First time appearance of Foncebadón in history books is dated while the Mount Irago Council was celebrated in 946. Later, in the XIth Century, a hermit living in this area called Gaucelmo, fouded a lodge to take care of the growing number of pilgrims who passed to visit the grave of apostle St. James. As a recognition for that work, King Alfonso VI of León gave Foncebadón a Royal Favour that established a tax payment exemption in the year 1103. At that time, there are records of Gaucelmo's lodging. Nevertheless hints of human activity in this area many time before Gaucelmo were found. A few hundreds of metres off the village, we can find the traces of a Roman gold mine.
Thanks to its location, next to the only mountain pass to El Bierzo existing at that time, Foncebadón did not lose its importancy as a strategic place. Apart from the pilgrims, this village was frequently used by the muleteers carrying goods on their way during the XVth and XVIth Centuries. Due to its situation on the mountain, it was an mandatory stop for rest.
During the Spanish independency war (1808-1814) against France, the village was completely destroyed, but later rebuild to the east of the original place. It is now less protected from adverse weather conditions, but in a location less prone to the formation of snowdrifts and snowfields totally cutting off communications during the long and cold winters. Even today you can see the ruins of the convent, with the church tower and the walls of the current graveyard. The original one was located just where the church of Santa María Magdalena is settled today.
During the XXth Century, Foncebadón starts to lose population quickly, due to the rural exodus. In the 90's, there were only two inhabitants. After the resurgence of the Camino de Santiago as a way of pilgrimage and alternate tourism, the village started slowly to recover its life, although the majority of its buildings are completely collapsed. Several businesses were settled next to the Camino, and even some families moved to the village to live here all year long. Today, Foncebadón has, officially, 22 inhabitants.
For years, in many guides of the Camino de Santiago, Foncebadón disappeared as the end of one of the traditional stages, but today it is being recovered, being the number of pilgrims who stay here significantly bigger.
Foncebadón has a mystic ambience. The Celts considered Mount Irago, in which slope the village is located, as a sacred place. According to the tradition, in its surroundings live goblins (in leonese language "trasgus"), witches, hermits and mythologic animals like the cuélebre, the yobu and the xana.
Cruz de Fierro (Iron Cross)
If there is a singular place in Foncebadón, it is the Cruz de Fierro (most known as "Cruz de Ferro". Nevertheless, this name would be wrong because it would be the galician translation. The cross stands in an area of clear leonese language influence).
It is a pile of stones having a standing pole on top. This pole is topped with an iron latin cross. It is believed that the origin of the pile of stones comes from the astur period. It was a meeting point for hermits to change knowledge and wisdom. Currently, there are still two other piles of the four that existed on Mount Irago. They are oriented to the four cardinal points, the Cruz de Fierro being the eastern one. In the Roman period, people passing there left a small stone as a tribute to Mercury, one of their god. Gaucelmo planted the wooden pole and the Cruz de Fierro over it, christianizing this way that habit. The original Cruz de Fierro is being kept at the Museo de los Caminos in Astorga. The current one is a replica.
According to the legend of the Camino de Santiago, pilgirms must carry a stone during their pilgrimage. This stone symbolizes theis problems and worries, thus leaving it at the base of the cross, it liberates the pilgrims from them. Many of the pilgrms bring stones from their origins with messages or memories written in them, making the moment to leave the stone an intimate instant of reflexion.
Each year, on July 25th, the holyday of Santiago Apóstol, a festivity is celebrated in this place, taking the apostle's figure out of the small chapel.
History and Surroundings
Foncebadón is one of the last villages of La Maragatería, region in the west of León. Located before entering El Bierzo, on Monte Irago (Mount Irago), 1450 metres high, next to the Foncebadón mountain pass. We are located between the leonese cities of Astorga and Ponferrada, 26 and 30 km away from each one.
Cascada de la Fervencia (Fervencia Waterfall)
You can find the Fervencia Waterfall (Cascada de la Fervencia), on the Molina Stream (Arroyo de la Molina) very close to Foncebadón. After several windings throghout the mountain, The Molina Stream pours out its waters to the Tremor River (Río Tremor), near the Manzanal mountain pass. The hiking trail is short and has low difficulty.
Between XIth and XIVth Centuries, during the golden time of Foncebadón, the territory controlled by the convent grew very much, adding towns like Manjarín, Prada de la Sierra and Labor de Rey. Some of them have been abandoned for decades. Gaucelmo located his second lodging in Manjarín. Over there lives today the one that calls himself "the last of the Templars".
Out of the historic municipality of Fondebadón (today belonging to the municipality of Santa Colomba de Somoza), we can find other abandoned villages like Folgoso del Monte, Castrillo del Monte, Poibueno, Matavenero, Fonfría, Palacios de Compludo... All of them were villages which were abandoned because of their location in the mountain and the hard weather conditions. In some of them it is possible to see rehabilitated houses, but its somthing purely anecdothic.
As a mountain town, Foncebadón offers multitude of paths and trails to make excursions. Nature lovers will find here a haven of peace, far away of the bustle of the bigger towns and cities, allowing them to be lost in the middle of leafy pine groves on the Bierzo, or enjoying landscapes and open views of the Maragatería and Mount Teleno.
But there are not only paths and trails departing from Foncebadón. Near the other villages of the same area, you will find many more paths and trails which lead to other waterfalls like Cascada del Gualtón, near Carracedo de Compludo, you can visit the old forge of Compludo, moved only by the force of water and still in work, you can come near Peña Galén, where el cuélebre lives according to the legend, or even visit the old abandoned skiing slope in El Morredero.