The Camino de Santiago (Latin: Peregrinatio Compostellana, “Pilgrimage of Compostela”), better known in English as the Way of St. James, is a network of pilgrimage routes. They all lead to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. Here lies the shrine for the apostle Saint James. As the Catholic Church believes the remains of the saint to be buried in the area. In Christian believe he was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus.
For most people walking the Camino de Santiago is a spiritual path. However nowadays it has also become a popular hike out of non religious motivations.
It is hard to draw a true picture of the different motivations driving people to this pilgrimage. Since most people do pick up the Compostela, a certificate of successful completion of their journey. The Compostela is supposed to be issued solely to people who walked this path out of religious motivation. Though, the Catholic Church is not really questioning one’s motives when handing out the Certificate. Therefore this proof of your successful travel is solely based on the stamps in your Credencial de Peregrino (pilgrims passport).
Why people travel the Way of Saint James
Evidently in 2019 43% claimed to have ventured these roads for pure religious motives, 49% for cultural and religious reasons, and 9% for non-religious reasons. (source: Oficina del Peregrino)
Also, the Camino de Santiago is becoming more and more popular with hiking and cycling enthusiasts and organized tour groups.
As stated before, the Camino de Santiago is a network of routes all over Europe eventually joining the main routes leading to Santiago de Compostela.
Here are the five most traveled of these main routes in 2019, and the percentage of pilgrims on them:
- █ 55%, Camino Francés – 800km
- █ 27%, Caminho Portugues – 240km
- █ 5%, Camino del Norte – 850km
- █ 5%, Camino Ingeles – 116km
- █ 5%, Camino Primitivo – 300km
- █ 3%, Via de la Plata – 1000km
You can find a nice extensive overview of the European ways of St James here on wikipedia.
Even before it became a Christian pilgrimage route, the main route to Santiago and on to Cape Finisterre at the Atlantic coast was an important Roman trading road. With the discovery of the apostle Saint James’ remains in the 9th century a shrine was created. Which marked the beginning of the Camino de Santiago. Until its destruction at the end of the 10th century by a Moorish army, it was more or less a local attraction for pilgrims from the surrounding areas.
In the middle of the 11th century, the first pilgrims from beyond the Pyrenees began to visit the rebuilt shrine. Henceforth the pilgrimage to the Church of Santiago became an ever more popular endeavor. Around 1140 the Codex Calixtinus was published. It was the first guide to the Camino de Santiago. From now on the Pilgrimage of Compostela became a highly organized and frequented affair. The book contained four well-defined routes. The 5th book, the Iter pro peregrinis ad Compostellam (A Guide for the Traveller), is still considered an important source for many modern guidebooks.
By the 16th century, with the Pest roaming Europe, the Protestant Reformation, and the political unrest of the time, the numbers of pilgrims on The Camino de Santiago declined heavily. Till the 1980’s only a couple of hundred pilgrims per year registered in the pilgrims’ office of Santiago de Compostela. After being named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987 its popularity began to pick up again. Eventually growing into an event that draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year. In 2013 over 300.000 pilgrims were counted.
Todays Camino de Santiago
Besides the masses of pilgrims, one might also come to find that it has become highly commercialized. Because of the limited availability of Alburgues, there are now groups of day and night shift pilgrims competing for hostel places.
But after all, you will still find many like-minded people and hopefully your inner peace.