The Way of St James, or the Camino de Santiago de Compostela is a Christian pilgrimage to the purported burial place, on the west coast of Spain, of the apostle James. The earliest recorded visits to the shrine date from the 9th century however the 2010 movie The Way, starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez, piqued the interest of a whole different demographic, ourselves included! In fact it was our walking partners Kay and Garth, whose enthusiasm after seeing that movie was infectious enough to keep up the momentum over 2 years of planning.
The daily needs of pilgrims on their way to and from Santiago were historically met by a series of hospitals or hospices which had royal protection and were a lucrative source of revenue. Early tourism was born, complete with badges and souvenirs. Since the Christian symbol for St James was the scallop shell, many pilgrims wore one as a sign to anyone on the road that they were a pilgrim. This gave them privileges to sleep in churches and ask for free meals, but also warded off thieves who dared not attack devoted pilgrims. Today the shell motif is used extensively along the route, among other things to highlight pilgrim accommodation and as way markers.
There are a succession of both government and private albergues or hostels now meeting the needs of the pilgrims or peregrinos who can still avail themselves of a bed, and often a meal as well, by producing a passport or credenciale which is stamped along the way. On arrival in Santiago de Compostela the completed Credential can be presented at the Pilgrim Office where a compostela or certificate of pilgimage may be granted in recognition of the pilgrim’s achievement and spiritual motivation in following the Camino.
“An added bonus for Catholics completing the pilgrimage in a Holy Year is the granting of a Plenary Indulgence, or in other words having one’s slate wiped clean.
There are a number of different routes to Santiago but the most traveled, and the one we are taking, is the Camino France (shown in yellow below). It starts on the French side of the Pyrenees at the small town of St Jean Pied de Port, goes over the mountainous border with Spain and down into Roncesvalles, then crosses northern Spain linking the main centres of Pamplona, Burgos, Leon and Compostela – 790 kms of ancient pathways and modern roads to the cathedral at Santiago.
There is a further 200km from Santiago to the Atlantic coast at Finisterre (route shown above in brown) and back via Muxia, which we also hope to complete. A friend from here at home, Raya, has had her eye on a Spanish castle for sale and, incredibly, it seems if we do this extension to the Camino France we will walk within a kilometre or two of her castle so we hope to check it out for her. How funny.