Camino Trail History

Camino de Santiago - statues

History of the Camino trail

The Camino de Santiago, also known as the way of St James, and even just The Way is the ancient Catholic pilgrimage route to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in north-western Spain. Legend has it that the bones of the apostle St James were brought by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain and are buried under the site of what  is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.

The Camino trail  has been an important Christian pilgrimage route for over 1000 years and was considered to be one of the three pilgrimage routes on which all sins could be forgiven.There are many routes to Santiago de Compostela, starting from a variety of points, from as far away as Belgium to as close as 100km from Santiago. Traditionally the route starts when you leave home. The most popular route is the Camino Frances which is what this website describes. The Camino Frances or French way  starts on the other side of the Pyrenees in St Jean Pied de Port in France. This route is 798km long and passes along the top of north- western Spain passing through large cities and ancient villages and hamlets with a wide variety of scenery along the route. Some walk the whole route and some just part of it, the first or last 100km or the middle section. As well as walking you can cycle and some even ride a horse or donkey! For those with less time you can take a train or bus across some sections.

From ancient roots

It has an even more ancient history that predates its Christian heritage. Prior to this the route was thought to have significance for the ancient pagan people who populated the Iberian peninsula, the Celts who settled in northwestern Spain. Some of the best examples of the mega stone structures aligned to the winter sun solstice can be found in Galicia along with the remains of ancient Celtic villages. Later on the Romans conquered Spain and the main route follows an earlier Roman trade route to Finisterre – literally the end of the world in Latin – this was then thought to be the end of the world and was a place of immense spiritual significance. Still today pilgrims often make their way beyond Santiago de Compostela to complete their journey at Cape Finisterre.

Painting

The Glory Days

The earliest records of a pilgrimage to Santiago date from the 8th century;By the 11th century large numbers of pilgrims from abroad were making the pilgrimage to Santiago. By the 12th century the route was widely travelled and highly organised, due in part to the fact that the Jerusalem Pilgrimage was no longer possible with the Crusades. Then in the centuries that followed  with the Christian reconquest of Spain from the Moors the celebration of  the triumph of Christianity gave it added significance. The wealth of Spain increased greatly with the discovery of the new world and the treasure that poured back into Spain can be seen reflected in the grandiose Cathedrals along it’s length. But the combined forces of the Protestant reformation, Black Death and political unrest in 16th century Europe all contributed to its decline. By the early 1980’s only a few pilgrims could be seen completing the route into Santiago. In the mid- 80’s it was declared the first European cultural route and later on gained UNESCO world heritage status.  Since then the numbers of people completing the journey has increased every year and in the holy year of St James (2010) 250,000 completed the pilgrimage. The Spanish have been welcoming pilgrims for a 1000 years and today the pilgrimage contributes to the economy of this rural area of Spain Those who walk the Camino are very welcomed and respected.
Today a huge variety of people walk the Camino.From over 130 different countries, the religious, the non- religious, those interested in its ancient pagan past, the young, the old, the fit, the unfit, the seasoned hiker, the sports lover, those on a personal spiritual journey or those wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life and those who simply want an adventure walking through a foreign county for a few weeks. Together, the history along the way, the mix of nationalities and scenery, along with the Spanish food and wine and the hospitality shown to those on the pilgrim route make for a fascinating and unforgettable journey. Whatever your fitness levels or motivation you can be sure to find the way to suit you.