bust of don elias valina sampedroOf the many stories about Don Elías Valiña Sampedro – the inventor of “the yellow arrow” and rejuvenator of the Camino in modern times – the following anecdote perhaps captures him best. In Spain it is very well known, though elsewhere, less so.
One day in the Compostellan Holy Year 1982, with fears of terrorism rife in the Basque country, the sight of yellow arrows painted on trees along a track in the Pyrenees aroused the suspicion of the local police – the Guardia Civil. Following the trail, they came upon a battered white van, from which, on seeing them, a small, smiling man emerged. When prompted, he opened the van’s back doors to reveal several tins of bright yellow paint and a wet paintbrush. “Identification!” barked the Guardia. “I’m Elías Valiña Sampedro, parish priest of O Cebreiro in Galicia.” “And what are you doing with all this?” “Preparing a great invasion…”
The rest – apart from the Guardia’s reply – is history!
The modern-day “invasion” of Spain set in motion in 1982 began as a trickle of pilgrims from other parts of Europe, animated by the first guidebooks to the Camino and by the simple device of the yellow arrows. Long before the new millennium, the trickle had become a broad river, its tributaries the reclaimed historic pilgrimage routes converging on Santiago de Compostela. The network of associations of “Amigos del Camino” has grown in parallel with the renewal of interest in the pilgrimage to Compostela. With the exception of the French Amis du Chemin de Saint-Jacques, founded in 1951, and the first Spanish group of Amigos, set up in Estella in 1967, they all came into being after 1982. As well as wanting to nurture the pilgrimage, they also wanted to provide facilities for pilgrims.
An example of this is the Confraternity of Saint James, which in 1988 agreed to rebuild and administer a pilgrim albergue (shelter) at a point on the Camino Francés where as yet none existed. Transforming the ruined parish house of Rabanal del Camino into an albergue and running it since then has required a degree of conviction like Don Elías Valiña’s faith in “the great invasion”!