400px-Castillo_templario_de_Ponferrada_001-Creative commonsIn 1717 the feast day of Santiago fell on a Sunday, thus a Holy Year was declared- the Jubilee of Compostela, and pilgrims from all over Europe set off for the tomb of the Apostle. In Italy, near Bologna, in the convent of Castel San Pietro, Gian Lorenzo Buonafede Vanti was also preparing his departure. He intended to walk to Santiago, an immense journey which would take many months before he reached his goal and, if all went well, just as many to return.

During his journey Buonafede Vanti wrote twelve long letters, rich in information about pilgrimage in his time, which were studied and published a few years ago by Guido Tamburlini. In some of these letters Vanti mentions numerous places that pilgrims today know well, others between Compostela and Ponferrada, what we now call the winter way, are less well- known but this route is being adopted more and more as an alternative to the other more crowded one.

The Italian started out on his long journey by taking ship in Genoa and sailing from there to Cadiz. From Cadiz he travelled along numerous highroads and footpaths, some of which would later form part of the Guido_Cavalcanti_e_la_brigata_godereccia,_miniatura_del_XV_secoloSantiago Way, until he finally veered west and arrived in Lisbon. Setting off from Lisbon he took what now forms the Portuguese Way and arrived in Santiago. Once there, he decided to continue on as far as the coast to visit the Marian shrines of Finisterre and Muxía, and also to watch the sunset … On his return to Santiago, like many pilgrims who were travelling through Europe in centuries past, Buonafede Vanti started back via the French Way, wanting to visit all those wonderful places that he heard speak of or read about in codexes and books of miracles, songs and legends …

Buonafede Vanti set off towards Santo Domingo de la Calzada and from Compostela to Roncesvalles but he did not pass through Arzúa, Melide, Palas de Rei and all those places we know from the Codex Calixtinus …. Instead, between Santiago and Ponferrada, the Italian decided to follow an alternative route, a little further south and one well known to the pilgrims of the time: the Winter Way. Bunafede Vanti refers to that route simply as “dritto il Cammino di San Giacomo “(the most direct route to


Can anyone now doubt of the antiquity of the Winter Way? This winter I intend to share with you Buonafede Vanti ‘s account as he travelled along the Winter Way, while also adding extracts from his letters as he walked the French and Portuguese Ways. Any memories or anecdotes from you would be more than welcome!

If you are interested in the Winter Way, look at our offers.

Text: Rosa Vázquez

Photos: Commons Wikipedia (public domain, jgaray)

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