Landscapes on the Camino: O Cebreiro

Crossing the Ancares Lucenses and at almost 1300 meters of altitude, we arrive at a magical place in our route: the village of O Cebreiro.

Covered by snow in winter and surrounded by majestic landscapes in the spring and summer months, in this village of the municipality of Piedrafita do Cebreiro, time seems to have stopped.

Its foundation is ancient, even before the arrival of the Romans, but the beginning of the pilgrimages to Compostela would mark the designs of this place making it an important enclave within the Camino.

O Cebreiro is the first Galician village on the French Way of St. James. It has the oldest church and the oldest inn of the Jacobean route (dating from around the ninth century) and some pre-Romanesque buildings of singular beauty, the pallozas, inhabited until 1968 and now converted into museums. In this village is also preserved the Romanesque chalice of the twelfth century, witness of the Eucharistic miracle that we told you yesterday, and heraldic symbol of Galicia.

The usual feeling that the pilgrim experiences when arriving at O Cebreiro after climbing the hard summit, is of great harmony and inner peace. Its beautiful landscapes, traditions and ethnographic treasures make it a must for every pilgrim.

Let’s get to know a little better the history and peculiarities of this village.

1) Its History

At the dawn of its foundation, O Cebreiro was a rural village whose main livelihood was shepherding. Some time after the discovery of the tomb of the Apostle, an inn was built there for pilgrims coming from the French Way.

Later, King Alfonso VI put in the hands of the French Benedictine Orders the administration of several dioceses and enclaves of importance on the Camino. These Orders initiated the foundation of the monastery of Santa María in the 9th century. O Cebreiro then became dependent on the monks of the Abbey of Saint-Geráud, in the French town of Aurillac, who renamed the hostel as San Giraldo de Aurillac.

Throughout the Middle Ages, O Cebreiro obtained many benefits from the Crown, such as exemption from taxes or donations of land.

In 1486 the Catholic Monarchs set out on their pilgrimage to Santiago and, on their return, they passed through O Cerbeiro where they heard the story of the Eucharistic miracle. The monarchs gave the monastery two crystal vials to preserve the relics and decided to include it in their priory. According to a popular tradition, Queen Isabella wanted to take the relics of O Cebreiro with her on her return to Castile, but 20 km from her departure the horses stopped and it was impossible to make them continue their journey. When the horses were released, they headed back to the temple and the queen understood that God’s will was that the relics should remain in that place.

Under the reign of the Catholic Monarchs, O Cebreiro lived a period of plenitude and prosperity. The monarchs granted continuous privileges to the monastery and asked Pope Innocent VIII to restore the hospice and hospital.

The fame and splendor of this place lasted until the 16th century and began to decline after the decline of the priory.

During the French invasion, the relics of the temple had to be moved and hidden in the village of Foxos for the duration of the war.

This decline continued throughout the 19th century and culminated with the disentailment of Mendizábal and the departure of the monks from the monastery.

2) Its tourist value

One of the main attractions of O Cebreiro is undoubtedly its natural environment. Located in a beautiful mountain pass, Víctor García Moreno and Teresa Avellanosa include it as a place of reference in their book “The most beautiful villages of Spain” (2003).

Its monuments, buildings and museums are in keeping with that air of timelessness that reflects its landscape. We will highlight some of these places of tourist interest that we could visit on our tour:

* Monumento al Gaiteiro: a few kilometers before reaching the village we find this bronze monument. According to a medieval legend, a German pilgrim got lost in the mountains and was able to reach O Cebreiro when he heard the sound of a bagpipe.


* Church of Santa María: it is the oldest temple of the French Way, an authentic jewel of pre-Romanesque art. The Benedictine monks began its construction in the 9th century and in 1072 King Alfonso VI handed over its administration to the French monks of the Abbey of San Giraldo de Aurillac. With the Catholic Monarchs the abbey would return to be in the hands of the Benedictine order of Valladolid until the disentailment of Mendizábal in 1853.

The church underwent several alterations as a result of fires but retains all the characteristics of pre-Romanesque construction: a three-story nave in the form of a Latin cross and an austere tower and granite walls. Inside, we can find a baptismal font from the ninth century and some relics such as an image of the Virgin and a wooden cross, both from the twelfth century. In the chapel on the left is the tomb of the parish priest of O Cebreiro, Elías Valiña (main driver and promoter of the Camino in the 20th century) while on the right we can see the chalice that was the object of the Eucharistic miracle.

Today the church of Santa María de O Cebreiro continues to be a place of meeting and prayer for many of the faithful (it was even visited by Cardinal Ratzinger before he became Pope). Pilgrims who wish to attend mass there can do so at 18:00 in winter and at 19:00 in summer (Sundays at 12:00 and 18:00).


* The Pallozas: they are Celtic constructions of circular structure, very characteristic of Galicia and the Northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. Their peculiarity, compared to those that can be found in Asturias or León, is that they have been adapted to the harsh climate: they have a stunted shape without corners to better distribute the heat, a roof with a double thatched roof, low and very thick walls and few windows.

Families of the area lived in them for two millennia (they were inhabited until 1968). Currently one of them houses the Ethnographic Museum of O Cebreiro, directed by Manuel Gonzalez, where we can observe the farming tools and household items used by Galician families for hundreds of years.



* Tesón da Cruz: it is a promontory with wonderful views from where we can contemplate part of Os Ancares and the Aquilianos mountains. There is a wooden cross several meters high where pilgrims have been nailing coins for centuries, following an unknown tradition.

* Gastronomy: is another incentive to make a stop in this area. O Cebreiro has mainly homemade food: exquisite stews, pies and pork dishes. The most appetizing desserts are the handmade ones, made with honey, nuts and dried fruits. Although if this village is known for something in the gastronomic section is for its famous cheeses, made with pasteurized cow’s milk and completely handmade.

We hope to meet you in this and other wonderful places to share the treasures of our land. Remember to go to our contact section for more information about our tours.

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