Spiritual Places on Camino Primitivo: Santuario Virgen de la Cabeza

While walking from Villaviciosa to Oviedo in northern Spain, I discover many spiritual places on Camino Primitivo. This is one that wasn’t documented in my guidebook.

Leaving at dawn and hoping to arrive by sunset

The sun comes up through fog and while yo can see the telephone wires silhouetted in the sunrise, I could barely make out the road along which the Camino primitivo follows
Leaving La Vega de Sariego on Camino Primitivo | Photo by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey

I started walking the Camino Primitivo from Villaviciosa to Oviedo to Santiago three days ago. Today I left La Vega de Sariego at dawn and hope to be in Oviedo before sunset. At this northern latitude, the apple blossoms are still holding on during this last day of April. Still, the Spanish afternoons are becoming warmer and so I like to do most of my walking when the sun is not high overhead.  Along this portion of the Primitivo, there is not much pilgrim traffic and not many services like cafes or small groceries. Especially on a Sunday morning when those kinds of places close so families may attend Mass.

I’m hungry and should have stopped for lunch hours ago, but the city of Pola de Siero, is just ahead, promises my Confraternity of St James guidebook. The quiet, green countryside seems to stretch out for miles before me without hint of urban sprawl. So I press on with only the sound of my stomach growling in my ears.

Table of Contents

Following the clatter away from Camino Primitivo

snow-peaked mountains rise up in the distance a pastoral scene with green meadow and red-roofed barn lie in the forground
Walking towards Oviedo in Asturias on Camino Primitivo | Photo by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey

A bit further, a strange cacophony punctures the silence of the meadows. What is that? As I get closer to the sound, I make out gaita asturiana, Asturian bagpipes. I follow the clatter away from Camino Primitivo to a treed hollow where bent women and bald men gather. I walk down into the dell but stand afar, an observer. The weeist of the ladies comes across the lawn to me.

“Eres una peregrina de Santiago?” she asks eyeing my backpack and hiking sticks.

“Oui, I mean, si,” I answer hesitantly. She takes me by the hand and leads me to the gathering under a shady ramada. In Spanish, she tells me that they are waiting for the priest, and there will be plenty of food after Mass. Could this be one of those spiritual places on Camino Primitivo?

Sanctuary of the Virgen de la Cabeza: Spiritual place on Camino Primitivo

Spiritual Places on Camino Primitivo: Santuario Virgen de la Cabeza on the last Sunday of April, 2017 | Photo by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey

I take a seat in the handmade pews under the wooden covering that seems recently added to the petite Santuario Virgen de la Cabeza. Once I sit, I can see the altar, decked with flowers picked from the parishioners’ gardens, is set  inside ancient stone walls.  I’m not sure what will happen next.

Soon the priest arrives and I stand and sing, dwarfing the senoras in the pew ahead of me. Then we sit and kneel, and sit again. It’s all a pretty straight-forward Roman Catholic service. And although I am an English-speaking Protestant, I can follow along Mass in just about any language.

After the service, I eat homemade Asturian delicacies that the women have brought from their kitchens. Empanadas, tortillas and the traditional bollu preñau, chorizo ​​sandwiches, are on long tables under a white tent set up a few paces from the ermita or santuario. I drink sidre out of the same glass as mis amigos. The glass is swirled with sidre between servings and then tossed on the green lawn under the tent. Later I learn it’s an Asturian custom to spill some sidre on the ground to replenish the earth. Even here at Santuario Virgen de la Cabeza.

The sidre is made, of course, from the apples grown in the multitude of apple orchards that I’ve been walking through or past in the last three days.

Genuine generosity is nourishment for the soul

Empty, used plates and plates of Asturian regional food line long table with white plastic tablecloth, people socialize on the backside of the table near the white tent wallsfood
Plenty of Asturian food to share with a pilgrim at Santuario Virgen de la Cabeza | Photo by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey

One woman about my age introduces me around while others generously offer me the regional food. I attempt to speak a little Spanish with the elders while nibbling their homemade delicacies. “Thank you, Lord,” I say gratefully. “You have provided for this weary pilgrim just when she needed it most. These Spanish people have shown me the hospitality and companionship that I was unaware that I needed until now. I knew that I was hungry for food, but I was oblivious to my need for fellowship.” For me, this spot in the dell is definitely one of the spiritual places on Camino Primitivo.

I’m thumped on the back by my new friends, the gracious folk of Asturias. Finally and reluctantly, I pick up my pilgrim sack, hiking poles, and with a full belly, walk back to the path. My prayer continues: “Help me take a part of the generosity of this spiritual place on Camino Primitivo along with me for the rest of the journey.”

AFTERWARD: What I learned

Arizona travel writer stacey Wittig hugs new Spanish friends - a woman her age and an older, shorter Asturian woman at this spiritual place on Camino Primitvo
UNSTOPPABLE Stacey and her new friends | Selfie photo by UNSTOPPABLE Stacey

The Sanctuary of the Virgen de la Cabeza AKA Santuario Virgen de la Cabeza is located near to the Rio Nora in San Juan del Obispo on the Camino Primitivo, east of Oviedo. In Andújar very far from here, in the south of Spain, the faithful celebrate the Pilgrimage of the Virgen de la Cabeza on the last Sunday of the month of April. Since this spiritual encounter happened on the last Sunday of April, I wonder if it were a celebration in connection with the Virgen de la Cabeza in the south. Here in Meres, Asturias, the pilgrimage and festival or fiestes in her honor happens at the end of May.

In the photo of the Sanctuary of the Virgen de la Cabeza above, I notice a big tree, which seems to be a yew, called a teixo in Galician. In Asturian folklore, the yew tree represents a link to the afterlife and so is often found planted beside ermitas, churches and cemeteries.

I discovered this spiritual place on Camino Primitivo while updating the Confraternity of St James walking guide for Camino Primitivo in 2017. I researched and wrote additional sections on culture and history for the CSJ Camino Primitivo guidebook.

I also learned that I could be open to a more generous spirit as a walked the Camino Primitivo. The unselfish hearts of the Spanish people blessed my way. They taught me that I, too, could be more generous and bless others in simple ways. With each small step I took on Camino Primitivo, my heart expanded and each day, I, too, grew in small ways.

Where is Santuario Virgen de la Cabeza / Sanctuary of the Virgen de la Cabeza?

The Sanctuary of the Virgen de la Cabeza is located in San Juan del Obispo, Meres, Asturias on the Camino Primitivo, and east of Oviedo.

Read more UNSTOPPABLE Stacey’s spiritual adventures along Camino Primitivo.

Can you really Grow Through What You Go Through?

UNSTOPPABLE Stacey bought accommodations and most meals for this story. She was gifted by the generosity of the people at Sanctuary of the Virgen de la Cabeza for this serendipitous meal.

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4 thoughts on “Spiritual Places on Camino Primitivo: Santuario Virgen de la Cabeza”

    • Thanks so much for the kind words, Elyn. You said it so well: “The gifts of the Camino are bountiful–and unexpected.”

    • Thanks for your comment, Valorie. This was a serendipitous encounter! My friends back home were praying that I would have divine appointments – I think this was one of them!


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