“Little Compostela” – Villafranca del Bierzo



Written by Caitlin
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The wonderful town of Villafranca del Bierzo on the Camino Frances holds special significance for pilgrims, as it is the only church other than Santiago’s Basilica where pilgrims can receive a plenary indulgence. Also known as “la pequeña Compostela”, or little Compostela, this town is an absolute treat for pilgrims.

Plenary Indulgence at Villafranca del Bierzo

One of the reasons that some people walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage is to connect with their Christian faith and ask for forgiveness for their sins or the sins of others. This is called a plenary indulgence, or Jubilee, and can be received during Holy Years, also known as Jacobean Years. 2021 and 2022 are both Holy Years on the Camino.

Villafranca del Bierzo church holy door

The majority of pilgrims will walk to Santiago de Compostela and enter the cathedral through the Holy Door to receive their indulgence.

Pilgrims who are not able to complete their pilgrimage in Santiago because of illness or injury can instead stop here. They can walk through the “Door of Forgiveness” on Villafranca’s Romanesque Iglesia de Santiago church.

Pilgrims who enter by this door, and take communion and confession, are pardoned for their sins.

Iglesia de Santiago Apóstol – The Church of Saint James the Apostle

The Church of Santiago Villafranca was built on the instruction of the Bishop of Astorga in 1186. The construction was originally Romanesque, however, there have been Baroque elements added since.

The Church has a single rectangular nave covered with a barrel vault, with a Baroque Chapel and lateral sacristy added in the century XVIII.

Iglesia de Santiago Apóstol - The Church of Saint James the Apostle in Villafranca del Bierzo

It has two facades – the main facade and the “Puerta del Perdón”, or “the door of forgiveness”. The main facade consists of a semicircular arch and columns without decoration. Above the door is one of the windows that illuminate the church, and at the top is the belfry with two openings, which was added after the construction of the church.

The door of forgiveness is relatively simple, but the carvings around it are beautiful. It was bricked up during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries due to plagues and to protect the temple from assaults.

Other Highlights to See

With a population of about 5,500 people, Villafranca del Bierzo is a medium-sized settlement for the area. There are plenty of restaurants, cafes, bars, gift shops and a tourist office. Here are some of our favourite sites to visit during your stay:

  • Castle-Palace of the Marquises of Villafranca
  • Calle del Agua street
  • Convent of La Asunción or La Anunciada
  • Museum of Natural Sciences
  • Colegiata de Santa Maria

The Camino Frances to and from Villafranca del Bierzo

You will find Villafranca del Bierzo on the Camino Frances route, on stage 7 between Ponferrada and Sarria. If you have 2 weeks for your Camino then we absolutely recommend starting in Ponferrada and walking the Camino Frances from there. It is an excellent walk with a few challenging days, and it will give you more time to experience the wonder of the Camino than simply doing the last 100km.

The walk from Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo is through the valley of Bierzo and is surrounded by mountains. The land here is fertile and you’ll see plenty of fruit and vegetables growing. The route wanders through several lovely towns as well as plenty of vineyards. The walk into the village is mostly downhill through cobbled and paved streets.

The walk out of Villafranca del Bierzo and on to O Cebreiro is beautiful but more challenging. You will cover 30 kilometres today, and there is an uphill at the end. Before leaving the town we recommend picking up a few snacks and filling all of your water bottles. The first stretch today is quite long.

There is not much shade on the trail, but the sun does not hit this side of the valley until mid-day. The landscape is simply beautiful, so take your time and admire the views!

the landscape of section 7 of the camino frances dirt path leading through the valley

Visit Villafranca del Bierzo Yourself

Walk or cycle the Camino Frances and discover the “little Compostella” for yourself! We absolutely love this stop on the famous French Way and we would love to help you to plan an itinerary along this section. Follow the Camino has been creating customised Camino itineraries for pilgrims since 2006. We are passionate about creating the best active holiday experience for each client.

To start your journey to Santiago, get in touch with us! We can put together a free itinerary for you and answer all your Camino questions.

We hope to see you soon!

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Originally published on 8th December 2021

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