Legend has it the bones of St. James the Apostle are buried in the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. For over a 1000 years, Christian pilgrims have walked to Santiago to worship at the site of these relics. Several common routes developed coming from all over Europe. The routes each go under the name “Camino de Santiago” or in English, “The Way of St. James.”
The pilgrimage fell out of use for many years, but about fifty years ago it’s popularity started to grow. Now over 300,000 people a year arrive in Santiago on pilgrimage. Officially, a pilgrim must travel at least 100km to qualify for the “compostela,” a certificate showing they completed the journey, but many travel much further. The most common route that is followed is the “Camino Frances” (“The French Way”). It covers about 800 kilometers (500 miles) and starts in the border town of San Jean Pied de Port, France at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains.
While the pilgrimage was originally religious in nature, today the reasons people take the route vary greatly. For me, it’s a mix of many reasons… religious, adventure, and to celebrate the start of my retirement.
The Camino is well marked with yellow arrows and with scallop shells markers. The scallop shell is the main symbol of the Camino.
Want to learn more? I recommend you watch the movie “The Way” starring Martin Sheen. It’s directed by his son, Emilio Estevez, and it tells the tale of a father who hikes the Camino Frances on behalf of his son. It’s filmed on location and gives a pretty good sense of life on the Camino. Plus, it’s a pretty entertaining film.
Do you think you want to do the Camino yourself? Then check out the Camino Forum. It’s a site where past and future pilgrims exchange questions and information. Any question you can imagine has been answered there.