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The Galician “Holy Grail”: A Eucharistic Miracle on the Camino de Santiago

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The Kingdom of Galicia has its own Holy Grail, which is not precisely that of King Arthur.

An endless number of legends surround the chalice of the Last Supper which, some say, the Apostle James brought with him to the northern Iberian Peninsula. That chalice, or Grail, is depicted on the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Galicia. But in the midst of all these stories — a combination of popular devotion, apocryphal accounts and a little bit of superstition — a tradition persists along the Camino de Santiago of another Galician Holy Grail: a Eucharistic miracle that has drawn the faithful for more than 700 years.

About a 9-day walk from Compostela, following the Camino, you will find the small village of O Cebreiro. Its main treasure is a church, built by Benedictine monks at the beginning of the 9th century in the unmistakable Iberian Romanesque style of three sober naves, a rectangular apse and a bell tower.

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But, in fact, the treasure is not the church itself, but what the church houses: the Galician Holy Grail.

A tradition deeply rooted in northern Spain tells us that on a rough winter morning, early in the first year of the 14th century, a priest was celebrating the Eucharist on the altar of one of the side chapels of the church. Snow and wind made it almost impossible to access the chapel, and the priest assumed no one would make it to Mass. To his surprise, a peasant named Juan Santín traveled all the way from Baixamayor to O Cebreiro, desiring to receive Communion.

According to the story, the priest (who had lost his faith in the Real Presence) asked the peasant “So much sacrifice for a little bread and wine?” At that moment the consecrated bread and wine became flesh and blood, restoring the faith of the priest. The dish bearing the bloody flesh remained on display, unspoiled, for more than a hundred years; Queen Isabella made a pilgrimage to the church in the late 15th century, and testified to its authenticity. The Eucharistic miracle of O Cebreiro became famous thanks to the stories the pilgrims spread through the Camino and beyond.

The miraculous chalice and paten are preserved in the church of O Cebreiro, where there is also a mausoleum with the remains of both the priest and the peasant, resting side by side. It is a must stop not only for pilgrims, but also for lovers of medieval traditions and stories.

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