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Camino de Santiago: The Medieval Route from Oviedo

By Kristen Klepac

King Alfonso II the Chaste was the first pilgrim to follow the precarious steep, rocky terrain of the original Camino Primitivo and he was its champion.

Fortunately, as one of the much lesser-known trails of many paths that lead to this iconic destination, this route, which also goes by “The Original Way,” has been well preserved for those who wish to truly dive into medieval times.

The Kingdom of Asturia, along with other Southern Spanish mountainous territories like Galicia into which the pilgrimage trail leads to its final destination, was never taken over by the Moorish conquest in the 8th century. And so, these regions became a place of refuge for Christian nobles.

Oviedo, Spain gained splendor as home to King Alphonse II, the iconic King of Asturias from the late eighth-century to 842. It was where his father had been born and was strategically located within the protecting mountains. He built churches and a palace to transform the city into a suitable home during his reign.

During this time the remains of St. James were said to have been discovered. Depending on which legend you believe, the story goes something like the disciples or angels sent James’s body to be buried in what is now Santiago de Compostela. However, the ship it was in was hit by a storm and the body was lost, only to be found later completely preserved and covered in shells along the shore. And so along the way, you will see the Camino path marked by signs that include both an arrow and an image of a shell pointing the way. Others simply say a shepherd found the body, either way, the route is named for Saint James the Apostle. The name “Santiago” is a derivation of the Galician language’s translation of the Vulgar Latin “Sancti Iacobi” or “Saint James.”

The other part of the name, Compostela, is worth mentioning as it is named for the combination of the words campo (field) and stella (stars), field of stars. The Milky Way can be clearly seen along the route and almost seems to point the way.

“He who visits Santiago but not San Salvador visits the servant but not the Lord”

The popularity of pilgrimages such as these was originally (in large part) due to the Catholic Church’s offering of Plenary Indulgences or forgiveness of sins for the completion of such treks. It was also a time when many relics were being collected and uncovered, prompting cathedrals or chapels to be constructed in their honor. In Oviedo, The Shroud was secured by Alphonso the Chaste, which drew many Catholic pilgrims as it is said to be the piece of cloth that covered the face of Jesus at his burial.

This stop in Oviedo became an essential pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages, thus the popular saying was coined to beckon pilgrims to the Cathedral of San Salvador or Camara Santa de San Salvador de Oviedo. “He who visits Santiago but not San Salvador visits the servant but not the Lord.” The cathedral was originally founded in 781 AD, but it wasn’t until many later cycles of construction that it achieved its current splendor. The gothic building seen now was mostly constructed in the fifteenth century.

In this city, and in those along the way, you can find evidence of technology for hydraulic systems from the eleventh century, seen in the excavated well La Foncalada. Cathedrals, monasteries, bridges and more capture the various styles of the medieval period. As a protected and traveled path, the evidence of the various architectural styles can be found in each village or passing castle.

This ancient trail has mapped the way for centuries and continues to remain a popular destination for hikers and pilgrims alike. The traditional French Way is host to the most travelers and so has lost some of the medieval charms of the lesser-traveled hikes such as this original path.

Kristen Klepac is a freelance writer partnering with Reservations.com. She is an avid traveler learning French who adores words, uncovering new flavors, exploring historical places and can pack most of her life up into two suitcases.

Thank you to Reservations.com for sharing this story with us. If you are interested in learning about other ancient trails from hundreds to thousands of years old check out their article Aerial Views of 8 Ancient Trails.

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