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The lands of León were the area from where the pilgrims embarked in the direction of San Salvador Church in Oviedo. This 9c church housed the treasure of eastern relics which had been brought from Toledo in the face of the Muslim invasion and which -according to the legend- came from Jerusalem.
Although in the Liber Sancti Jacobi or Codex of Calixtus, Aiméric Picaud did not mention the pilgrimage to Oviedo as a stage of the main branch of the Pilgrims' Way, there is not the slightest doubt that San Salvador and its Holy Chest were connected with the pilgrimage from the start.
The veneration of San Salvador's relics in Oviedo was initially of a local nature and had its beginnings in the 9c. It reached internacional proportions towards the end of the 11c. Many documents are preserved in proof of the relationship between the pilgrimage to San Salvador and that to Santiago de Compostela. In 1228 King Alfonso IX enacted a constitution in favour of the pilgrims of Santiago and San Salvador in Oviedo, while in Las Partidas Alfonso X el Sabio described the pilgrims as «those on a pilgrimage to Santiago or to San Salvador in Oviedo».
Since the 12c, therefore, the Holy Chamber, San Miguel's Chapel of which had been built at the behest of Alfonso II to house the Holy Chest, has been an important sanctuary and centre for pilgrims, which channelled the great current of pilgrims who left León in order to venerate the Oviedo shrine on their way to St Jame's tomb.
After staying at the Hostelry of Santa María de Arbás, founded by Alfonso VII in the 12c and one of the oldest along the Way with its -still preserved- beautiful Romanesque Collegiate Church, the pilgrims crossed the Pajares Mountain Pass, the natural gateway between Castile and Asturias.
They entered Asturias by way of Puente de los Fierros, which preserves a chapel, rectorate and bridge, and Campomanes, which had a hospital in the 12c. In Pola de Lena, the traveller should not miss the nearby hermitage of Santa Cristina de Lena, one of the most beautiful examples of Asturian preromanesque. It was built in the reign of Ramiro I in the 9c, which was the period of splendour of the style, officially declared by the UNESCO as belonging to the Heritage of Mankind.
Mieres was the end of the stage, a welcoming village. After the climb to the Height of El Padrún, the Nalón river was crossed in Olloniego. After their arrival in Oviedo, the pilgrims continued along La Rúa St to kneel in front of the image of San Salvador and venerate the Chest of Relics in the Holy Chamber.
Oviedo, which grew around the Monastery of San Vicente in the 8c, became the capital of the Asturian kingdom in the 9c by order of Alfonso II. He enlarged the city by building a royal palace, the Basilicas of El Salvador and Santa María, the Holy Chamber, San Tirso's and the Church of San Julián de los Prados or Santullano. The palace and the basílicas roughly occupied the area where the cathedral is today. The latter was built including the Holy Chamber in flamboyant Gothic between the 14c and 16c. The Holy Chest, the Cross of the Angels, the Cross of Victory, the box of Agates and several diptychs belong to the most valuable objects kept in the Holy Chamber. The main retable of the Cathedral is outstanding.
Nearby Mount Naranco has the other two extraordinary examples of asturian pre-romanesque of the time of the kings called Ramiro: Santa María deI Naranco, Ramiro I's summer palace and San Miguel de Lillo, the Palace church. Both date from the 9c, and have been declared World Heritage Site, by the Unesco.
From Oviedo the way crossed the Nalón at Peñaflor and reached Grado a very important place in the Middle Ages. Then came the laborious climb to La Cabruñana, after that the Monastery of Cornellana, with a largely refurbished 12c church, and Salas with its outstanding Collegiate Church of Santa María and finally La Espina.
At the Height of La Espina, the Way forked, with the older branch leading to Tineo and to the Monastery of Obona, an obligatory place of passage on the Way to Santiago, when a decree was issued in that sense in 1222. After a short while, La Pola de Allando was reached and its 9c Romanesque Church of Santa María de Colón from where the itinerary continued to Grandas de Salime, where the Parish Church of San Salvador should be visited. From Grandas, the Way entered Galicia via El Acebo Mountain Pass.
From Villafranca del Bierzo to Santiago
After leaving Villafranca del Bierzo, the traveller is in Galicia. When they had left Piedrafita Pass behind, the pilgrims considered themselves to be at the gates of their destination. Shortly after leaving the pass behind, the traveller reaches O'Cebreiro where he finds a series of pallozas -primitive living quarters like the one found in the castros, the fortified villages of the Celts- as well as a beautiful pre-romanesque church of the 9c and 10c.
The same road that brought the traveller to this point follows the Pilgrims' Way through Liñares, Hospital da Condesa and Padornelo as far as El Alto do Poio, Fonfría del Camino, Biduedo and Triacastela are the last stops along the eleventh stage of the Codex of Calixtus. The next one began at the Monastery of Samos, one of the most famous cultural centres at the start of the Middle Ages.
Sarria, with a fortress in ruins above, has a main street -Calle Mayor- full of reminders of the Way, The Church of Santiago -Romanesque and Gothic-, the Hospital of San Antonio and the Convent of the Mercedarians are the most outstanding features among the traces left by the pilgrimages. The Churches of Barbadelo and Paradela (both Romanesque) also deserve a visit before one reaches Portomarín. The (also Romanesque) churches of San Pedro and San Nicolás as well as a pazo, a Galician country house, are the most important buildings of this otustanding stopping place on the Pilgrims' Way to Santiago.
From here it is advisable to take the C-535 as far as the regional road leading to Lugo. After another 10 km (6 mi.), the C-547 branches off to the left and takes the traveller directly to Santiago. 15 km further along, there is Palas do Rei, which is full of splendid Romanesque buildings and is the end of the 12th and last stage in the Codex. At Melide a visit should include the Church of Santa María, the church of the former Hospital of Sancti Spiritus and the portal of the Church of San Pedro. Arzúa is the next important village. It also has a former hospital next to the Church of La Magdalena. Lavacolla, the site of today's airport, is mentioned in Picaud's Guide as the Lavamentula where the pilgrims used to clean themselves before entering the city of the apostle.
From Hondarribia to Balmaseda: the Jacobean route in the Basque Country
Coming from central and northern Europe, after leaving Bayonne, pilgrims reached Hendaye and, after crossing the Bidasoa River they entered the Basque territory via lrún. From where pilgrims went on to Hondarribia, with its mediaeval urban centre and the remains of walls which have warranted it recognition as a Historico-Artistic Monument. Pilgrims proceeded on their journey towards Donostia-San Sebastian, a city that according to some historians was erected as a sanctuary and a hospice for pilgrims. It conserves several of its old buildings, such as the Parish Church of San Vicente, built in the Gothic style in the 15th century, and the Basílica of Santa María, built in the 18th century and featuring a fine baroque portico.
Continuation of their journey led pilgrims up to Mount Igueldo by an old path, and then on to Orio and Zarautz. In Zarautz, the Parish Church of Nuestra Señora la Real conserves a «Pilgrim's Tomb», a clear allusion to the town's jacobean past, and a baroque altarpiece. The Towers of Luzea and Motza are representative instances of Basque defensive architecture.
Nearby, in Getaria, a charming seaside village, one may visit the Cathedral of San Salvador, a magnificent Gothic construction from the 15th century. On the way from Getaria to Zumaia, in Azpiazu, visitors can pay a visit to one of the most beautiful rural temples in Guipúzcoa, which harbours magnificent Flamboyant Gothic carvings.
Zumaia boasts the imposing Parish Church of San Pedro, with a precious 15th century altarpiece by the Basque sculptor Juan de Anxieta. The road went inland momentarily after Zumaia, towards Itziar, the last milestone in Guipúzcoa on the Way to Santiago de Compostela, with its Plateresque church from the 16th century. The Virgin of ltziar is a wooden carving from the 13th century.
Leaving the province of Guipúzcoa and entering Vizcaya, pilgrims crossed the Valley of Artibai and Markina-Xemein and immediately came to a new milestone: the ascent to the Collegiate Church of Cenarrazu-Ziortza, built in the 14th century. lt is the only collegiate church in Vizcaya and it was declared a national monument in 1948.
Gernika, with the Church of Santa María and its splendid Gothic portico, was the place where pilgrims disembarking in nearby Bermeo joined the jacobean seaside road. Before entering Bilbao the traveller will find the old Church of Nuestra Señora de Begoña, erected in the Gothic style in the 15th century and enlarged later in the 17th century. It contains a precious image of the Virgin Mary in the Romanesque to Gothic transition style (13th-14th century). Entrance to Bilbao was made by the Paseo de Los Caños, and after crossing over the Castle Bridge, nowadays called the Bridge of San Antón, travellers came to the Church of San Antón, erected in the late Gothic style. The Hospital and Church of San Juan, are among the jacobean remains in the city. In the centre of the old city, enclosed by walls, stands the Cathedral of Señor Santiago, a magnificent example of the Basque Gothic style, built in the 16th century. Its ornate Gothic cloister is especially interesting, and it also has an old Gate of the Pilgrims, nowadays known as the Gate of the Angel. The old quarter of Bilbao was declared a Historic-Artistic Collection in 1972.
The last milestone in the pilgrims' route along the Basque coast is Balmaseda, a town overlooked by the ruins of a castle on a knoll. Visitors may stop to see the Church of San Severino, built in the late Gothic style (14th-15th centuries) and subsequently reformed in the baroque style, and the Romanesque Old Bridge or Bridge of Muza, with its impressive tower and three unequal arches. Located upon the old Roman road joining Castille and Vizcaya, it has been declared a National Monument.
From Balmaseda, pilgrims had a choice between two possible routes: one of them crosses the Valley of Mena and leads to Burgos, the junction for the inland way to Santiago; the other route entailed returning to Bilbao before entering the province of Cantabria by the road along the coast.