Useful information about the Camino of Saint James Pilgrimage and Santiago de Compostela

Villafranca del Bierzo

Posted in The Camino Villages.

The village is located at the confluence of two rivers: Burbia and Valcarce. Almost surely its origin was due to the necessity of creating bridges so as to facilitate the passage to pilgrims, as happened with many other towns on the Way. Thus there is good reason to suppose that, it probably developed with the start of the pilgrimages to Santiago in the 9th century, being in the days of the Codex Calixtinus (12th century) an important nucleus that appears as the end of its tenth stage.

FOTO DE LANCASTERMERRIN88 PANORÁMICA DE CRISTÓBAL MEGIDO ALMARAZ

Foto de LAcastermerrin88. Panorámica de Cristóbal Megido Almaraz

Probably the origin of the town was the monastery of St. Mary of Cluniaco or Cruñego, a Benedictine monastery dependent on Cluny that appears documented in 1070. This monastery would have been founded by French monks who wanted to attend to the needs of the French pilgrims. To these same French monks is also attributed the introduction of the vine and this region is now well known for its wines.

Of all its monuments the most important is, without a doubt, its castle. The castle of Villafranca also seems to have had a connection with the French, in fact, the entire town originally could on a significant number of French inhabitants, to the point of having given rise to its medieval name: "villa francorum". Some historians, nevertheless, relate the name "frank villa" to its possible status of villa without franchises. Be that as it may, we know that for centuries Villafranca had a very heterogeneous population that included an important percentages of Jews, Galicians and people from other places.

Throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries Villafranca steadily developed as an important trading and commercial center, and erecting many of its most emblematic buildings. At the end of the fifteenth century, it had four parish churches, six convents and at least six other pilgrim hospitals. It was then, specifically in 1486, when the Catholic Monarchs converted it into a marquisate and donated it to the Galician lineage of the Counts of Lemos.

Also in that century the Lemos dynasty, which at that time were the Viceroys of Naples, transformed the old Cluniac monastery into colegiate. Next to the castle and the Collegiate church, it is impossible to over- emphasize the importance of the convent of the Dominicas of the Laura, founded later: at the beginning of century XVII.

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