One can not talk about the Camino Frances as it stands today without talking about Don Elías. An avid scholar of the Camino from its first uses in the 9th century to today, he was the parish priest at O Cebreiro, the hill that, for many pilgrims, marks the last hard leg and the beginning of the end of their Camino.
In 1984, he set out to modernize and improve the Way, making it more of a attractive pilgrimage. He drove to Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees and began marking the way down to Pamplona with bright yellow arrows.
He continued his work, changing routes to be closer to towns, until he finally arrived at his own parish. The following legs were added later, mostly by him but also by volunteers who, by now, realized the beauty of his plan.
Not only would he bring much needed money from visitors to the poorer northern regions of Spain, he’d also “contain” pilgrims on plannable routes, which meant less disturbances of fields and paths, animal wildlife and communities.
He sadly died five years later, in 1989, so he never saw the success of his creation. But today’s pilgrims do well to visit his grave and bust on top of O Cebreiro and thank him for all his work.