Stage 23: Rabanal del Camino – Molinaseca Distance: 26.5km
Rabanal del Camino
From Rabanal the climb to Puerto de Foncebadón, Monte Irago, begins. The camino follows a road along a rough track past the Fuente del Peregrino. Continue for 5km until you reach Foncebadón
Foncebadón is located on the top of Monte Irago close to the Cruz de Ferro.
In the 12th century Bishop Gaucelmo built a church and the pilgrim hostel of San Salvador del Monte Irago here.
Foncebadón was abandoned until the recent revival of the Camino de Santiago and over the last few years some of the buildings have been renovated.
It has two restaurants, a hostel and two albergues.
Continue through the village, and pass the ruins of the church and hospice built by Bishop Gaucelmo as you leave.
The track rejoins the road which leads up to the Puerto de Foncebadón and the Cruz de Ferro
Cruz de Ferro
Located at the top of Monte Irago, the Cruz de Ferro is a simple iron cross on top of a long oak pole which stands on a large mound of stones.
It’s origins remain a mystery, but could be related to an old pagan tradition where mounds called Montes de Mercurio, where built in honor of the god Mercury.
This custom was Christianized after Bishop Gaucelmo is said to have placed the original cross here in the 11th century.
The original cross can be seen in the Museo de los Caminos de Astorga.
Adding a stone on top of the pile has become an important camino ritual with many pilgrims taking a stone from their homes to place here.
Beside the cross is the Ermita de Santiago, which although locked provides a nice resting place before continuing on your journey.
From here a track runs parallel to the road down into Manjarín
Manjarín had a pilgrims hospital here in the 12th century with links to the Knights Templar, although it’s origins may be have been earlier and linked to Condé Gaton in the 9th century.
Like many other mountain villages, Manjarín was deserted in the middle of 12th century until 1993 when a man named Tomas Martinez renovated one of the old houses and started work as a “hospitalero”.
From Manjarín continue alongside the road below a communication mast and a military station. Continue straight on past the turn off to the military station to the highest point of the Camino at 1515m / 4970ft.
From here you start downhill into the El Bierzo valley. The Sierra de Gristredo and the Cordillera Cantábrica lie on the western horizon just above the town of Ponferrada.
Continue on the downhill track into the village of Acebo
Acebo is a small mountain village, it’s houses built with wooden balconies in traditional El Bierzo style.
The main street runs up the centre of the village to the Iglesia de San Miguel with it’s statue of Santiago Peregrino.
As you leave the village you pass a sculpture of a bicycle outside the local cemetery.
This monument was erected in memory of German cyclist Heinrich Krause who died here in 1987 on his way to Santiago de Compostela.
The paths leads along a country road then turns left onto a narrow path that leads into Riego de Ambrós
Riego de Ambrós
Riego de Ambrós is another small mountain village, and like it’s neighours in El Acebo it’s houses are built with over hanging wooden balconies in traditional El Bierzo style.
The 16th century Iglesia de Santa María Magdalena has an interesting and ornate 18th century Baroque altarpiece.
Head downhill out of Riego de Ambrós on a path that does get quite steep at parts onto a track that leads you past giant chestnut trees.
Some of the forest has been destroyed in recent forest fires.
Cross over a road and continue down the valley and back onto the road just before Molinaseca.
Pass the Capilla de la Virgen de las Angustias as you reach the town.
You can catch a glimpse of the statue of the Virgin inside.
Cross the medaeival Puente de Peregrinos over the Río Meruelo into the old town of Molinaseca
Molinaseca is situated along the Río Maruelo. It’s streets and grand houses display elaborate coats of arms signifying a once very important town.
It is said that the 11th century Queen of Castilla y León and Galicia, Doña Urraca once lived here in the house at the junction of Calle Torre.
It had up to four pilgrim hospitals and the 18th century Santuario de Las Angustias.
The Puente de Peregrinos over the Río Meruelo and the 17th century Iglesia de San Nicolás, which has an image if San Roque Peregrino, are worth a visit.
Tourist Office, Casa Consistorial. Tel: (0034) 987 45 30 85
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