made through the mountain pass of O Acevo. If we go on through the spectacular mountain landscape, the Way soon arrives to the first Galician village of Fonfría, that was the site of a hospital belonging to the encomienda of Saint John of Portomarín. Not far from Fonfría, after passing Barbeitos, the traveller
comes to the village of Paradanova, from where the route divides into two.
The first leads directly to A Fonsagrada and it soon arrives to the town of Montouto; the second route takes the pilgrim from Paradanova to A Pobra de Burón where the pilgrim heads towards Xestoso and the nearby hospital of Montouto, where the two routes converge once again.
From Montouto, the Primitive Way continues through these lands, famous for their slate mines, to Paradavella. The Way then descends towards the town of O Cádavo, capital of the municipality of Baleira. It’s the second most important town the pilgrims will pass through on the Galician section of the Primitive Way. This pilgrimage route continues towards the West across the elevation of A Vaqueriza, before arriving to Vilabade, that is very close to Castroverde, the capital of the same name. After Castroverde the pilgrim will find many references of the Way. Near the road we can emphasize the villages known as Soutomerille, Carballido, Fazai and Santiago de Castelo that show the entrance of the Way in the city of Lugo.
The Primitive Way enters the ancient Lucus Augusti across the neighborhoods of Castelo and A Chanca. It goes through the Rato river across a medieval bridge reconstructed in 1570, follows by the Carril das Flores and it enters by the Gate of San Pedro into the Wall. From the anciant “Curtiñas de San Román” (now the Main Square) the pilgrim can go into the cathedral crossing the north gate. In the buiding we can point up the Chapel of Santiago, one of the five absidals chapels of the 15th century, that is the origin of the legend that tells that the apostle was and preached in the city in the 37 B.C. The same legend attributed the foundation of the Cathedral to San Capitón, a disciple of Santiago, that was the first bishop.
Close to San Pedro Gate was Santa Catarina hospital; other buildings for pilgrims were the one of S. Bartolomé (for the poor ones) and the one of S. Miguel in the Porta Miñá, place by where the pilgrim left the city.
After leaving Lugo through the Porta Miñá or Porta do Carme, the oldest gate of the wall, the Primitive Way heads towards the old Roman bridge and the neighborhood of San Lázaro. On leaving the city, travellers will pass through another small town, San Vicente do Burgo, which was the site of a pilgrim hospital and has an interesting Baroque church as well as the mysterious temple of Santalla de Bóveda, standing just three kilometres off the Way.
Back on the Jacobean route, the traveller soon reaches the village of Bacurín and its Romanesque church consecrated to Saint Michael. Later, the Way enters the municipality of Guntín. From here, the Way follows ancient paths that are still very used and connect an endless number of small rural villages. The route enters the province of A Coruña through the council of Toques. It then goes to the historic pilgrimage town of Melide. The Primitive Way ends in this town, where it joins up with the French Way. Then we arrive to Arzúa, known for its cheese.
A Rúa is the last village before arriving to Santiago. In this municipality the pilgim reaches the town of Lavacolla. After leaving this village, the Way approaches the Monte do Gozo, from which the pilgrim was able to see the towers of the Cathedral of Santiago in the distance.
The French Way is the most traditional of all the pilgrims’ ways to Santiago and the best known internationally.
The French Way begins in Roncesvalles and goes by the north of the Iberian Peninsula to Santiago. In France it has four main routes described in the Codex Calixtinus. Three of these routes (París-Tours, Vézelay-Limoges, and Le Puy-Conques) go in Spain after crossing the Pyrenees through Roncesvalles, in Navarra, while the fourth route (Arlés-Toulouse) crosses the border over the Somport pass and continues on to Jaca, in the region of Aragón. The Roncesvalles route, which goes through the city of Pamplona, joins the Aragonese route in Puente la Reina (Navarra).
From Puente la Reina onwards, the French Way follows a single route passing through some important cities and towns in the north of Spain such as Estella, Logroño, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Burgos, Castrojeriz, Frómista, Carrión de los Condes, Sahagún, León, Astorga, Ponferrada and Villafranca del Bierzo.
The French Way comes into Galicia after leaving Ferrerías, across the places called La Faba and Laguna de Castilla, until it reaches the mountain pass of O Cebreiro, located in the province of Lugo. From here, continuing through the mountains, we arrive to Hospital da Condesa. From the mountain pass of O Poio the route begins a gentle descent towards Fonfría, and it arrives to the village called Triacastela, after crossing villages such as O Biduedo, Fillobal, Pasantes and Ramil.
On leaving Triacastela the Way forks. It is possible to continue directly on to Sarria, passing through a succession of old villages with a long-standing pilgrimage tradition -A Balsa, San Xil, Montán, Pintín, Calvor and San Mamede do Camiño- and a rural landscape with unusual examples of local flora. Other pilgrims, however, prefer to head south. The stretch leading to the town of Samos offers not only the opportunity to admire the ancient monastery, but also the spectacular landscapes bathed by the Sarria river and villages such as San Cristovo, Renche and San Martiño.
The pilgrim leaves Sarria by crossing the old bridge of A Áspera, on the way to the church of Santiago de Barbadelo. Travelling through a continuous mass of trees, meadows, and farmlands, the Way enters in the municipality of Paradela. Near the village of Ferreiros we can find the Romanesque Church of Santa María.
In an opened and nice landscape, the route goes down towards the banks of the Miño river, where for the first and only time on the French Way in Galicia the traveller can catch a glimpse of vineyards. To access to the town of Portomarín it is necessary to cross the bridge built in the early 1960’s over the Belesar reservoir. When the water levels let, in the distance it is possible to see the arches –still intact- of the old bridge over the Miño river. Also visible are the ruins of the old town of Portomarín.
Passing through the village of Gonzar, the Way continues on to Castromaior. Just a short distance away, the Way enters the municipality of Palas de Rei passing near the church of Vilar de Donas. The Ligonde-Palas de Rei strecht was under the protection of the knights of the Order of Saint James.
The next town on the Way is Palas de Rei, whose name comes from a supposed royal palace built in the surrounding area.
The French Way leaves Palas de Rei and heads towards Campo dos Romeiros, a tradicional meeting point for pilgrims. Takink a small detour, the traveller arrives to the fortress of Pambre.
Back on the route, the Way now enters the province of A Coruña, heading towards the village of Leboreiro. Between Leboreiro and Melide, one of the most beautiful stretches along the Way, the traveller crosses over the village of Furelos.
In Melide, considered the geographical heart of Galicia, the French Way becomes an urban route and it receives the pilgrims of the Primitive Way.
The next stops along the Way after Melide are Boente, with its church of Santiago, and Castañeda. Farther on, the pilgrim crosses the Iso river over a small medieval bridge which leads to another important centre of assistance: the hospital of Ribadiso.
In the city of Arzúa the French Way converges with the North Way. In Arzúa the native Galician vegetation, which is omnipresent, becomes less prominent. This section of the Way takes the traveller inland passing through meadows, oak and eucalyptus trees that surround the small villages, some of which have names that echo their historical connections with the pilgrims’ way: Calzada, Calle, Ferreiros, A Salceda, A Brea, Santa Irene and A Rúa, located at the gates of Arca, the last one before Santiago.
Once in the municipality of Santiago the pilgrim reaches the town of A Lavacolla. Here the pilgrims of yesterday, keeping a traditional hygienic habit, washed their bodies in the river. Near Lavacolla is the Monte do Gozo.
This is a medieval route that takes pilgrims to the sanctuaries of Oviedo and Santiago de Compostela. These pilgrims came on foot from France, or by sea from Atlantic nations. Then they walked towards the sanctuary of San Salvador of Oviedo and the cathedral of Santiago.
In Galicia this way comes from Ribadeo to Santiago. The town of Ribadeo is one of the most important strategic and tourist enclaves on the northern coast and has long-standing connections with the Pilgrims’ Way to Santiago. Its noble past has left a considerable number of architectual and historical monuments dating from both the late Middle Ages and the Modern Era. One of the most outstanding monuments is the parish church of Santa María do Campo.
The route out of Ribadeo follows “the Ancient Road of Lourenzá”. On leaving this coastal town, the route leads us to Ove, which still preserves a stretch of the medieval way, and then heads towards the parish of Covelas, passing through the villages of Valín and Pastoriza.
The North Way then heads towards Vilela, passing not far from Cedofeita and continues on to Lourenzá, going through a number of small places that are rich in history and tradition.
On the stretch from Ribadeo to Vilanova de Lourenzá there is an alternative route, which was used by a large numbers of pilgrims to Santiago during the history. It is the route that travels across the lowlands of the river Eo through the regions of Asturias and Galicia, passing the Asturian municipalities of Castropol, Vegadeo and Santiago de Abres and the municipality of Trabada in the province of Lugo. The Way runs through the valley, passing through the villages of As Lóngaras, O Porto do Malle, San Esteban and Trapa, where it joins up with the ancient Lourenzá Road before reaching the chapel of San Marcos da Cadeira, just outside Vilanova de Lourenzá.
After leaving Vilanova de Lourenzá, the ancient pilgrimage route crosses the valley of Lourenzá and passes through the small villages of Arroxo, Ogrobe, San Pedro da Torre, Reguengo and San Paio. The pilgrim can visit interesting chapels, like the one consecrated to the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, in Ogrobe. Along this stretch, the North Way continues to follow the medieval “brea”, a route from Asturias that takes the traveller towards Lugo and Parga, entering Mondoñedo through the San Lázaro neighborhood, passing the chapel of the same name.
The city of Mondoñedo is one of the Galician Episcopal Sees and its wealth of historical and cultural treasures makes it one of the most fascinating cities in Galicia.
This late medieval route leaves Mondoñedo across Fonte Vella and Rigueira streets and continues uphill towards the small towns of San Caetano via Valiñadares and Maariz
The medieval way follows its way through the valley washed by the Valiñadares river, passing through the villages of Valiña, Pacios and Lousada. It then continues to Gontán, before reaching the town of Abadín.
From Abadín, the Way travels through the Terra Chá area crossing the parishes of Castromaior and Goiriz. It first arrives to Ponterroxal, then crosses the Arnela River over a medieval bridge, reaching Castromaior and then goes over the magnificent medieval bridge of Pontevella. The Way continues through Santiago de Goiriz and As Chouzas, before coming to Vilalba, in the heart of the Terra Chá.
From Vilalba, the Way continues on to Baamonde and Sobrado dos Monxes, connecting up with several royal ways that were well-documented in the 17th century, and that probably were used in the Middle-Age.
After leaving the hospitality and the safety of Sobrado, the route continues on through the villages of Vilarchao, Peruxil and Carelle, where the pilgrim can visit the church of San Lourenzo de Carelle. It then reaches Corredoiras and goes over crossroads before heading towards Boimorto.
The Northern Way finally meets up with the French Way in the town of Arzúa. After leaving this village, the route now becomes the French Way.