Why Protecting This Global Icon is Important for Pilgrims

Photo from CaminoWays.Com

The Cruz de Ferro is in the spotlight these days, and not for the reasons you might think. The Authorities in the municipalities in which this unassuming cross stands, want to remodel and “upgrade” the area around it.

The pilgrims who know and love the Camino de Santiago have banded together, and there is a public outcry to leave this global icon and the surrounds, as is.

We wait with bated breathe on this issue.

The Cruz de Ferro or Iron Cross is humble in its stature. It is a simple wooden post around five meters in height, with an iron cross at its summit. It is situated on the highest point on the Camino Frances, one of the popular Camino de Santiago routes.

Historical Relevance

It is well known in the region that the Romans built roads while they territorialised the Spanish countryside. The remnants of some of those roads can still be seen along the route today. It is believed that the Romans used the cross to demarcate the border between territories, which given the history of the Romans could have been one of the practical purposes of this landmark.

So true for the medieval pilgrim, who on his journey to Santiago de Compostela, this would have been a useful wayfinder, especially during heavy snow. Undoubtedly, despite the routes being well marked for the modern pilgrim, this Iron Cross remains a well-established and arguably the most sought after wayfinder.

The Spiritual Legend

This legend gives this cross it’s relevance today.

It is believed that St James himself placed the cross. On his spiritual journeys throughout Spain, it is said that he encountered pagan priests who were performing a human sacrificial ceremony.

Engulfed with rage St James took a stone from his pocket and threw it at the pagan altar. With the power of God, the altar is said to have disintegrated as the stone struck it. To honour this almighty power, St James then placed the cross where the altar had stood.

The Modern Pilgrim

Many pilgrims from all walks of life go on pilgrimage on the popular Camino Frances. It is a tradition for all to take up a stone, which is usually carried from home, and when reaching the Cruz de Ferro, this stone is placed at the foot of the monument.

The full journey is from St Jean Pier de Port, on the border between France and Spain to the medieval city of Santiago de Compostela. Its distance is around 800km’s.

The accomplishment of reaching the Cruz de Ferro is more than half of the way and a milestone for all who undertake this pilgrimage. It is a sought after monument and beloved by all, and when new pilgrims are doing planning, it is a visit to this place that is included in the day’s walking routine.

For those who undertake this journey for religious reasons, a prayer is said at this point:

“Lord, may this stone, a symbol of my efforts on the pilgrimage, that I lay at the foot of the cross, weigh the balance in favour of my good deeds someday when the deeds of my life are judged. Let it be so.”

Nevertheless, whether a pilgrim is religious or not, the tradition of placing this stone at this point is poignant for reasons that are personal to every one of them. The stone might represent healing or discarding of a bad habit or even in memory of something or someone that is sentimental to every pilgrim.

Its the place where you figuratively leave your burdens behind you.

There are particular sites across the Camino Frances which offer the walker or the rider a sense of peacefulness, and a place of reflection. So too for the pilgrim to be part of a historical tradition, the Cruz de Ferro is indeed these things.

It is for these reasons that the remodelling proposal is being vehemently opposed.

The Proposal For Upgrade

It is proposed to install a cement walkway, with parking lots and curio shops. Aside from removing the natural trail that leads to the monument, which is currently a bug-bear for walkers all across the routes, all of the other proposals are there to boost tourism.

While this is necessary for the whole region, to boost tourism after the two years that we have experienced globally, this does not lend to the natural beauty that is the Camino. In that natural beauty, tourists and pilgrims alike should be enticed to the Camino de Santiago.

In a normal year, and when I refer to normal I mean without a pandemic, over 347 000 pilgrims walk the Camino routes. This bodes the question of whether this monument and monuments like it along the routes need to be upgraded to the extent being proposed.

I would suggest not.

If it is a question of accessibility to non-pilgrims, the Cruz de Ferro is situated alongside a road, and it can be easily accessed by vehicles. On the route between Sarria and Santiago de Compostela on my lasts day of my pilgrimages, I saw buses along roads that can be described as even more rural as the road that passes the Cruz.

When Joni Michell sang of paving paradise to put up a parking lot, she didn’t mean it as a good thing.

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin’ hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”

I say “NO” to the proposed upgrade!


Originally published at https://perpetualpilgrim1006.com on February 4, 2021.