Legends of the Camino de Santiago and Celtic tales
The legends of the Camino de Santiago happen in Spain and Portugal, but especially in Galicia. In this community, many of the pilgrim legends mingle with the legends of meigas (witches) and tales that go back to their Celtic tradition.
All this has made Galicia has earned the nickname of “Terra Meiga” (Enchanted Land or Witching Land) which, no doubt, refers to the strong tradition of legends and mythological characters that confer to the Galician community a magical character.
In this article, we want to share with you some of the legends of the Camino de Santiago that are on the Galician stage. We would also like to tell you some of the tales of its Celtic culture and its popular tradition of witches that often surprise pilgrims on the routes. Let’s do this magical journey together!
Legends of the Camino de Santiago: the origin
In the article about the legend of St James the Apostle we told you that the transfer of the lifeless body of the saint, from Israel to Spain, was carried out in a magic boat. We also advanced that since his remains landed in Galicia until the apostle was buried, many miraculous events happened.
Before going on to tell you the interesting legends of the Camino, if you want to plan your route of the Camino de Santiago from Sarria, tell us about yourself, your travel dates and we will take care of the rest.
Here we have some of the legends that are at the origin of the Camino de Santiago. All of them are in the magical lands of Galicia.
The legend of the Pilgrim’s Shell
There are many legends that explain the origin of the Camino de Santiago and the symbols that are associated with it. One of them is the legend of the Pilgrim’s Shell: the famous “Vieira de Santiago”.
This pilgrim legend was developed around the Vigo Estuary, in front of the Cies Islands. When the remains of Santiago the Apostle, on his way to Galicia, passed by the disciples who accompanied the saint saw that on the shore that a wedding was being celebrated.
In the celebration, the guests, mounted on horseback, threw a stick in the air and played to pick it up before it hit the ground. On one of the occasions the groom threw the spear into the air, it went to the sea. The young man, trying to reach her, ended up losing the horse and sinking into the water.
Suddenly, both the groom and the horse re-appeared along with the small boat that carried the body of the apostle. The amazing thing about this legend is that when they reappeared, the groom’s body was completely covered with scallop shells.
The disciples of the apostle understood that Santiago had worked a miracle and they lifted the bride to the boat, to bring her to the shore. In the journey, says the legend, that the disciples commented about the extraordinary situation to the young man.
The unusual fact made both the groom and many of the wedding guests convert to Christianity. The boat continued its course, but the story passed by word of mouth, giving rise to the legend of the scallop of the Camino de Santiago.
Legends of Queen Lupa
In the legends of the origin of the Camino de Santiago, there are four important characters. One, obviously, is Santiago the Apostle. The other two are the disciples who moved the remains from Israel. The fourth character is Queen Lupa.
This monarch, also known as Queen Lopa, Queen Luca, Queen Luparia, Queen Wolf, given her malicious character, designed various tricks to prevent the apostle from being buried in Galician lands. All of them ended with miraculous facts that gave rise to various legends of the Camino de Santiago that we know today.
The legend of Ons Bridge: the first ambush
The legend of the Bridge of Ons is one of the first Galician stories that give rise to the Camino de Santiago. According to this, when the disciples of Santiago the Apostle directed themselves to Queen Lupa to request a place to bury the saint, she recommended that they go to speak with the Roman authority of the time, knowing that the pilgrims would be imprisoned.
So it was, as soon as the pilgrims were in front of the Roman king, they were locked in a dungeon. In this part of history, according to the Codex Calixtinus, where they many of the legends of the Camino de Santiago are written, a mysterious angel worked a miracle for the disciples to escape.
After the escape, the king ordered his troops to pursue the pilgrims. According to the legend of the Bridge of Ons, when they crossed the River Tambre after they passed over it, the bridge sank into the river. Together with the bridge, all the King’s troops fell in and died. Thus the two disciples were able to escape with the remains of the apostle.
The legend of the oxen: the second ambush
The legends of the Camino de Santiago recount, that after the fall of the Bridge of Ons, Queen Lupa, to show her repentance by the trap that had tricked her, offered a chariot and some oxen to the disciples to carry the body of the Apostle to his grave.However, the monarch hid other Machiavellian intentions. The legend tells of the transfer of the remains of the Apostle, that Queen Lupa asked the disciples to go and fetch the oxen from the Sacred Peak. Her intentions were that the wild oxen and the dragons that lived there would kill them.
They say that, indeed, when the disciples arrived at the mountain they were attacked by a dragon. These, as they were close to death, crossed themselves. The gesture of the sign of the cross caused the dragon to fall dead instantly and that the wild oxen became tame again.
Finally, the disciples transported the body of Santiago with one of the oxen of the Sacred Peak. From there, the legend also tells that it was the animal who chose the place where the apostle would be buried.
The popular tradition says that the miracles that occurred to prevent the disciples of Santiago suffering the evil of Queen Lupa, and ended up with the monarch and her subjects converting to Christianity.
Monte Sacro: a sacred place on the Camino de Santiago
The Monte Sacro is the scene of many other legends of the Camino de Santiago and others in Galician tradition. In fact, even today it is believed that many of the caves on this peak are inhabited by mythological beings. Today, many pilgrims on stage 30 of the Camino Frances, stop at O Rosario to pray in front of this sacred place.
The legend of Queen Lupa
This is not a legend of the Camino de Santiago. But we believe that, given the importance of Queen Lupa in the history of the transfer of the remains of the apostle, it is worthwhile to give a few lines to know a little more about her.
It tells the popular culture of Galicia that the Queen, after demanding ruthless taxes from the peasants, killing them by famine, suffered an ambush from them. The inhabitants of the region were armed with courage and attacked the castle where the monarch lived with rudimentary weapons.
The Queen’s army was surprised by the attack and had no time to react, so the Queen was helpless. Frightened at the revolt of her people, the Queen hid at the top of the castle.
The peasants didn’t take long to get to her. The wicked monarch, faced with the foreseeable punishment that awaited her, decided to jump from the tower.
The most famous legends of the Camino de Santiago
In addition to the legends linked to the origin of the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrim route is full of pilgrim’s tales. In the article on myths of the Camino de Santiago, we tell you the best-known legends. However, today we want to explain a version of the legend of the shadow and the pilgrim which many people do not know.
The legend of the shadow and the pilgrim: the unromantic version
In the publication that we have just recommended to you will find the romantic version of the Legend of the Shadow and the Pilgrim of Santiago. In this article, we want to tell you the alternative version, although it also speaks of love, it is less romantic.
According to the second version of this legend, the shadow that can be seen in the Plaza de la Quintana of the Cathedral of Santiago belongs to Leonard du Revenant, a young Frenchman. They say this pilgrim killed his father to get his money. The young man was arrested and sentenced to do the Camino de Santiago.
On the journey, the young man fell in love with a maiden who was engaged to another male. The French pilgrim, blinded by love, decided to kill both of them. The news of the assassination ran very fast along the routes and the young man dressed as a Franciscan monk to camouflage himself.
When he arrived in Santiago de Compostela, he did not get accommodation, so he was forced to spend the night in the square. This legend of Santiago, tells on that night his father appeared to him in his dreams and forgave him for having murdered him.
However, he did not forgive the murder of the young maiden and her fiancé. Saying: “Until their two souls do not arrive in Compostela and hug the Apostle, you will not receive forgiveness and collect your inheritance.”
At this, the pilgrim drew his sword and tried to assassinate his father again. However, in the course of the struggle, the father ended up killing his son. From that day, according to this version of the legend of the Shadow and the Pilgrim, the young man wanders every night in the square waiting for the arrival of the souls of the Maiden and her fiancé, to receive his forgiveness and his money.
Legends of the Camino de Santiago: witches and mythological beings
Almost everyone who lives in Spain has heard of the Galician “Meigas” (Witches). Hence when you cross Galician lands, if you ask about these beings, it is common to hear the following:
“Eu non creo nas meigas, pero habelas, hainas” (I do not believe in witches, but there are, they’re there)
On many occasions, they are confused with witches, because both are able to use the magic. However, the witches of Galicia are attributed to a more benevolent character, although there are many types of them.
The truth is on the Camino de Santiago, the legends of holy miracles co-exist in a natural way with the myths and legends of both witches and mythological beings. Here are some of these magical stories that are also part of pilgrim culture.
The legends of the Bosque de Sorginaritzaga or Robedal de las Brujas
On the first or second stage of the Camino Frances, depending on if you begin in St Jean Pied de Port or Roncesvalles, The Camino de Santiago crosses the Forest of Sorginaritzaga, also known as the Oak Grove of the Witches.
According to the legends, in this area near the town of Roncesvalles, the witches performed numerous rituals (exorcisms, covens, elaboration of potions, etc.). It was also believed that in this part of the forest witches danced naked and enjoyed sex freely.
These type of legends imposed the condemnation of many people who lived near the Camino de Santiago. It is said that in the forest, nine people were burned. If you do this tour, you must look at the cross that will come across your path, it was installed by the priests of the 16th century, to purify the forest.
The legends of the Miño
The River Miño appears for the last 100 kilometres of the Camino Frances. This Galician river that crosses one of the most charming towns of the Camino de Santiago, Portomarín, is also the scene of many legends of witches and mythological beings.
According to Galician tradition, on the banks of the river sorceresses or the man-fish inhabited the area, who could equally live in water or on land. That is why we have the belief that when you navigate the river, you have to put a stone in your mouth, so that the sorceresses are prevented from playing with one.
For today, we leave the fantastic world of legends and the myths that flood the Camino de Santiago. If you want to know more about pilgrim culture, we recommend you to read our article on the rituals of the Camino de Santiago.
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What is the legend that you liked the most? Do you know more legends about the Camino de Santiago that you want to share with us? We invite you to leave us a comment and that if you have not done the Camino de Santiago, do it with us.