Day after day it is more frequent to hear about it… The spiritual variant of the Portuguese Way is beginning its heyday. The Traslatio, based on the legend that tells that the Apostle Santiago remains arrived in a boat, bordering the Iberian Peninsula to reach Padrón, is increasingly popular. Would you like to know more about it? Come in, don’t miss it!
Why is called the “spiritual variant”?
The first time I heard to talk about this route, I wondered: Will be a route to find oneself?
I was almost sure that it should be something magical and spiritual, as the name pointed in that direction. Thus, I started to research and lots of questions came into my mind…
“Have you ever wondered what is spiritual about this? The truth is all of the ways to Santiago are full of spirituality. All of them change you in some manner, especially if you arrive in Compostela. All the social experience, along with the physical and mental challenge, and the goodwill of the people you meet, allow you to see the present from another point of view.”
Many people tell us that the Camino has changed their lives, the way they see, live and continue their ways, so I wanted to know why is it renowned as the spiritual variant. Would be it more magical than the others?
Well, it’s easy to understand. The name “spiritual variant is, in fact, the result of the proposal that both the Association Amigos del Camino Portugués and the public institutions of O Salnés made.
Eight years ago, they decided to launch a very special project, after realizing about the historical and artistic heritage in the area. This was closely related to the Camino de Santiago.
Due to the beauty of the Galician South Coast (Rías Baixas) and the historical proximity between the River Ulla and the Camino de Santiago, they thought about an extra route to the Portuguese way. This one would be based on the legend that links the Apostle Santiago remains with Compostela city. Can you imagine what it is?
The legend on how the Santiago remains arrived in Galicia:
Covered by a mystical, even miraculous aura, the legend says that back in 41 or 44 A.D. (more than 1975 years ago) some fishermen, which happened to be Santiago Apostle’s disciples, recovered his remains in Jerusalem. They wanted to transport it through the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic coast by boat.
Ok, but… What is spiritual about that?
Well, according to tradition, Herodes Agripa I, the king of Judea who was contrary to the Christianity, would have ordered the beheading of Apostle Santiago while was travelling in Jerusalem. But why?
The Bible says that Jesus Christ would have sent each Apostle in order to preach the Gospel truth around the world. Santiago was told to do it in Hispania, starting from Gallaecia (Galicia nowadays).
One day, the Virgin Mary appeared by divine grace in front of Saint James the Great. She asked him to travel to Jerusalem in order to meet with her before her Dormition (a concept used by Catolicism to refer to the glorification of the Virgin Mary).
Therefore, St. James Apostle would cross a long way from Gallaecia to Jerusalem. Unfortunately, once there he’d have been caught by Herodes, who ordered his decapitation.
But, what is the relation between that fact and the spiritual variant?
Well, in summary, St James’ disciples have stolen Apostle’s remains in Jerusalem in order to move them to Santiago. Why in Santiago? Simply because the Apostle must be buried in the place where he was preaching before his trip to Jerusalem.
Ok, but, what’s the spiritual thing? The mysticism that covers this story is quite evident. The Apostle’s remains travelled in a boat by sea. Was it a wooden boat?
Not! According to legend it was a stone boat and, furthermore, it was sailing without paddles and neither tiller. However, did you know that it seems to be guided by the stars and protected by the Angels?
Thus, St James remains would have arrived in Galicia protected by his disciples, crossing the Mediterranean Sea and bordering all the Atlantic Coast, from the South to the Northwest of the Iberian Peninsula.
Once there, they got off the boat in the Arousa Estuary, where Sar and Ulla rivers join. Then they arrived in Iria Flavia (Padrón), the first place where the Apostle had preached during his mission in Hispania.
Ok, so how did he arrive in Santiago de Compostela?
Some sources tell that once in Iria Flavia his remains would had traverse 12 miles by the air until reaching the square where the Cathedral currently settles. There, he would have been buried in a Roman Mausoleum.
Would you like to know more about it?
A very long time ago after these facts, the Cathedral of Santiago was erected. In fact, the history tells that more than 1 millenium, back in 813 A.D., the hermit Pelayo noted some strange lights. Surprised to see that, he advised to Teodomiro, the bishop of Iria Flavia, who, after confirming the fact, informed the King of Asturias Alfonso II.
From that moment on, the history of pilgrimage began, as this King got to spread the discovery overseas. So thousands of pilgrims cross several routes to reach the St. James Apostle’s grave since then.
There, where the Mausoleum locates, the King Alfonso II had ordered to build a church, the church of Santiago. Many centuries later, it became the artistic and architectural jewel that we all can see nowadays.
What’s the main difference between the Spiritual Variant and other Camino routes?
As opposed to the Portuguese and Portuguese Coastal Way, which both share the last stretch with the Spiritual variant, the starting point is neither Portugal or Baiona.
In this case, you can walk from Pontevedra towards the magnificent Monasterio de Armenteira (Convent). Later you will arrive in Vilanova de Arousa, where you will embark into the ship that sails on the Arousa Estuary (Ría de Arousa) and River Ulla, to finally get off in Pontecesures, from where you will continue on foot to Padrón.
Sounds good or you don’t like the idea of sailing?
Some people feel dizzy with ease, so when boarding on a boat, the movement caused by the waves can make them feel bad (as the popular Galician song says: ondiñas veñen e van… –waves come and go-). So be aware that,
in case you don’t plan a trip on board, you could continue on foot from Vilanova, following along Carril and Vilagarcía de Arousa. Two fishermen’s villages that you will love
The truth is that all of the ways are very spiritual, especially if you have decided to start this adventure for this reason.
Spirituality doesn’t have to be strictly linked to a religious cause. In fact, there are people who do the Camino because they are looking for an answer inside themselves.
They may also want to search for some kind of connection with nature, forests, rivers, or the other people who share the Camino with them.
“The Camino is a source of fraternity, good moments, solidarity, and rewarding hard work. When you are abroad and your main issue is keeping walking, something inside you will change and allow you to see the things from a different perspective, Isn’t this spiritual?
The Spiritual Variant of the Portuguese Camino is not more spiritual than other Caminos, but the story around it couldn’t be more magical. Because of this reason, as well as the number of symbolic sites with a close relation to the Camino, it was named as the Spiritual variant.
It is also true that there is a lot of mysticism around the sea. The stories told by the fishermen are sometimes so mysterious that there is no doubt about the power and supernatural force of the sea.
Furthermore, we have to consider that the Apostles and St. James the Great’s Disciples were fishermen as well. So the sea is so linked to the Camino that it would be a pity to miss the opportunity of enjoying this amazing and emotional route.
What sites will I find on this route?
As you may already know, the spiritual variant has lots of sites linked to the Camino. Would you like to know more about them?
Pontevedra is a comfortable city for those who want to walk. Regarding to the Camino, it has a very important history. That’s because Pilgrims from the Portuguese Way must cross this village towards Santiago.
Already demolished nowadays, the city used to be home to a pilgrim hospital (hospital de O Corpo de Deus), a chapel in honor to the Virgin of the Way and another to Santiago.
We find here one of the most important sites of the Portuguese Camino: la Iglesia de la Peregrina (the pilgrim’s church).
Iglesia de la Peregrina: its name couldn’t be more connected with the St. James culture. That’s because this chapel, with a scallop shell shaped plant (symbol of the pilgrimage to Santiago), was built in honor to the Virgin Peregrina, patron saint of Pontevedra and also the Portuguese Way.
In the middle of the 18th century, a group of French pilgrims brought the statue of this Virgin, dressed as a Pilgrim, to Pontevedra. They placed it in the old Chapel of the Virgin Way (it was demolished some years ago).
Since then, a brotherhood that was founded in the city in order to worship this Virgin, kept it until nowadays, getting it closer to everyone who wants to visit it.
Moreover, you will find other sites related to the Camino:
The Church of Santiaguiño (Pilgrim) do Burgo: originally located on the Roman bridge del Burgo, was demolished in the middle of the 80’s and later re-built near the bridge, at the same area.
The relation between this church and the Camino is connected to a legend. It says that being the Apostle Santiago preaching the Gospel in this area, he felt tired but found a family who provided him with shelter.
The Apostle blessed their crop as a sign of appreciation, promising them that it would be the earliest one from the area.
Since then, every 24th of July, during the Santiaguiño del Burgo celebration, the devoted carry the statue of Santiago to the door of that family house at the Santiña street, where the Camino passes.
Basilica of Santa María la Mayor: it’s the main church from Pontevedra, and also a great masterpiece from the 16th Century. Incidentally, you can find the dormition of the Virgin Mary sculpted in high-relief, and over the top, you will see some medallions in shell scallop shape.
A visit is worth it, either as a religious or cultural cause, looking at this Gothic construction is truly wonderful.
San Xoán de Poio
Moreover, if you want to discover some places from the Padre Sarmiento Route, you will find several interesting places in this town that you shouldn’t miss, as for example…
Monasterio de San Juan de Poio (Convent): besides its classicist and baroque style church from the 17th century, you will find lots of important works, like a 51 foot stone granary from the 18th Century, and also an amazing 200 meters Mosaic dedicated to the Camino de Santiago. Are you going to miss it?
Combarro: it’s a town with beautiful cobbled streets, packed with stone crosses (cruceiros) and raised granaries (with the particularity that they were used to store the cured sardines instead of the corn). It’s worth to visit this town because it’s one of the most beautiful and picturesque fishermen villages in Galicia.
Armenteira (Meis): the first stage of the Spiritual Variant arrives in Armenteira (Meis council), where you will find a special and peaceful place: el Monasterio de Armenteira (Convent).
- Monasterio de Armenteira: mainly Renaissance and Baroque style from the 16th and 17th centuries, the first time that its name appeared was in an official document from the Cistercian religious order on the 12th century. It passed through period of striking decline until the Asociación Amigos de Armenteira (association of Armenteira friends) begins its reconstruction in the middle of the 20th century.
From then on, a group of nuns arrived from other Convent to fill it with life. They farm the land and crafted some handmade products that you can buy in their shop and other convents.
Ruta da Pedra e da Auga: you will continue the Spiritual variant along this astonishing path that crosses Ribadumia and Meis towns.
From Armenteira you will arrive in Ponte Arnelas through a dense centenarian forest on the Armenteira river bank.
It is also surrounded by vineyards and water mills. Did you know that the locals used to take this route to reach the convent in the past?
Aldea Labrega: along the Ruta da Pedra e da Auga path you will have the opportunity to visit a spectacular sculpture set, including a hermitage recreation, that relates to the rural culture in Galicia.
Ponte Arnelas: famous place for its wine, you will find this town before arriving in Vilanova de Arousa, and you will have to cross the river Umia, through the bridge Arnelas.
The bridge is a structure from the 16th century and it is related to a river Umia legend. It seems that the water of the Umia River has some miraculous effects to improve women fertility.
Armenteira Convent, Da Pedra e da Auga Route, the Aldea Labrega as well as Ponte Arnelas are some amazing places that may leave you speechless on your way to Vilanova de Arousa.
Vilanova de Arousa: before arriving in the port of Vilanova de Arousa, you will see several sanctuaries and churches, such the Santo Estevo de Tremoedo or San Roque.
Over the Arousa Estuary, the spectacular marine landscape is very special in Vilanova de Arousa.
Furthermore, you will also find a lot of sites, such the Iglesia de Santa María de Caleiro (church), very interesting due to its artistic and historical importance; the writer Valle Inclán’s Manor House; or the towers Torres de Cálogo (9th century) next to the equally named Convent, in the past they were used to make signals to the ship.
A nice sight-seeing boat in Arousa: la Traslatio
You have arrived in Vilanova de Arousa and… it’s time to get on board! As we said you before, if get dizzy easily, you may continue the route on foot through Carril and Vilagarcía towns until Pontecesures.
If you prefer to embark on this amazing Traslatio experience…. Then here we go!
Actually, you can take the ship from other harbours along the Rías Baixas, but, if you prefer to follow this route, you will board on an incredible trip. You can travel the Estuary of Arousa during 26 kms to Pontecesures, going up the Río Ulla.
You will pass by the delicious mussel farms of Arousa, on wooden platforms floating over the water, fishermen and sailors fishing from their boats, and the Cortegada Island (National Park of the Atlantic Islands).
Don’t forget to look at the seashore and the river bank, as you can see several stone crosses, stone crosses?
Right… it’s no common to see them on the sea, because they used to be placed at the crossroads as a protection from the “Santa Compaña” (Holy Company is a deep-rooted mythical belief in rural Galicia. It is a nocturnal procession of ghosts and lost souls that wander around the streets of a village).
Interestingly enough, councils and individuals donated those Stone crosses in order to mark the Via Crucis (the Camino that the remains of the Apostle St. James did by sea).
When you are arriving in Pontecesures, you will see two poetical towers sited in Catoira. They are known as Torres del Oeste (West Towers) and they served to protect the Archdiocese of Santiago de Compostela from the 12th century.
Every year in Catoira people celebrates a super funny party in which the Viking invasion is reproduced.
Disembarking in Pontecesures
You have arrived in Pontecesures, where you can join to the Portuguese Camino in order to reach Santiago de Compostela.
Soon, you will find Padrón (the famous Iria Flavia), where, according to the legend, the Apostle remains arrived by boat.
Nowadays, due to a canalization issue it’s no possible to go up the river to Padrón. Anyway, you will also find beautiful landscapes by walking around.
In Padrón you can’t forget to visit the Pedrón. This is the stone where the boat that carried the Apostle’s remains was moored, and the origin of the denomination of the town “Padrón”.
Also in Padrón you can try the famous peppers of Padrón that, actually, come from Herbón (next to Padron).
Almost 25 kms of distance left to get the Santiago the Great tomb, so… are you ready to walk?
Other curiosities about the Spiritual Variant
Do you still want to know more? Here you have some information to go a little deeper into this magical variant.
How long has this routes been done?
Unlike the other Caminos that have been known for more than a thousand of years, this route has been going on since 2011.
However, it can be considered as the first way, since it was the one that would follow the disciples of St. James the Great in order to bring his remains from Jerusalem. So… it’s the original Camino!
How many pilgrims have been running the Spiritual Variant?
Well, having in mind that it was launched 8 years ago, there haven’t been so many pilgrims pass through it yet, but every year it gets more famous, as it is growing gradually.
Data from the last year show us that more than 3 thousands of pilgrims have done this variant since it was launched. But there will be more, because it’s a different route, a great example of the richness and natural, cultural and also gastronomic diversity that Galicia has.
What about you? Are you going to miss it?
Finally, if you want to have this experience, but you don’t know where to start… contact Galiwonders! We will customize the route to your needs and preferences, so this Camino becomes the most wonderful trip you have on your holidays.
An authentic spiritual encounter, in which the beauty and well-being are presented in every step.