By Ana Pestana 

El Bierzo is an area of Spain, located in the extreme west of Castilla y León next to Galicia. The Camino de Santiago runs through it.


  It was in 813 when Bishop Teodomiro, discovered the tomb with the remains of the Apostle Santiago.  A little later, King Alfonso II, visited the place, becoming the first Pilgrim of the Camino (1).  From now on, the Camino, although alive, has undergone modifications.  There are places, towns and villages that still preserve inns, monasteries and churches that arose to give physical and spiritual shelter to the old Pilgrim and that today continue to exist but are unknown to most Pilgrims because they have been left out of the “official way”.


  Discovering those secret corners is a pleasure and a true luxury because not being located within the tourist guides of the Camino, the Pilgrim is at ease to enjoy and recreate past transpiring times.  In those places, one comes face to face with history and in the solitude of the place, one is able to feel the substantial emotion of the ancient Pilgrims.


  Magaz de Abajo


  Magaz, is a small village 5 kilometers away from Cacabelos.  My father's family had there a 16th century chapel dedicated to Saint James in honor of the Camino de Santiago that passed through there.  The chapel is still standing, although today it has been transformed into a civic center.  However, the chapel baroque altarpiece together with a carving of Santiago Apóstol can still be seen in the town's church.


  The chapel had an important frieze alluding to Santiago that unfortunately white collar crime took away,  the same white  collar crime that took over the property of the chapel, snatching it from its true owners and then selling it to the City Council and thus making money.


  Every time I go to Magaz and stand in front of the Santiago carving that belonged to my family, I feel proud to be a volunteer hospitalera of the Camino and I know that it is not by chance that I have become so involved in the Camino.

Baroque carving of Santiago

(G) Chapel of Santiago

Carracedo Monastery (2)


  The Camino De Santiago had its heyday in the 11th to 13th centuries.  In El Bierzo, towns like Molinaseca, Ponferrada, Cacabelos and Villafranca, grew as a result of the Camino that passed through them.  The kings granted those cities privileges and thus the Pilgrims who passed paid less taxes and the peasant serfs, by settling in them, freed themselves from the heavy burdens of their servitude to a lord or to the land and improved their rights and freedom.  Those towns passed under the jurisdiction of the Crown or the Ecclesiastical Authority.


  The Church became very important during the Camino.  The monastic orders of Cluny, Cister and San Agustín took advantage of the Camino de Santiago to introduce their reforms.  These reforms were supported by Rome because they helped to the uniformity of the rules and avoided the excesses of wealth and promiscuity existing in those times among the clergy.


  Carracedo Monastery


The monastery of Carracedo, very close to Cacabelos is a hidden gem a few meters from the Camino.  It was founded in 990 and was Royal Palace and Monastery, first Benedictine and then Cistercian.  The church that was renovated centuries later still preserves remains from the 12th century.


  In the Monastery, one can still follow the steps of the monks heading to the chapel to sing the Angelus.


  This video shows the Monastery:


  Christ of the Templars


  We cannot talk about the Camino de Santiago without a reference to the Templars.   Its epicenter was in Ponferrada.  The town had been given to the Templars in 1178 and although they were later expelled, in 1211 the king ended up giving it to them.  (2).


  The Order of the Temple was a military order founded to protect the Pilgrims to Jerusalem under the rule of St. Augustine and later went on to protect the Pilgrims to Santiago.  The most important thing they possessed on the Camino was the Ponferrada commission.  Although the Templars were present in many places on the Way, little is known about them.  However, they have been and continue to be the protagonists of esoteric tales and stories full of mystery.


  The tradition says that the 13th century wooden carved Crucifix of the Church of San Andrés belonged to the castle of the Templars (3).  The Templars were armed knights before this crucifix.  (4) Although this crucifix is ​​in Ponferrada on the French Way, few Pilgrims know of its existence.


  When one is in front of that beautiful Christ, one cannot help but dream that she is a Templar knight watching over the arms before the Christ.


  I hope that whoever you are who is reading me, this article encourages you to embark on the Camino (with the permission of the coronavirus) and you can savor the pleasure of discovering these magical places.


   (1).  Http://ÓSTOL-SANTIAGO

  (2) The Bierzo region og the middle centuries of the Middle Ages 1070-1250 Mercedes Drany

  (3) Page 294 Pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela Tome II Luis Vázquez of Prague

  (4) This crucifix is ​​now in the Iglesia de la Encina




  (E) Carracedo Monastery.  Video.

  (F) Templar Christ.  Copy.