A DIZZYING CRUCEIRO (CALVARY)
The small village we are going to travel to during this number of proposals is simply spectacular, so much for the natural setting in which it is located as for its architecture and history. It is also one of the most significant points of Santiago´s Road as here sprouted the great resurgence of the Jacobean Route. This small town is called O Cebreiro and forms a village belonging to the municipality of Pedrafita do Cebreiro, in the Galician province of Lugo. Village and municipality are separated by about five scarce kilometers, but friends… These five kilometers separate literally two worlds!
The moment the visitor arrives at Pedrafita do Cebreiro by road, he already has realized that he has been immersed in the great scenery of Los Ancares, a beautiful natural region that encompasses lands of the provinces of Lugo and León. During the traject, the traveller has been able to enjoy its green valleys and the power of its mountains from the road that crosses this impressive biosphere reserve. And once Pedrafita do Cebreiro is left behind, the way rising to the village of O Cebreiro starts. Once these five kilometers going up are done, we arrive at this marvellous village and then the show begins.
The first we see arriving at O Cebreiro is a mysterious cruceiro welcoming us and inviting us to take a look at a natural viewpoint at its side, a balcony over nature where we can admire the natural power of Los Ancares at a superb altitude of 1,300 meters. When looking out from this viewpoint a blanket of meadows and mountains is shown in front of us, arriving to the infinite. All the strength and beauty of the nature of Los Ancares is shown under our feet. And it does it under the most respectful of the silences, as it is aware of the enormous effort the pilgrim has done to reach this high point of the Road. The pilgrim deserves these views and this respect as a prize to have crossed the entrance gate to Galice in the French Road! He also knows that he is closer to Santiago…
But let´s go to the cruceiro (calvary)...In front of us we have a religious monument that is very present in Galician lands and we will mostly find in high places, in crossroads or in the atriums of many churches. This granit crosses raised on a shaft and leaning on a pedestal arose in Spain and Portugal from the XVIth century to promote Catholicism after the Counter- Reform. The cruceiro of O Cebreiro, as well as being a religious symbol, pays a tribute to the Jacobean Route. In its shaft the apostle Santiago (James) appears carved with pilgrim clothing and on the edges of the capital we can observe several scallops, being one of the symbols of Santiago´s Road. No doubt it is a very Jacobean cruceiro!
THE DELICACY OF THE KINGS
In O Cebreiro we are going to have the opportunity to enjoy a very special cheese, both for its shape as for the particular trajectory of its history. It is a different cheese no matter how you look at it. So different that it has the shape of a chef´s hat!
The Queixo do Cebreiro (Cebreiro Cheese) is a very white cheese elaborated with pasteurized milk of cows raised in the area. Its paste is soft and granny, and doesn´t have any preservatives. Hence it is very important to maintain it cold for a right conservation. Its appearance strikes a lot as the cheese is shaped like a mushroom. Over its cylindrical base a hat is formed sticking out from the sides giving it the aspect of a mushroom. In fact it seems like a funny paper mushroom.
And not less surprising is its peculiar taste, both if it is introduced fresh or cured. If you prefer to taste it when it is fresh, its flavour is dairy with an acid point, but if you prefer to taste it cured, its flavor is more spicy with a slight metallic palate. Very good both ways!
In addition to its appearance and taste, what makes this cheese unforgettable is the history accompanying its trajectory. To know its origins, we have to go back to the Middle Ages. The first elaborating this kind of cheese were the monks installed in O Cebreiro at the end of the IXth century to work in the hospital that had been built in the village with the finality to attend the pilgrims. One way or another, the Road is always present in the good things...truth?
Precisely the thousands of pilgrims passing by O Cebreiro along the centuries were the ones who spread the excellences of this cheese in all the kingdoms. Thanks to word of mouth, its fame kept growing and reached palatial ears… Palates as select as the Catholic Kings, Elisabeth of Portugal or Charles III enjoyed the benefits of the Queixo do Cebreiro. The great presence of this cheese in the tables of the monarchs made its price ro revalue very much. So much that in the XVIIIth century it was the most expensive cheese in Spain!
But all this exclusivity ended up taking a roll. Over time, its fame and the Queixo do Cebreiro shipments that were carried out to the Royal Houses were descending until they almost touched bottom. In fact, it is verified that in 1,989 (yesterday) it was only manufactured by a small group of women of the region and exclusively for self-consumption.
During the last decades and parallel to the resurface of the Road, the elaboration of Queixo do Cebreiro was revived and the Galician Product Designation of Quality was granted. At the moment, thanks to the work of the cheese masters, restorers and individuals, Queixo do Cebreiro reaches all the public (and all pockets…) and we find it in any establishment of O Cebreiro., bar or shop. We also will taste it like kings!
A PRESENT WITH ANGEL
Checked! Everyone visiting O Cebreiro remains amazed after knowing this place that is so difficult to forget.
Both for its architecture as for its history it penetrates deep into the souls of their visitors, whether they are pilgrims or tourists. This sensation of mystery that overwhelms the whole village and the energetic force it possesses accompanies us after the visit. And to keep it in time it is very useful to buy a "good memories enhancer"
In O Cebreiro everything is very captivating and the few shops here could not be less. It is a delight to visit these craft and souvenirs shops where we will find from imitation jewelry to gastronomic products of the region. Also attracts attention that these shops act as small supermarkets, providing hygiene items or basic necessities for the pilgrim as soap or socks.
Among the handicrafts we will find in O Cebreiro, highlights objects relationed with the Santiago´s Road and with the celtic culture. We must not forget that celts were the first pre-roman people who inhabited Galician lands, leaving a deep mark in culture to the peoples to come. So deep, it has arrived till our days…
Before we were speaking about the "good memories enhancers", that are all the objects helping us to remember a specific moment that was very good for us, making it so strong that it almost transfers us in time to this moment. A good enhancer is something that we always take with us, for example a piece of costume jewelry.
It doesn´t matter if it is a ring, a pendant, a bracelet or earrings. It is the same if it is on silver, iron or ceramic, it doesn´t matter if it is a Celt symbol or a symbol of Santiago´s Road, it is the same if it is a present or a self gift...The important thing is that its evocative power works, and for this it must be bought with love and faith.
In these shops of O Cebreiro we will find one thousand and one pieces of imitation jewelry to choose, all of them relationed with the Galician, Celtic or Jacobean culture. Celtic crosses, stars, jet...all a symbology adorning these pieces that will act as the best of amulets.
Among the most sought after pieces are the "Angel Callers", beautiful silver spherical pendants that sound when they are agitated. A Celtic legend says that formerly humans lived with their guardian angels, but a sin committed condemned them to live apart. The angels, feeling very sorry for humans, were giving them some pendants that sounded like bluebells when they were agitated. So, in the case that a human needs his Guardian Angel, he only has to agitate the pendant and the Angel will come to his aid. It is a perfect gift for any person, but specially for pregnant women as following the legend, during the gestation, mother and child share an angel.
HOW SMARTS WERE THE CELTS!
O Cebreiro is a box of surprises. Besides the Jacobean pilgrims, or the Middle Ages Miracles and the spectacular views over Los Ancares, the village has another treasure surprising the visitor. It´s about its magical architecture that will transport us centuries back in time, also allowing us to take fantastic pictures of the place.
Sandwiched between medieval buildings making up O Cebreiro village we will find some special structures. They have the name of pallozas and we will recognize them right away as they are very different from the rest, both for their form and for the materials.
The pallozas are pre-roman constructions of celtic origin two millennia old. It is amazing to imagine the intelligence of ancient celts and to know how two thousand years ago they managed to figure out the solution to maintain the interior of the pallozas with a constant temperature of about 15 °. The secret was in their stone walls being the thicker as possible. Thanks to their thick walls and the circular form of their ground and the low height, the heat was maintained so they could circumvent the low temperatures of the harsh winter of this region. The squat shape of the pallozas is due precisely to the harshness of this climate. Also, their firmed thatched roofs could resist the weight of snow perfectly.
But the most surprising of the pallozas of O Cebreiro is that they have been inhabited by families and their livestock till the end of the XXth century. Effectively it is not a mistake and you read well. Till the middle of the XXth century they were inhabited, precisely till 1,968!
Of the four pallozas that are preserved today in O Cebreiro, three of them can be visited and another fulfills warehouse functions. We will find them near the church, and also at the end of the main street of the village. The dimensions of their diameter go from ten to twenty meters.
One of the visitable pallozas hosts the Ethnographic Museum. During your visit, the personnel of the Museum will show you the life conditions of the people that have inhabited the pallozas along the last two millennia, mostly families of up to ten persons. We can see their different household items and those of tillage, as well as the dormitories of the inhabitants and the animal stables.
These so typical constructions of the mountain regions of the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula have suffered very little changes along their last two millennia of existence. They were constructed to adapt to the environment and climate of the area. And of course they adapted! Their circular structure, their rye straw cover, the few openings, the inexistence of corners and their thick walls...all this ensemble allowed ro retain the heat of the lareira, the typical Galician kitchen where the fire never went out while the pallozas were inhabited. And truly, why to change something that is functioning?
Ethnographic Museum of O Cebreiro (Palloza Museum)
Lugar Cebreiro 22
27671 O Cebreiro, Lugo.
THE BELOVED PRIEST OF O CEBREIRO
Between the church of O Cebreiro and the "Hospederia ´´ (Inn), we find a monument that seems to honor a person. It is about a stone monolite with a carved pilgrim scallop where the bust of a man rests. In a plaque we can read it is in homage to Elías Valiña Sampedro. Who was this man?
Elías Valiña was a galician priest in charge of the parish of O Cebreiro from 1,959. He arrived to O Cebreiro being 30 years old and so big was the love he professed to his parish that he dedicated the rest of his life to carry out work to improve the village and on the way, the life of his congregation. And he more than succeeded!
He was the promoter of his church and the inn reconstruction, both completely disregarded from the middle of the XIXth century after the forced abandonment of the benedictin monks forced by the Confiscation of Mendizábal. Not happy enough for the restoration of both constructions, he gestured a regeneration plan of the village, work that was completed in 1,971 with the inauguration of the Ethnographic Museum. But these were not the only achievements of the "Priest of O Cebreiro ´´, as he is known in these lands.
Throughout history, pilgrimages to Santiago were falling into disuse. Plague epidemics, faith crysis and the different wars suffered by Europe made at the beginning of the XXth century the Jacobean Route to be almost something of the past. But everything changed from the moment Elías Valiña was appointed as "Coordinating Commissioner of the Way´´. The appointment came because from the 70s, this tireless researcher on the Way mapped almost all the French Road and signaled the itinerary, painting arrows marking the route to be followed. For this he used yellow paint that was a present from a surplus from some road works. Therefore we owe to this studious of Santiago´s Road the famous signs of the route with yellow arrows and also the recovery of some lost sections.
The Way resurfaced again thanks to Elías Valiña and the authorities promoted this fact. Santiago´s Road was declared World Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO and started to be protected. A set-up of the road began with religious, touristic, cultural and sportive purposes. There were restorations in its infrastructure and the security was increased. Jacobean associations also emerged by volunteers helping signaling and attending the pilgrim. From then the Way lives this present and sweet Golden season.
The Priest of O Cebreiro not only contributed to the resurface of the Way, rather he revitalized O Cebreiro. Neighbors asure that without the work of this parish priest, many of them would have been forced to emigrate.
Elías Valiña died in 1,989, at the early age of 60 years and from then he rests in peace in the village he loved so much and where he is loved by everyone.
Monument to Elías Valiña (besides Santa María A Real Do Cebreiro Parish)
Rúa Cebreiro s/27671 - O Cebreiro, Lugo
THE FORCE OF MYSTICISM
We have done a tour through the sensations that the jewels of O Cebreiro transmit to us, as the miracle, its pilgrims or the pallozas. But still we need ro experiment one of the strongest sensations we can have in this place so much charged with symbolisms. We talk about feeling the great mysticism lived when we visit the interior of its church, as old as its construction goes back to the IXth century...Will we be able to breathe this mysticism and feel the chills it causes?
Although being the oldest temple in the French Road, the Church of Santa María La Real is one of the best preserved. We owe its construction to benedictin monks who raised this church and a small hospital to attend the pilgrims. This happened about 50 years after the discovery of the tomb of the apostle Santiago, just when the first pilgrims started to arrive. We are talking of the year 863! It gives even vertigo, isn´t it true?
After Benedictins, Cluniac monks arrived in the XIth century, who did many improvements in the ensemble. Later, by order of the Catholic Kings, the benedictins returned, remaining till the XIXth century. Currently the church is in the hands of the Franciscan monks and the hospital is from 1,966 the Guest House of Saint Giraldo de Aurillac, a name that honors the Cluniac monks who improved so much the infrastructures of Santiago´s Road.
Once we know its history and we know to whom so much art is due, we will enjoy its interior! The most important thing about entering the church is the strong sensation of recollection that overwhelms us. As it is a romanesque temple, the walls are very strong and they have almost no windows, which makes the temple have very little natural light. This amplifies the halo of mystery that surrounds all the environment. Entering in this Church is to fully immerse in an atmosphere full of peace, feeling and intimity.
Here it is possible to pray in 14 different languages thanks to the Bibles this temple has availables for anyone who enters, including one in Braille. This way, every pilgrim arriving from any part of the world can pray.
In the Capilla del Santo Milagro (Chapel of the Holy Miracle) there is a display case that guards the chalice and the paten witnesses of the miracle and also the silver reliquary present of the Catholic Kings . Here also are the tombs of the two protagonists of the miracle. At the end, the lazy priest and Juan Santín rest together for all eternity…
Feeling the energetic force contained at the interior of this temple is a unique sensation. How many pilgrims along the centuries have arrived to this church lost in the galician mountains and have felt everything its stones and relics have transmitted to them? To receive all this concentrated emotional charge in this small church is quite a challenge.
Do you dare?
Church of Santa María A Real de O Cebreiro
Rúa Cebreiro s/n
27671 - O Cebreiro, Lugo
THE MYSTERY OF THE HOLY GRAIL
After a harsh but very beautiful climb across the mountain, pilgrims arrive at O Cebreiro, where the oldest fully preserved Church of the Way is waiting for him. It is the Santa María La Real, pre romanesque temple from the IXth century, that was the scene of a miracle taking place on a very winter day of 1,300.
That cold morning a benedictin monk was celebrating eucharist in the church of O Cebreiro completely alone because of the important snowfall happening, and he was doing it with total reluctance. But suddenly, a parishioner from the nearby village, named Juan Santín, showed up to hear mass. Seen the parishioner, the priest thought to himself…"Of course, one has to be very crazy to go out on this so despicable weather for a piece of bread and a little bit of wine!" Thus belittling the devotee´s faith…
God listened to the thoughts of this unbelieving priest showing his little faith, and this triggered the miracle. The moment of the consagracion, the bread turned into meat and the wine into blood staining the Corporals! That harsh winter day and in that lost parish in the Galician mountains, the Body and the Blood of Christ made their presence in front of the stunned look of the lazy priest and Juan Santín.
It is said that when the miracle happened, the carving of the Virgin on the Church bowed her head forward in a sign of respect and so it has remained till our days. It is the Virgen del Santo Milagro (Virgin of the Holy Miracle) patroness saint of these mountains.
Of that prodigy the chalice and paten that witnessed the events are still preserved. They are exposed in the right side apse, in the Chapel of the Miracle together with a beautiful reliquary containing the meat and the blood of the transformation. This relicary was a present of the Catholic Kings, who, in the year 1,487 stayed overnight in O Cebreiro on their way to Santiago de Compostela, and as a thank you for the host they gave away to the parish a gothic goldsmith piece. It was a small silver coffin where the relics could be guarded.
The history also tells that the Catholic Kings wanted to take away with them the chalice of the miracle but leaving O Cebreiro, the horse transporting it refused to continue on the path, so the monarchs gave up on their idea and returned the cup to the parish.
Soon, the miracle that took place in this small Galician parish spreaded all around Europe. The story kept going word of mouth but with certain romantic additions fruit of the popular imagination. The fame of the chalice of O Cebreiro kept growing and growing and the confusions also...And the "legend of the Holy Grail of O Cebreiro" ended up emerging. In this legend the real Chalice of Christ (known as the Holy Grail), was confused with the Chalice that faced the miracle of O Cebreiro, being in reality two different cups. Even Richard Wagner in his opera Parsifal places the Holy Grail in the mountains of the North of Spain!
"Church of Santa Maria de O Cebreiro A Real
Rúa Cebreiro s/n
27671 - O Cebreiro, Lugo
...THE WAY IS MADE BY WALKING…
As we have just seen, we are at the place where Santiago´s Road resurfaced, so...let´s follow the steps of a pilgrim to feel its power!
We are going to propose to you a small plan so you can experiment a little bit the Way and know what pilgrims feel arriving at O Cebreiro. For this we are going to go to the cruceiro at the entrance of the village. In front of the cruceiro is the Piper Monument and a small path. Is through this path from where pilgrims coming from the León village of La Laguna arrive to O Cebreiro, and they make it with happiness as during this stretch they have crossed a mololite signalling the entrance to Galice. They are already in the Galician region! They only have 150 kilometers ahead to embrace the Saint! This "Gate to Galice ´´ is only one kilometer from O Cebreiro following this same way, so the pilgrim arrives desiring to taste the goodness of the Galician land.
The happiness of the arrival to Galice meets with the warm welcome the pilgrim feels in O Cebreiro. The first he sees arriving is the Piper Monument in front of the cruceiro. It is about a sculpture reminiscent of the legend narrating how a german pilgrim got lost making the Way but after following the sound coming from some pipes, he could recover the course and arrive at O Cebreiro.
The pilgrim will go down a few meters by the road to reach the entrance to the village, not before paying his respect to the cruceiro. In this short route he will leave to his left a low wall allowing him to admire the extensive region of Los Ancares, lands waiting for his next stage...sitting in this wall he will find the sculpture of a woman who is resting. It is a homage to the thousands of pilgrims arriving to O Cebreiro every year after going through the tough stage climbing from León and will find in this low wall a marvelous place to sit down and rest a little bit. Remember that O cebreiro is 1,300 meters high!
And already taking the first entrance to the right, he enters the village an the first thing he sees is a huge "palloza"! Still he has not recovered from the surprise of the palloza when to his left he sees the oldest church and also the best preserved of all the way. The Church of Santa María La Real, so
famous for the miracle!
But rhe surprises don´t finish here...in front of him he finds the most spectacular architecture of the Route, the precious very neat stone houses, a colorful cobblestone floor, wooden balconies decorated with flowers, more pallozas scattered around the town...The pilgrim heads for the hostel wishing to put down the backpack, taking a shower and travel till the last centimeter of O Cebreiro, if he still has force…
We invite you to do this small walk to feel the force of the Way! Ten minutes of pure Jacobean feeling!
LISTEN TO LIFE
In these lines we will have to show a point of O Cebreiro where to make a small stop to enjoy the environment. But in O Cebreiro this is impossible. We cannot choose a unique place in this village to see life pass by, as here life dances in the air in words. Life in O Cebreiro is, mostly, for their pilgrims. They and their stories fill the life of this place in the world. In O Cebreiro life is seen but mostly it is listened to.
The viewpoint of the cruceiro is the arrival point for pilgrims to O Cebreiro. Here they arrive, leave their bicycles or backpacks and look out to the infinity from this balcony, watching with pride the lands they have left behind and with respect the ones they have ahead. The pilgrim arriving in O Cebreiro is especially enthusiastic because he has already arrived in Galice! There is less and less left to be able to embrace the Apostle! This small village is the entrance gate to Galice in the French Road, and so, the pilgrim arriving here is happy and looks out in silence to the viewpoint to enjoy his achievement in peace. And we with him will close our eyes so that his joy may spread to us.
But suddenly, something breaks this silence...Someone is crying sitting at the base of the cruceiro! Is another pilgrim, sobbing like a little child, while he covers his face with his hands. But the tears come to light and slip through his fingers. They are tears of happiness!
In the area next to the church we find more pilgrims. Already more calmed, they walk in the village relaxed and blissful. We can distinguish a few languages in the air. Words in a thousand different languages fly over the cobblestone pavement. Pilgrims arrive from all over the world but all of them speak a common language: The one of happyness. With good reason a neighbour said in his day: "O Cebreiro is the biggest street in the world". And it is that in this lost place of the world people converge from the five continents and all of them have something in common: the Santiago´s Road.
To be able to understand a pilgrim, we must know the possible reasons why a person decides to embark in the adventure of walking the Santiago´s Road. Motivations can be from religious, cultural, spiritual or sportive nature, but there is always a goal of personal superation where the pilgrim wants to improve some aspect of his life. It is a trip to the interior of oneself, and during the tour, the pilgrim discovers new feelings in himself.
To have the chance to be able to talk for a while with a pilgrim in O Cebreiro has no price. Listen to his reasons, understand his evolution, know his story...And even if we don´t understand his language, just watching the happiness of these braves will transfer us their satisfaction for the fulfilled personal challenge. And this desire of superation is contagious, we notify it in advance...
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