May 29-30: O Cebreiro

El Camino aporta! The way provides.

Now we are halfway through our journey, and there is certainly a lot to share thus far! Before I discuss all the gifts that O Cebreiro, also known as Pedrafita do Cebreiro, has to offer, I will recount our walk from Villafranca to La Laguna (the town we stayed in prior to O Cebreiro). Our fearless leaders, Dr. Gyug and Dr. Myers, warned the group that our trek from Villafranca to La Laguna (approximately 22k) was going to be difficult. Walking along the highway was not so bad at first, but once we approached the last few kilometers, we hit a very steep climb. Most of the group made it to La Laguna just fine, but Mike and I had quite the adventure.

Everything was going great until we reached a small town called La Faba. Mike and I took a left instead of a right, and ended up walking 10 hours that day, about 10-15 extra kilometers out of our way up the mountain and through the valley. Thankfully we had each other, because we were very much off the path and deep into the mountains with barely any people and definitely no cell reception. We also did not have much food or water either, so I start to panic a little bit. But The Camino provides, and a woman in the only house in this part of the mountain guided us in the right direction. Fatigued and anticipating the next albergue, Mike and I finally made it to O Cebreiro which was not far from La Laguna. I was a good person to be lost with at that point because O Cebreiro was my town to research, so I recognized it as soon as we approached the pallozas, Celtic music, and Gallego speaking tienda keeper. Good conversation, faith and hope helped us get through our adventure. And we kept saying that we would certainly have a story to tell!


The Holy Grail in Santa Maria de Real | Photo by Amy Gembara

After staying in La Laguna that night, the entire group went to O Cebreiro, the first town within Galicia. Dating back to the Medieval period, this town has several major features. The first is the Iglesia de Santa Maria la Real, a church with Romanesque features, but most importantly, the Holy Grail. Legend has it that in the 14th century, a peasant from a neighboring hamlet went to the church during a storm to receive the Eucharist. He entered during the consecration, disrupting the priest whom immediately scolded him, saying that the peasant came just to eat. Immediately the bread and wine turned into flesh and blood. This miracle established the chalice used at this Mass as the Holy Grail. This isn’t the first Holy Grail we have seen though, there was another one, recently found in Leon too! How many people can say they have seen the Holy Grail twice?

Dr. Gyug and Amy with Fr. Elias Valiña Sampedro | Photo by Dr. Myers

Dr. Gyug and Amy with Fr. Elias Valiña Sampedro | Photo by Dr. Myers






Other noteworthy features of O Cebreiro included the monument for Father Elias Valiña Sampedro, a parish priest from the 1970s who did a lot of wonderful work for the parish and pilgrims. He helped preserve parts of the Camino, including O Cebreiro, and bringing tourism to the town. He is buried within the church, and a bust of him is outside. If you look carefully, you might mistake him for Dr. Gyug!

Other exciting things about O Cebreiro are the pallozas, which are oval, stone houses with thatched roofs. These are Celtic homes with two rooms, one for animals and another for humans. There is a museum entirely dedicated to the history of this unique architecture.

After O Cebreiro we walked to Triacastela. This marks the halfway point through our walk, and the end of the most difficult part of trekking through the mountains!

imageNext we are off to Sarria!


Peace and love,


May 27-28: Ponferrada

On Tuesday we walked from Molinaseca to Ponferrada, one of the shortest walks of the Camino at only 8km. Ponferrada is also one of the oldest cities that we will pass through on the Camino. The site that has now become Ponferrada was conquered in the year 29 bc by the Emperor Augustus in the Astur-Cantabrian wars and has been occupied ever since. In the city we visited the Templar Castle, whose outer walls were constructed by the Knights Templar between 1218-1282 and was used by that order until their disbandment in 1312. After a sumptuous lunch in the hostel we boarded a bus with the students from Marquette for Las Medulas, the largest gold mines in the Roman Empire. The Romans notices specks of gold in the soil on the scale of 1:1,000,000, so naturally they had to build 300 kilometers of aqueducts and canals to transport water to wash the gold out of the soil in an early form of hydraulic mining. Although it rained while we were at the mines, the experience was incredible. Tom, Mike, and I were particularly adventurous and went into some of the deeper caves of the mines, getting especially dirty in the process. After exploring the lower portion of the mines the bus took us up to a vista overlooking the entire operation, and the view of the eroded mountains was incredible. Seeing the sheer scale of the operation, including the lines on surrounding mountains where the Romans had constructed aqueducts was a tremendous sight. After having seen such a tremendous feat of ancient civil engineering, we got back on the bus to return to Ponferrada where we were on our own for dinner before going to bed in our respective rooms.
The following day we walked from Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo, by far my favorite day of walking yet. We walked on a slightly different route than the yellow arrows pointed us (in what Dr. Gyug assured us was the original medieval pilgrimage) to get to the El Bierzo valley, which has become known throughout Spain and Europe for its wines. We walked through vineyard after vineyard in great weather. The sun shined and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so the pain if sore feet and blisters seemed to fade away. At one point we could even see the mines that we had visited the previous day. Arriving in Villafranca was pleasant, if a bit confusing, but fortunately we all arrived intact. image

May 25-26: Rabanal and Molinaseca


Templar Church at Rabanal | Photo by Tom Jachym

We left a little later yesterday morning as a result of both staying up to watch the Champions League Final, and indulging in the breakfast that the hostel provided. Once on the outskirts of Astorga we came in full view of the snow covered peak to the southwest the we would journey towards for remainder of the day. The weather was a little chilly but perfect conditions for walking and the countryside was magnificent. Rolling hills of shrubby trees and yellow and purple wildflowers flowed to the base of the mountains towering in the distance. We passed through a few small towns, notably El Ganso and Santa Catalina where many of us would stop for a coffee or lunch. We stayed in Rabanal which is a beautiful small town with Roman origins. The most notable aspect of the town is the church which was first constructed by the Knights Templar in the 12th century. Amy and I caught the last mass of the day at 12:30 and then we all went to the vespers later in the evening. Today we are staying in Molinaseca. Along the way we stopped at the Cruz de Ferro where we all tossed a stone at the base of the cross as a representation of a sin which we are asking forgiveness for, a burden we are leaving behind, or anything else we may want. The walk was long and the intense downhill walk was treacherous and hard on the knees but for the most part spirits are high even if we are a little weak. Molinaseca is a beautiful resort town and everyone is ready for our shortest walk of the trip tomorrow. Though there is pain, it is now mostly only pains that we expect and that makes them more tolerable.



May 24-25: Astorga

For many of us, the trek to Astorga was long and grueling, but we made it, and what a beautiful city to come home to. Built on the foundations of an old Roman fortification site, Astorga is an enthralling combination of Spain old and new. The city’s history had its earliest foundation in the 4th century, when it was used as a major fortification site for the Romans because of its prime location before the great mountains of Spain. The Roman walls are well preserved and help peregrinos remember Astorga’s ancient past. Inside the city, there are many exciting and inviting sights for visitors, including the cathedral and the Episcopal palace built by Antoni Gaudí. Both places include museums that are filled with Medieval religious art and are well worth the visit. The Episcopal Palace was designed by Gaudí in the late 19th century after the original building burnt down. Although Gaudí resigned before it was complete, the building is as majestic and grandiose as his classic pieces in Cataluña. The Cathedral boasts many different architectural and artistic styles that perfectly demonstrate the progression of Spain out of its medieval days and into the modern world. Inside the cathedral, there is a great contrast between the golden splendor of the baroque and the classic Renaissance altar pieces. Town life in Astorga is pleasant and vibrant. After a long 26 km walk from San Martín, Astorga welcomes peregrinos with open arms and a pitcher of delightful tinto de verano with dinner in a local bar. Oh, and let’s not forget–Astorga is famous for its chocolate and desserts! Treat yourself to a small bar of luscious chocolate after your hike–we recommend the chocolate de naranja 🙂 The road to Rabanal is quick, peaceful, and beautiful, with the snow capped mountains of Castille and León as your guides.

Buen Camino, and safe travels! -Katie

May 22: León Part II

Today was our first full day in Leon. So after a brief stop for churros y caffe this morning, a few students and I ambled over to the Catedral de Leon to meet the rest of our group. The cathedral is the jewel of the city, with the highest stained glass to stone ratio in all of Spain. It was built atop old Roman baths, and is actually the fourth church on the site.
We toured the interior via a recorded audio tour, which noted the importance of the sun in the cathedral’s design. Since much if the decoration is stained glass, the Catholic planners used the sun as a way to further enhance the message of the Medieval Church. The north wall, which rarely receives direct sunlight, depicts figures from the Old Testament, whose words would be illuminated indirectly by the Gospel. Even with the sun illuminating the glass figures, I wondered how the medieval churchgoers would have seen these figures, as the windows are so far up in the huge Gothic walls.
After a break for lunch, we toured the Basilica de San Isidora. San Isidora wrote the Etymologies, which is like an early version of the Encylopedia, which information on grammar, science, botany, medicine, and religion. He is the patron saint of the Internet, as well! The church dedicated to him in Leon is older than the Cathedral, built in the Romanesque style at the end of the 11th century. The church was smaller but had excellent acoustics, as coughs echoed like shouts. The church also had a crypt with excellently preserved Romanesque murals that depicted scenes from the Bible, but also images from the daily like of the medieval person, like threshing grain and pruning grape vines.
We may not have started walking the camino yet, but we did get our official camino passports. This document gets stamped at each location we stop at, and is turned in at the end of our journey for a certificate that proves we were pilgrims to Santiago “a pie”. We leave tomorrow at 7 am, hoping it will not rain. We will stop at the old Roman wall that surrounded the city, and then make our way west, wandering through the suburbs for about an hour and a half. This is the last time we will be in an urban center for awhile, until we get to Santiago, but I think everyone is eager to get started.
With fresh feet and no blisters yet, we are looking forward to our first day on the road.


May 21: León, Part I


León Cathedral Photo by Ricky Bordelon

León Cathedral | Photo by Ricky Bordelon


We have arrived, either by bus or by train, and are settling into our hostel quite well. We are currently in the starting point of our Camino: León.
León is the capital of the province of León and is located within the autonomous community of Castile and León, whose capital is Valladolid.

Tonight we prepared and enjoyed a potluck dinner which included Leónese chorizo, cheese, and wine and ravioli with vegetables. Good times and food were had by all!

León is an ancient Roman town, founded in 29 AD as Legio VI Victrix, a Roman military camp. Legio, from which León derives its name, was the Roman military capital of the Iberian peninsula. It was ruled by the Muslims under the Umayyad caliphate, but was repopulated successfully and made Christian by Ordoño I in 856.

The long Christian tradition of the city has left behind some incredible sights and churches; we will be visiting a few tomorrow: the French-style high Gothic cathedral, the Romanesque Basilica of San Isidoro (which is also the resting place of León’s medieval monarchs), and the Spanish Renaissance plateresque style Monastery of San Marcos. For the modern art fans among us, we will also be visiting the Casa de Botines, one of three buildings located outside of Catalonia that is designed by renowned architect Antoni Gaudí.

Many of us are still jet-lagged but are raring to begin the Camino tomorrow. Through we won’t be walking until Friday (to San Martín del Camino), León is our first Camino city.

Buen Camino!



Welcome to the 2014 Fordham Camino group! This is the sixth time a Fordham class has walked from Leon to Santiago along the historic pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago. As in past years, we will walk for two weeks, about 200 miles. We will be in Leon for a day, then begin walking on 23 May, to arrive in Santiago on 5 June. Members of the group will be presenting at the various sites along the way, and posting to this blog as we go. Last year’s group left us some great videos, so you can see what this year’s group can expect:
Kasey Fausak: Set to “Cups,” by Anna Kendrick
Ben Kelly: First Steps, Part I and Part II
In the last few months, we’ve been meeting, reading, and walking regularly to City Island from Rose Hill, a pleasant 20 km day. With this winter’s snow, it hasn’t been as easy or as often as we all would have liked, but it’s the end of the semester, and we are ready to begin.

See you there!