Arzúa: the last 100 km on the Camino Frances
In this locality, the Camino del Norte joins the Camino Frances. Both the pilgrims who have followed one of the two previous routes and those following the Camino Primitivo which linked to the Camino Frances in Melide, advance together from Arzúa to the tomb of Santiago the Apostle.
From this locality, only 39 kilometres are left, divided into two stages, passing through O Pedrouzo, to reach the desired destination. Most of the pilgrims who pass through Arzúa, travel only the last 100 kilometres of the Camino de Santiago French, starting their pilgrimage from Sarria.
Like other towns on the Camino de Santiago such as Hornillos del Camino or Portomarín, Arzúa is considered a Pilgrim town. That is to say, a locality with a strong connection to the Camino de Santiago. This fact can be appreciated both in the legends that surround the locality, as in some of the festivities that are celebrated in it.
In this article of our blog on the Camino de Santiago, we want to explain the moral that encloses the legend of Arzúa and talk about some of its traditional celebrations. We will also tell you what to do and what to see in Arzúa, a town with a lot of charm.
The end of the Camino Frances: A pilgrim town
Arzúa is a village of 6,200 inhabitants, the last great locality that the pilgrims cross before arriving in Santiago de Compostela. The growth of this villa has historically been marked by the development of the pilgrim route.
In the 11th century, the consolidation of the Camino de Santiago as a pilgrimage route fomented the consolidation of Arzúa as an urban centre. In fact, this locality appears on two occasions in the Codex Calixtinus, a handwritten book about the Camino Frances, which was written in 1135. This document is the one that recounts the famous legend of the Pilgrim of Arzúa, that we will tell you about in the next section.
Later, the recovery that the Camino Frances experienced, in the 20th century, was a great push in its development as a city. At this time, traditions were recovered that had been lost with the decline of the Camino de Santiago, as the Feast of the Pilgrim of Arzúa.
The story of the pilgrim and the bread
The legends in Arzúa are quite varied. Nevertheless, the most famous of them is that of the pilgrim and the bread. According to this story, in a time when hundreds of pilgrims passed through Arzúa, a young pilgrim stopped by an oven where they were preparing bread.
The young man asked the lady of the house if she could give him some bread because he was hungry, that in return he would pray for them in front of the Apostle’s tomb. She replied that the house did not help the ragged man if he wanted bread, he had to pay. The pilgrim left there with nothing to eat.
Soon after, in another house in Arzúa another oven was found in which they were also elaborating bread. The young man again asked for some food with which to relieve his hunger. The reaction of the lady of this house was totally different from that of the previous one.
The hospitable woman offered him to come inside the house and to rest for a while, before going back on the route. The pilgrim told him that he could not stop and that he only needed some food to recover energy and keep walking.
The humble lady, distressed, told her it was a pity he didn’t have time to rest, that the bread she was making was not ready yet, because if he did have time, she could offer him a nice piece of freshly baked bread. “Then, all I can give you is some bread from yesterday,” she told him as he entered the kitchen to fetch it.
The miracle of the bread
When the woman came out of the kitchen and came back to the door, the young pilgrim was gone. Bewildered, she went on her way to look for him, but despite the long straight road that opened before her eyes, she failed to see him.
When the bread was ready, the lady opened the oven and to her astonishment, the bread had been transformed into gold. The opposite happened in the first furnace that the pilgrim visited. In that house, when they took the bread, they found the oven full of stones. Legend has it that it was Santiago the Pilgrim Apostle, who, in those days, visited Arzúa.
The moral of the legend of Arzúa
This legend speaks clearly of the spirit of the Camino de Santiago. Of hospitality flooding the pilgrim route and empathy among the people along the route. The moral is clear: whoever helps selflessly, takes advantage, while greed is not accompanied by anything good.
The Pilgrim’s Festival: Saint John’s Day in Arzúa
As proof of the strong relationship that Arzúa has with the Camino de Santiago, in this locality, they celebrate with one of the unique celebrations in homage to the Pilgrim. The celebration coincides with Saint John’s Day.
On that day, in the locality one of the first pilgrims who will have arrived at the village during the day is chosen. The lucky one becomes part of the Wall of the Stars (Muro das Estrelas or Muro dos Luceiros), located in a park of Arzúa.
At night, at a local party attended by both the neighbours and the pilgrims who sleep that night in Arzúa, the selected pilgrim places on the wall a star with their name and origin. they also take charge of igniting the famous Saint John’s bonfire.
What to do and see in Arzúa
In Arzúa you will find incredible natural beauty, with a great mass of forest typical of the area and oaks thousands of years old, that serve the locals as a place of celebration of pilgrimages and other popular festivals. The ancient oaks of the Galician locality surround the sanctuaries of the area: Fonte Santa, San Xoán de Navas and Da Mota.
However, the villa is mainly known for its cheese and honey. Therefore, one of the main activities you can do in Arzúa is to discover the culture associated with these two products. Next, we talk about them.
Land of cheese and honey
Arzúa-Ulloa cheese is known throughout Galicia because of its creaminess and flavour. Its honey is also prestigious, as the flora surrounding the municipality and the climatic conditions of this region are very favourable for its production.
Both products are so important in the area that they have in the locality with spaces destined to their study and promotion: Living Museum of Honey and The Cheese and the Honey Information Centre. In addition, Arzúa also has the Cheese Festival.
The Living Museum of Honey
In the Living Museum of Honey in Arzúa, you can visit two apiaries, one old and one modern. In addition, inside it has a wide collection of photographs illustrating the life of the bees, as well as a didactic room in which the whole process of honey cultivation is explained.
Outside the museum, next to the apiaries, you will find beautiful botanical gardens, as well as a birdcage with birds and an anthill. This location opens every day, both in the morning and in the afternoon.
The Cheese and Honey Information Centre
The Cheese and Honey Information Centre is formed by a coalition of entities working in the area of honey and cheese: The Erica Mel Co-operative, the Galician Beekeeping Association and the Cheese and Honey Information Centre. The objective of this space is to promote both products.
During the visit you will be able to have tastings, discovering the characteristics of each one of the products. You will also be able to find out more about the traditions associated with the elaboration of each one of them. You can visit the Cheese and Honey Information Centre from Monday to Friday, both in the afternoon and morning hours.
The Arzúa Cheese Festival
The Arzúa Cheese Festival is celebrated on the first Sunday in March. The festival has taken place every year since 1975 and is declared a festival of tourist interest. The event brings together a multitude of cultural and musical activities that revolve around cheese. If you are lucky enough to pass by the locality on those dates, do not forget to consult the festival programming.
What else to see in Arzúa
Arzúa is not one of those towns with a vast historical heritage. However, on its streets, you can visit some places of interest such as the Church of Santiago, the Holy Fountain and the Chapel of the Magdalena. Next, we talk about each of these places.
Iglesia de Santiago
The Parish Church of Santiago is located in the middle of the Camino Frances, next to the main square. The temple was built in the 20th century.
Its façade is made entirely of ashlar stone and is topped with a belfry. Besides the places of worship, the building has other areas, such as a library or spaces destined to accommodate the pilgrims.
The Fonte Santa is bathed by the river and it is believed that its water has curative properties. A chapel and a windmill are located next to it.
The place is the scene of a multitude of legends and healing histories. They tell that, at the Fountain of Health, both pagan and Christian rituals are practised.
One of the legends of this emblematic space tells that once a businessman wanted to make money with the fountain, trying to impose a payment to use their medicinal waters. As they say, the fountain, in the face of such injustice, ceased to emanate water.
Capilla de la Magdalena
The Magdalena Chapel is part of an ancient convent of Augustinian monks. Its construction dates back to the middle of the 14th century.
Nothing is preserved from the convent, as the monks left the conventual facilities and moved to Santiago de Compostela. The only thing left standing is the Magdalena Chapel.
You see that Arzúa is one of those charming villages along the Camino de Santiago, where it is worth making a stop. Especially if you are lucky enough to pass by the locality during one of its traditional festivities.
Have you visited Arzúa? If your answer is yes, please leave us a comment explaining what you thought of this small town. If your answer is no, do not think more – go ahead – and do the Camino de Santiago! In this article we give you 10 good reasons to make pilgrimage.
Before saying goodbye we want to remind you that if you decide to do the Camino de Santiago with an agency specializing in pilgrim routes, do not hesitate to put yourself in contact with us. The Santiago Ways team will be happy to resolve any doubts you may have about the Camino Frances or any of the other pilgrim routes.