Well rested and having enjoyed a delicious breakfast, we head to the Cruz de Ferro, or the Iron Cross. The cross stands upon an enormous cairn dating to time immemorial that marks the highest point on the French Camino in Spain. The pile is topped with a simple wooden pole and an iron cross.
However, what makes this cairn exceptional, as there are many others along the trail, is its sheer size and the fact that pilgrims continue to honor the tradition of leaving a stone here as they make their way west, serving as a testament to the countless pilgrims who have passed along the Camino de Santiago. Indeed, every so often, stones must be removed to keep the pile from blocking the road that passes nearby.
As for the stones themselves, they come in all shapes and sizes. You can easily spend some time here, reading and pondering over other pilgrims’ messages and testimonies. These stones or small tokens symbolize the burdens that pilgrims wish to shed along their journey. Be sure to bring a stone from home to add to the mound.
After reaching the cross, we transfer to the town of Villafranca del Bierzo, where the Romanesque Church of Santiago is located. This historical and architectural gem is one of the many churches dedicated to St. James the Apostle, and the first that we cross on our journey to Compostela. The church was built in the 12th century and is best known for its Puerta del Perdón, or the Door of Forgiveness, which allows pilgrims who pass through this door to receive the corresponding indulgence and not continue to Compostela. However, to do this, the pilgrim must not be able to continue their pilgrimage for medical reasons.