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Cultural info/ The Church of St. Mary (O Cebreiro)

The Church of St. Mary (O Cebreiro)

Iglesia de Santa MaríaThis isolated spot has been occupied since ancient times, but this tiny village 1,293 meters (4,242 feet) atop the Cebreiro Pass into Galicia owes its fame to the Pilgrim´s Way and the Eucharistic miracle which occurred here in the 14th century.

Tradition has it that a weary priest was celebrating Mass in the little village church one winter´s day. A peasant from a nearby village, having fought his way to the top of the mountain through a fierce snowstorm in order to hear Mass entered the church just as the priest was performing the consecration. The priest insulted the peasant´s faith and ridiculed him for having come all the way to the top of the mountain in such severe weather in order to witness a non-existent miracle. At that very moment, the bread and the wine on the altar were literally transformed into flesh and blood.

The Eucharistic miracle of O Cebreiro was confirmed in 1487 by Pope Innocent VIII while the particles preserved from the miracle were placed in a silver reliquary donated by Queen Isabella the Catholic. The Church of St. Benedict (it is also known as Royal St. Mary´s Church) that the pilgrim sees today is not the medieval church in which the miracle occurred; that church was destroyed in the anti-clerical revolutions of the early 19th century. The present church was rebuilt in the years 1965-1971 over the foundations of a pre-Romanesque church uncovered beneath the village´s streets in 1962. All that remains of the medieval church are the baptismal font and the chalice and paten in which the miracle occurred.

The chalice of the miracle that occurred in O Cebreiro is so important in both the history of the Camino and of the region that it was even incorporated into the shield of Galicia that the pilgrim will undoubtedly see while passing through the region on his or her way to Santiago. Perhaps the miracle of the cock and the hen in Santo Domingo de la Calzada is more famous among twenty-first century pilgrims for its entertaining and folkloric qualities, but the miracle of O Cebreiro gets right to the heart of the true motive which for a thousand years has moved millions of men and women to leave house and home to journey to Compostela.

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