May 27: Rabanal del Camino

The hike to Rabanal del Camino on Sunday was a beautiful day full of rolling pastures and farmland. For many of our group, the walk stayed sunny as we reached our lodging moments before a storm hit; however, others were welcomed out of the downpour by our albergue’s covered outdoor bar and restaurant. 

From afar Rabanal is a welcome sight after a 12-mile trek. The town itself has a single main street, Calle Real, named after legend that a refugio on the street housed King Felipe II during his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The street perfectly summarizes the town—small and quiet, yet boasting an insterestig history.

Though Rabanal is today a small village of about 57 inhabitants, it has more than meets the eye. Early legend tells that Anseis, a knight of Charlemagne, wed the Saracen princess, Gaudisse, in the town in the 8th century.  However, it’s historical origin is owed to other knights, the Knights Templar  

Originally founded by the Knights Templar as protection for the city of Ponferrada  to the west, Rabanal’s early economic strength came from its agriculture and trading. Eventually, this strength diminished. The town would no longer exist if it wasn’t for the reintroduction of the pilgrimage. 

The charm of the town is highlighted by its lone church, the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption. The church’s barrel vaults, short, thick walls, and tiny windows reveal its Romanesque origins. Built in the 12th century by the Templars, the church is now maintained by a group of Benedictine monks from Germany. 

The monks reside at Monasterio San Salvador del Monte Irago, which opens its doors to pilgrims for a spiritual Camino of 3-10 days. Though it offers peace and reflection, the monastery’s growth was contested by the inhabitants because of large amounts of funding felt to be diverted from a potential town revival. 

As pilgrims today, we welcomed the quiet mountain town of Rabanal to rest for the following day’s walk through the Cantabrian Mountains. However, as we have learned, Rabanal’s now quiet streets were once bustling with trade, knights, and royalty.