The Southeast Way of St James sets off from the Mediterranean and
connects Alicante, Murcia and Valencia with Santiago de Compostela. The route passes through the provinces of Albacete, Cuenca, Toledo, Madrid, Ávila, Valladolid and Zamora and joins up with the Silver Way in Benavente. From Benavente, pilgrims have two options: the Sanabria Way or the route that takes them through Astorga to join up with the French Way of St James.
The Southeast Way runs from the Mediterranean across the centre of Spain and is 1100 km long. There are records of it having been used in the Middle Ages, but the routes differ at certain places. For example, along the section that is of interest to us, the route has been changed: previously, it did not enter the town of Ávila, but rather passed through small towns and villages; however, it was considered that it would be interesting for it to run through a town like Ávila, which has so much potential for tourism.
In the 16th century, the first written work was published on the ways and routes of Renaissance Spain and it shows the entire route of this Way of St James. It was the first publication in Europe to use modern language to describe the roadways. It was by Pedro Juan Villuga and was published in Medina del Campo in 1546.
This Way crosses the province of Ávila from southeast to northwest, entering at the Venta de los Toros de Guisando with two alternatives: one is to follow the route on bicycle, passing through El Tiemblo and El Barraco; the other is for hikers and passes through Cebreros, San Bartolomé de Pinares, El Herradón de Pinares, Tornadizos de Ávila and the town of Ávila itself. In the town, it passes by emblematic places and monuments and has been given the name of the Urban Route of the East-Southeast Way of St James.
The route begins at the ruins of the shrine of the Madonna of Las Aguas on one of the roundabouts on Avenida de la Juventud (in the south of the town) and continues to the Monastery of Santo Tomás, where visitors can enjoy the cloisters and the sepulchre of Prince Juan, the son of the Catholic Monarchs. The sepulchre bears a description of the prince and the consequences of his premature death for the future history of Spain. Both buildings were related to roadways: the first was a shrine located on one of the exits from the town and the second has been considered as one of the stages on which the important voyages of Christopher Columbus were organised.
The next destination is the Parish Church of Santiago (St James), which is located in the former quarters of the same name and in which, according to tradition, the Knights of the Order of St James were armed. Although the church is of Romanesque origin, most of the construction we see today corresponds to the late-Gothic style of the 16th century. Besides the various Jacobean motifs on the exterior and interior of the church (shells and St James crosses in stone), the main altarpiece is a magnificent example of the Jacobean iconography used in the churches on the Way of St James in the 17th century.
The signs used to mark out the Way of St James are yellow arrows which, in this case, take us along Bajada del Peregrino to inside the Walls through the Gate of El Rastro or El Grajal. All the roads in this area lead to Plaza de la Catedral, stopping before the Door of Los Apóstoles, despite its deterioration, to identify the apostle St James dressed as a pilgrim.
Heading northwards, we come to Plaza del Mercado Chico (known locally as El Chico (the small one) in comparison with Plaza de Santa Teresa, known locally as El Grande (the big one)), closed off on one side by the church of San Juan, which still conserves the bell that announced the occurrence of important events in the town.
We leave this plaza down Calle de Vallespín, stopping off before one of the town's palaces, that of Los Polentinos, an example of stately architecture that was simply outstanding in 16th-century Ávila. A little further down, we come to the Romanesque church of San Esteban, which contains magnificent capitals in the early Romanesque style of the town.
The steep downhill leads to the Gate of El Puente and this urban route ends on the other side of La Ronda before an old dovecot, the pilgrim hostel known as Las Tenerías Judías, where visitors are welcomed by an iron statue of St James the Pilgrim. The name is due to the fact that it is located in the old mediaeval tanneries, which were run by the Jews until they were expelled from the town in the 15th century.
Pilgrims can continue the way of St James from Ávila along two routes. One passes through Mingorría and Santo Domingo de las Posadas, where it joins up with the way described by Pedro Juan Villuga and then continues through Velayos, Blascosancho, Pajares de Adaja, Gutierre Muñoz, Órbita, Espinosa de los Caballeros and Arévalo. The León way has a road that was used by cattle on their way across the River Duero at Tordesillas, continuing through Arévalo, El Oso, San Juan de la Torre, Cardeñosa and Ávila. It corresponds to the way we are describing here and, according to tradition, it was the one used by St Teresa in 1567 when she went to found her second convent in Medina del Campo.
This Southeast Way of St James, which starts in Alicante and ends in Santiago de Compostela, is being constantly upgraded as an alternative route to the popular French Way. It is usually followed by people who come from the East Coast or by foreigners who have already completed the French Way and want to try new routes. In recent years, the number of pilgrims has increased notably, especially in Jacobean years.