One of the most popular symbols of the Camino de Santiago is the famous yellow arrow which indicates the actual route that crosses the villages, open fields, forests and rivers. Elías Valiña, pastor of O Cebreiro, was the first pioneer who began on his pilgrimage to sign the route with this symbol, then spread it on all the way.
He was one of the most important figures in the revival of the modern pilgrimage to Santiago and also put this mountain enclave (O Cebreiro) back on the map as one of the great landmarks of the French route. Originally from Sarria, although he settled in O Cebreiro as a priest, throughout his life he studied the history of the Camino of Santiago – his doctoral thesis was on the Camino and in 1965 he studied in Salamanca.
When Valiña started promoting ancient route, it was, in some places impassable. Therefore, he decided to define the original sections of the pilgrimage route, and after convincing mayors and other parishes and attracting different associations of friends of the Way to become involved, the task of marking the original route began.
Between the end of the 70s and the 80s of the XX century the signalling of the French Way with yellow arrows was undertaken. The reason for this colour, currently the symbol of the Jacobean route, can be traced to three reasons:
1.- Firstly because it is a good colour in terms of visibility.
2.- Secondly, because in the Gallic country yellow is the colour typically used for hiking trails and many pilgrims come from these lands.
3.- And, thirdly, because Valiña used paint cans to mark the routes and they were of this colour. There is a famous story starring the pastor in the Pyrenees. After being stopped by the Civil Guards, and caught with a can of yellow paint in his hand, drawing striking yellow arrows, they asked him what he was doing so close to the French border. ” Preparing a great invasion from France,” was his answer. After taking him to the barracks, he explained himself.