Foncebadón, Monte Irago, Cruz de Ferro

On May 28, we walked from Rabanal to Molinaseca, passing through the highest peak on the French Way (1504m), Monte Irago. The mist made the walk through Foncebadon, the ruins of Manjarín, and the Cruz de Ferro feel hallowed.

We had some much needed café con leche and orange juice in Foncebadon, and took group photos at the Cruz de Ferro. Savanna and I brought the pendant from Father McShane and left it in honor of Fordham.

The Cruz de Ferro is an iron cross that sits atop a wooden poll and mound of stone offerings from pilgrims. The current cross is a replica of the one placed there by Gaucelmo in the 11th-century. The original is in the Museo de los Caminos in Astorga.

Gaucelmo was a hermit and abbot who established the pilgrim’s hospital and hospice in the medieval village of Foncebadón. One legend states that the mound of rocks has a Celtic origin, as the Celts laid stones at peaks and passes to calm the mountain gods and ask for safe passage through mountains. Local Romans continued the tradition, and called the offering stones murias, after Mercury, the god of travelers. It is believed that Gaucelmo added the cross to Christianize this pagan tradition.

Another theory states that the Cruz Hierro is really a marker for the road so it is still visible in the snow. And yet another dictates that Galician crop reapers contributed stones when walking along the path to farmlands in Castile and Leon.

In modern times, it is tradition to climb to the top of the rock pile and leave a stone, either from the pilgrim’s place of origin or one they picked up along the way. Some see the stones as symbols of the burden of sin or sorrow. To many, this is one of the most special places on the camino.

Lord, may this stone, a symbol of my efforts on the pilgrimage, that I lay at the foot of the cross of the Savior, weigh the balance in favor of my good deeds some day when the deeds of my life are judged. Amen.

Monte Irago overlooks the valleys of the Bierzo, which was home to hermits from the sixth century onward, including San Sebastián. The many streams of the Bierzo, including Meruelo and Boeza near the village of Molinaseca, all collect into the River Sil. The Codex Calixtinus, a medieval guidebook to the camino, refers to the River Sil as having water that is “sweet and healthy to drink.” At that time, the Valley of the Sil was called the Vallis Viridis or Green Valley.

It is only fitting for our Fordham peregrinos to bring and leave a stone at Cruz de Ferro and admire the view. Fordham’s name derives from the Anglo Saxon “ford,” a body of water, and “ham,” meaning home. We are no strangers to crossing a body of water to come home to Fordham, whether that be the Hudson River, the East River, the Harlem River, the Atlantic Ocean or the River Sil.

After spending time at the Cruz de Ferro, Dr. Myers and I walked in silence to Manjarín and met the last templar. After a group lunch in Acebo, a big group of ours trekked the last third of the walk as the fog lifted. Anna and I stopped and took pictures of flowers, and we met some hungry goats. After some good laughs, we met Dr. Myers and others at the river Medura, which runs through Molinaseca. We waded in with our feet to help the swelling under the Romanesque bridge.

Molinaseca is a charming, typical Bierzo town, with slate roofs and nearby streams. Although, its dinner scene is less lively than Rabanal’s or Astorga’s. Tomorrow we are off to Ponferrada!