camino de santiago
  • Follow the Yellow Arrowresurgence

    Follow the Yellow Arrowresurgence image

    The Camino Francés in Spain is particularly well signaled all along the way with yellow arrows. Some are just flippantly painted on walls whilst others are carefully designed and manufactured actual sign posts. Either way you'll always see them at crossroads all along the Camino so it's very easy to navigate the route.  It actually gets a little more tricky once you enter big towns or cities as these yellow arrows can get lost amongst the clutter of the city.  All the same, this isn't reason to worry as if you do appear lost one of the locals will, in no time point you in the right direction.  

    The history of the yellow arrows is an interesting one, they are said to be the bright idea of a dedicated parish priest named Don Elias Valina Sampedro of O Cebreiro - he was a priest and scholar who devoted more than thirty years of his life to the resurgence and promotion of the Camino de Santiago.

    The story goes like this. . . .

    In 1959, at just thirty years of age, D Elias was appointed priest of the Parish of Santa Maria La Real of O Cebreiro. Under his direction the Church of St Mary’s as well as the ancient inn and pilgrim hospital which he described as being “little more than a dunghill” - were restored and in 1972 O Cebreiro was declared a Historical Monument.

    The reanimation of the Camino was to him a very sacred and important job to be carried out so it took it upon himself and threw himself in to the role of promoting and resurecting the Camino. In 1967, he wrote his doctoral thesis  named, The Road of St James: A Historical and Legal Study it is an exhaustive description of all the monuments and items that could have any value and is six large volumes!

    “In the 1970’s there survived only a remote memory of the Jacobean pilgrimage” he wrote. In 1971 he wrote the book ‘Caminos a Compostela’.

    In 1974, Edwin Mullins published a book “The Pilgrimage to Santiago”. In it he recounts how it was for a pilgrim on foot in the early 1970’s:

    “It was more often a question of dropping into village bars and enquiring politely where the old road might be.”

    In 1972, only 6 pilgrims were awarded the Compostela.

    D. Elias’s guide was published in 1982 and at a gathering in Santiago in 1985 he was entrusted with the co-ordination of all the resources for the Camino. Pilgrim albergues were then established and he was the very first to mark the way with yellow arrows with paint that he begged from the roads department.

    Ten years later, in 1986, the Santiago Cathedral issued 2,491 certificates. In 1989, the year of the Pope’s visit (and sadly, also the year D Elias passed away) 5,760 compostelas were issued. If you are one of the estimated 600,000 pilgrims to trustingly follow the yellow arrows this year, remember the generous hand of D Elias who lovingly painted them. You can see a bust of D. Elias - and a number of dedication plaques - in the churchyard.

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