Culture on the Camino: the meaning of the yellow arrows

The yellow arrow is, together with the scallop shell, one of the most international symbols of the Camino de Santiago. Have you ever wondered about its origin?

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It does not belong to any company or institution. It is a simple, unpretentious brand and its only sponsor is solidarity.

Its inventor, a priest from O Cebreiro called Elías Valiña, far from asking for royalties, left to his relatives in his last will the request to keep the arrow.

But who was Elías Valiña?

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Father Elías is considered one of the most relevant figures linked to the History of the Camino de Santiago.

The Jacobean route attracted a multitude of pilgrims until the middle of the 16th century, but already in the 17th century this religious pilgrimage went into decline and the number of pilgrims arriving to Compostela decreased alarmingly. This decline in turn caused the roads to be abandoned due to lack of use.

However, something changed at the end of the 70s of the last century, thanks among others to the figure of Father Elías Valiña, a priest from the parish of O Cebreiro in Lugo who devoted much of his life to the revitalization and recovery of the sections of the Camino.

Among his main achievements we could point out the restoration of the Hospital and Sanctuary of Santa María del Cebreiro, the international promotion of the Camino de Santiago and the improvement of the network of hostels to provide shelter to pilgrims. In his conversations with some of them, the subject of how easy it was to get lost due to poor signage used to come up. Elias decided to take matters into his own hands.

In the 70’s he began to mark the Camino with yellow arrows, section by section, following the French Way from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela. For this purpose, he used paint left over from road signs that he acquired at low cost and which at that time was yellow.

Once this work was finished, in the 80’s, he published an updated guide about the Camino.

Some time later there were many associations of friends of the Camino that collaborated in the conservation of the symbolic yellow arrow, reviewing it annually and protecting it against acts of vandalism. But the truth is that when this priest decided to start his business, he did it without the help of any public institution, which is why he was unanimously named “Commissioner of the Camino de Santiago” in the I Jacobean Meeting that took place in 1985. What an example of overcoming and willpower that we would like to follow as pilgrims!

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