Aside from the scallop shell, the yellow arrow is the most recognizable symbol of the Camino. Unlike the shell, which is centuries old, the yellow arrows are a fairly recent addition. And it is all because of one man, who believed that the Jacobean Path was in danger of being lost. So he decided to do something about it.
Don Elías Valiña (1929-1989) was the parish priest in O Cebreiro in Lugo and studied the history of the St James Way pilgrimage to Santiago in-depth, writing many documents, articles, and even a thesis on the Camino de Santiago.
After years studying the St James Way, he was convinced of the importance of this ancient trail and set himself the challenge of reviving the route we call the Camino Frances. In 1984, he started his mission to rescue, clean, and mark the trails along Camino, starting in Roncesvalles, in the Pyrenees.
He also started painting the iconic yellow arrows to indicate the right way at the various tricky crossroads along the trail.
Legend has it that Don Elías drove across the whole north of Spain on his Citroën GS packed with yellow paint, painting arrows leading to Santiago. To carry out this task, Elías approached a public works company in Pedrafita do Cebreiro to ask them for the leftover paint that was used to mark the roads. And what color was this paint? Yellow! This is the birth of the famous symbol, a simple, unpretentious brand whose sponsor was solidarity and love for the Camino de Santiago.
While marking the Camino in Roncesvalles the priest was surprised by the Guardia Civil, who stopped him thinking that he was marking a path for terrorists. They asked him, “What are you making these arrows for? And he answered, “I’m preparing an invasion!
And his words came true. Today the simple yellow arrows have guided thousands of pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela and the Jacobean Route has established itself as one of the most important pilgrimages in the world.
As I’ve been walking, I’m always relieved and grateful to see a yellow arrow, showing me where to go. Thank you, Don Elias!