Saint Genadio Cave – Priaranza del Bierzo, Spain - Atlas Obscura

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Saint Genadio Cave

Priaranza del Bierzo, Spain

The cave where Saint Genadio meditated and played chess.  


Saint Genadio was a bishop during the Early Middle Ages. He resigned his high clerical status in 920 CE to meditate in a cave in El Valle del Silencio (Silent valley) in the Mountains of León.

Located near the Mozarabic monastery in Peñalba de Santiago, he practiced a new and unknown game that helped him meditate. Today, somewhere in that area are still four pieces of carved goat bones that he used for the game derived from the Persian “Shatranj,” known today as Chess.

In Spain toward the end of the 9th-century, a large part of the country was occupied by the Islamic Emirate of Córdoba. In the north was the Christian Kingdom of Asturias, which expanded through Muslim territory. It eventually became known as the Kingdom of León in 910.

This depopulated area was settled by the Mozarabic (Christian communities who lived in the Arabic zone), who brought with them several customs from the Emirate. Evidence of this can be seen in the Mozarabic style of the church of St. James in Peñalba with its umbrella dome and caliphate style paintings.

At the monastery, Saint Genadio spent the last 16 years of his life and played chess. It was introduced here by the Mozarabic people and subsequently to the rest of Europe. Saint Genadio once mediated for hours in a cave near “Valle del Silencio (“Valley of the Silence”) over the Oza River.

The silence and the game of chess helped him meditate. He encouraged his disciples to practice chess in order “to stay near to God.” Four pieces, the oldest in Europe, were considered for a long time as a miraculous talisman and a legend. The pieces carved of goat bone consisted of two rooks, a pawn, and a bishop were first discovered in 1923 only to be later lost. They were found again in 1992 and are now jealously guarded in an unknown church in the region. 

Know Before You Go

From the town of Ponferrada by the road LE-158/4 to Peñalba de Santiago (13.2 miles). Park and continue by walking along a path around two miles. In the village is the Mozarabic church of St. James.

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