The Primitive Way name arises because it is the path that probably ran the king of Oviedo Alfonso II “el casto” (the Chaste) when he made his first pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in the early ninth century. It was also the first `oficial’ way to Santiago in España-Spain, as it was running from the capital of the kingdom of Oviedo to where the grave of Santiago (St. James) was discovered in the diocese Iria Flavia. In addition, its historical importance was based on two circumstances:
- The fact is that the current Oviedo Cathedral – previously known as Basilica of San Salvador- was in the early Middle Ages a very important destination for pilgrims, because in its Holy Chamber was the Holy Ark of the relics. It is a cedar wooden box that is supposed to have inside the relics of Jesus of Nazareth and his mother Mary, and the shroud of Jesus known as “hawl of Oviedo” and relics of several saints; it was subsequently coated with silver. The ark was made famous throughout the Christian world since 1035, when the news spread that when they tried to open it `rejected’ miraculously with flashes the Bishop Ponce and church dignitaries who accompanied him. It reached such prestige, that the saying “Whoever goes to Santiago and not to San Salvador, honors the servant and neglects the Lord” became popular. Therefore a detour way by Oviedo was developed of the French Way; many pilgrims leaved the city of Leon to take the old Roman road through the mountain pass of Pajares which communicated with the city of Oviedo. There, after visiting San Salvador and praying before the ark, the pilgrims continued by the Primitive Way to Compostela.
- A second reason for the popularity of this Primitive Way was the insecurity of the French Way in the early centuries of the pilgrimage, as to found a military order to protect pilgrims; many foreigners who had read the Codex Calixtinus – and were aware of the risks of French Way – chose the Northern Way, straying shortly before arriving to Gijon to go to Oviedo from where they took the path now known as Primitive Way.