In the fourth century, Paul of Thebes was seeking spiritual retreat in the desert of Thebaid in Egypt. Following his example throughout the Christian world, his disciples would look for remote and inhospitable places where to free the spirit and deliver it to the divinity, becoming the first hermits.
El Bierzo was then the home of many of them.
In the Aquilian mountains, the hermit phenomenon is still an enigma. From the 7th century until the Muslim invasion, hermits came to these places in a massive way, possessed by a collective mystical fever, only comparable to that suffered by the Egyptian Thebaid two centuries before. What was it that attracted them so much, that they reached hundreds?
One of the first hermits to arrive in the area was San Fructuoso (S. VII), a nobleman of Visigoth origin who erected, among others, the Monastery of San Pedro de Montes. But his fame and significance would be surpassed by his successor, San Genadio.

Mozarabic church of


Santiago de Peñalba is an unique jewel of pre-Romanesque Mozarabic art. Its location in the most abrupt area of ​​the Aquilianos mountains facilitated the isolation that the hermits were looking for.
Although its foundation is usually attributed to San Genadio, the truth is that the saint could not see his work finished, and was buried next to it. The church was erected between 931 and 937. At this time, King Ramiro II gave to the monks the Peñalba Cross, currently a symbol of El Bierzo.

Winter in Peñalba de Santiago

In the inner garden of the church

Inside, its unique wall paintings from the Caliphate period stand out. With more than a thousand years old, this temple represents a true rarity due to its state of conservation.

Monastery of


The always calm and silent monastery of San Pedro de Montes is located in the neighboring village of Montes de Valdueza. The foundation of San Pedro de Montes dates back to the 7th century, when it was erected by San Fructuoso. There are hardly any remains of this ancient construction, since in 714 the Muslim raids reached the Aquilian mountains, destroying the original monastery. For two centuries it fell into neglect, until with the arrival of San Genadio it recovered its splendor.

The restoration has retained the original appearance

Discovering a part of our most recent history

Today it is hard to imagine what monastic life should be like in a place so isolated from the rest of the world, a natural corner of legend, closer to heaven than to earth.
In the top of Montes de Valdueza
Down to the mozarabic church
Peñalba de Santiago, 2017
Corridors street
Peñalba de Santiago, 1981
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Peñalba de Santiago. Spain.