Originally called Santiago de Peñalba, it is located in the traditional region of Valdueza, in the cradle of the river Oza, in the heart of the Leonese Tebaida, forming part of the mountain range of the Aquilano Mountains and close to the Morredero and the Pico Cabeza de la Yegua. This hamlet is part of the municipality of Ponferrada, in the region of Bierzo. The first references to Peñalba de Santiago date back to the 10th century when San Genadio founded the monastery, of Mozarabic influence in its construction, in the centre of the village. Today only the church of Santiago remains of this monastery. From earlier times the area had already been chosen by hermits and anchorites. In the 7th century a young Visigoth nobleman named Fructuoso decided to retire as a hermit to this place and built a small oratory. Many others followed him and settled around him in caves and humble huts.
Years later it was a disciple of his, San Valerio de Astorga, who before retiring to the nearby Monastery of San Pedro de Montes, consolidated the building. Towards the year 892 Genadio, follower of Fructuoso and Valerio, accompanied by twelve monks restored and founded the monastery itself. According to his own words left in a document of the year 919: "I founded something more apart and in memory of Santiago, a third monastery called Pennalba". The construction of the monastery favoured a settlement, which gave rise to the village. After Genadio's death, the history of the monastery of Peñalba de Santiago continues for a little more than two centuries until in the middle of the 13th century, King Alfonso IX ceded all the assets of the monastery to the town council of Astorga. From then on, the only references are to the church of Santiago in the 16th and 17th centuries, but what remains is the charming little village of Peñalba de Santiago.
Peñalba de Santiago, with its stone houses, slate roofs and beautiful wooden balconies, has the charm of a small mountain village where tranquillity and silence are felt, heard. To walk through the beautiful network of its narrow streets and reach the heart of the town is to prepare your senses to be surprised by an exquisite architectural jewel, the Mozarabic church of Santiago. Built at the beginning of the 10th century, it seems to have been finished by the year 937, although inside the church there is an inscription of consecration of 1105, it was declared a National Monument in June 1931. The church of Santiago is built with simple materials, mainly masonry and slate. The beautiful entrance door has a double horseshoe arch supported by three marble columns. The interior is of a single nave divided in two by a typical Mozarabic horseshoe arch. At the time the walls were decorated with mural paintings, portraits of the daily activities of the monks, which today can be admired as the restoration work carried out have left them uncovered. The Visigothic influence is evident in the sacristy.
From the church a pleasant route leads to the Cave of San Genadio, which is close to the village, nestled in a vertical rocky wall and was the place of retreat and prayer of the saint; in the hollow there is a small altar, you can return from the walk a circular walk through the cemetery and the village fountain. The surroundings of Peñalba de Santiago invite you to enjoy nature and walk its paths, there are several routes, with their own name, which has in the village its beginning or its goal, the Way of the Blacksmiths between Peñalba and El Acebo, the Way of Silence, Peñalba-Las Médulas, and the circular "path of the Tebaida Berciana". The gastronomy, specially the botillo and the cecina, supposes the ideal complement for this gratísima visit to Peñalba de Santiago, town declared National Historical Artistic Set back in the year 1976 and Good of Cultural Interest from 2008 with category of Ethnological Set.
Peñalba de Santiago celebrates its patron saint festivities in honour of Santiago on 25 July.
It is a tradition that local people, as well as visitors, when they approach the Cave of San Genadio on pilgrimage enter a small cavity adjacent to the altar and take soil from the ground with which they fill some sachets, because this land has the reputation of curing ailments, being a good remedy against evils. The grooves in the walls of the cave are filled with paper on which people have been expressing their prayers, petitions and wishes to the saint of silence.
Genadio was acclaimed as a saint a few years after his death and his feast was celebrated on May 25, but he was never officially canonized. San Genadio is related to chess, from Peñalba de Santiago come the ivory pieces called Piezas de San Genadio, which are considered the oldest chess figures in Europe and are said to have belonged to the saint.
Legend has it that one of the many days that Genadio spent meditating and praying in the cave, the noise of the force of the water of the river that passed by here nearby, prevented him from achieving the silence that he longed and sought so much, then hitting the ground with his staff he ordered him "Silence! and the course of the river became, in front of the cave, underground to emerge a little further down the mountain. And since then the valley is called The Valley of Silence.
To get to Peñalba de Santiago we have to do it from Ponferrada, leaving from the south of the town towards San Lorenzo del Bierzo. We must follow this road LE-158/4 until the proximities of San Esteban de Valdueza, where we will find the detour that we must take, leaving this way behind the road that brought us until here and that continues towards Villanueva de Valdueza. From now on we will follow a narrow mountain road that goes up the valley of the river Oza crossing towns like Valdefrancos and San Clemente de Valdueza. We will follow the sometimes impressive road at all times, leaving behind the crossroads with the track that leads to Montes de Valdueza to go up the mountain and the course of the Peñalba stream, up to Peñalba de Santiago itself. Once there we will have several zones where we will be able to park our vehicle since the access with it is only allowed to residents.
Peñalba de Santiago can only be reached by private vehicle. There is no public transport.
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La carretera para llegar tiene su miga, pero tanto el pueblo como su entorno merecen la pena, y la cecina… ¡la mejor que he probado!
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