ARE YOU READY TO TAKE THE FIRST STEP ON YOUR TRANSFORMATION JOURNEY?
WHAT IS THE CAMINO?
During the Middle Ages, the Camino de Santiago was the third most important pilgrimage road in Christendom after Jerusalem and Rome. It all began, in the early 9th century, as a local pilgrimage to a small chapel that the local bishop deemed to hold the remains of St. James. On the site of the small chapel today stands the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
Why northern west Spain? According to Christian tradition, James preached the gospel in Spain. Disenchanted with his limited success in converting the pagan population, he returned to Jerusalem. In AD 44, he was beheaded on the orders of Herod Agrippa and became the first of Christ’s Apostles to be martyred
Legend dictates that James’s body was placed into a stone boat, without oars or sails and “carried by angels and the wind” beyond the Pillars of Hercules (the straits of Gibraltar), to Iria Flavia (Padrón) on the Galician coast. The local Queen, Lupa, provided a team of oxen to draw the body inland to be buried on a hill.
For eight centuries the St James’s tomb remained forgotten. Between 820 and 830, a hermit called Pelayo, led by a star and lights shining down onto Mount Libredon, discovered a cemetery containing a marble sarcophagus. The local bishop Theodomir, following divine inspiration, authenticated the tomb and its relics to be the grave of St. James and that of his two disciples, Atanasio and Teodoro.
On hearing the news, the reigning king, Alfonso II, undertook a pilgrimage to the tomb’s site. He funded the building of a small chapel. Over the following months and years, news of the tomb’s discovery rippled outwards drawing pilgrims from the surrounding provinces and further afield. In 899, King Alfonso III paid for the construction of a larger church to accommodate the growing band of pilgrims. Eventually, the news spread beyond the Pyrenees mountains and into the powerful cathedrals and monasteries of France. Foreign pilgrims started to arrive in Santiago de Compostela in the 10th century.
In 1075, 40 years of work began to build the Romanesque portion of the cathedral that we see today. Pilgrimage peaked to Santiago de Compostela during the 11th and 12th centuries with tens of thousands of pilgrims journeying from all over Europe. What brought them? Their belief in the miracles of St James and by the act of pilgrimage they would receive due penance for their sins.
Medieval pilgrims undertook their pilgrimages for a variety of reasons. In 1122, during the Gregorian reforms, Pope Calixtus II instigated the privilege of the Holy Year. A Holy Year occurs when the feast day of St. James (July 25th) falls on a Sunday.
In 1179, Pope Alexander III’s granted plenary indulgence (forgiveness for all sins) to whoever made a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James during a Holy Year. Through the promise of salvation this act mobilised the faithful in their thousands.
The Christian reconquest of Spain began in the decades following the Moorish invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century. With the need to repopulate recently re-taken land the Christian kings offered charters of freedom and privileges to those who settled along the pilgrimage route. Monasteries, churches, hospitals, shelters, bridges and roads were built to cater for the multitudes of pilgrims heading westwards.
Most pilgrims walked in search of the promise of salvation by means of penitence. Other pilgrims journeyed as punishment for a crime whilst a few walked westwards on behalf of an employer to earn money.
The medieval pilgrim could be spotted by what they wore and what they carried; a staff or crook, from which dangled a hollowed out pumpkin to act as a drinking vessel, a bible, a wide brim hat to keep off the sun, a bag and scallop shell (concha). The shell also acted as a protective symbol as it was a serious offence to attack or rob any pilgrim bearing one.
THE DECLINE OF PILGRIMAGE
From the 14th century onwards, pilgrimage numbers began to decline. The Black Death, the Protestant Reformation and political unrest in 16th-century, the 18th century Enlightenment period were all reasons for the decline. Pilgrimage, though, never ceased in its entirety.
Whenever St James’s Day (25th July) falls on a Sunday, the cathedral declares a Holy or Jubilee Year. Holy Years fall every 6, 5, 6, and 11 years. The next Holy Years will be 2021, 2027 and 2032. During a Holy Year, the number of pilgrims walking to Santiago de Compostela increases dramatically.
In a Holy Year, the Church offers a special period of grace in which it is possible to obtain plenary indulgence delivering forgiveness of any sins committed. The conditions for obtaining plenary indulgence are:
1) Visiting the Cathedral of Santiago
2) Saying prayers (the Creed, Our Father and praying for the Pope’s will). Attending Holy Mass is also recommended.
3) Receiving the sacraments of penance (during the fortnight before or after) and communion.
Pilgrims reaching Santiago de Compostela unaided during any year are awarded the “Compostela” certificate. It is issued by the Pilgrim Office and certifies the completed pilgrimage has been made for religious or spiritual reasons. Upon arrival, a brief questionnaire is completed where your reason for pilgrimage is stated and your “Credencial” is presented.
The Compostela is given to pilgrims that cover the last 100 kilometres either on foot or horseback, or the last 200 kilometres by bicycle.
The Credencial or Pilgrim Record verifies that you are a bona fide pilgrim and is required to be shown when you wish to stay in the pilgrim refugios or hostels along the Camino. It is stamped at the beginning of your journey and each day thereafter until Santiago. Stamps are obtained in refugios, churches, bars, tourist offices along the route.
A credencial can be obtained by joining The Confraternity of St. James in London, England www.csj.org.uk or by purchasing one in a designated place on the Camino in France or Spain such as the Pilgrimage Office in St Jean Pied-de-Port in France.
THE MODERN PILGRIMAGE ROAD
The past 30 years has witnessed a huge resurgence of interest in the Camino. This has, in part, been due to:
- Pope John Paul II’s visit to Santiago in 1982
- The marking of the yellow arrows to indicate the Camino route in 1984
- The publication of Paulo Coello’s book “The Pilgrim” in 1986 and the subsequent Camino literature
- In October 1987, the Council of Europe declared the Camino Francés route as the first European Cultural Route
- The establishment of the Xacobeo society between 1991 and 1993 to support and develop the Camino infrastructure
- In 1993, the Camino de Santiago was honoured as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- 2010 – The film, “The Way” starring Martin Sheen
Many walking the Camino today undertake it for non-religious reasons: travel, sport, or simply the challenge of weeks of walking in a foreign land. Also, many consider it to be a very spiritual experience as they remove themselves from the bustle of modern life. It serves as a retreat for many modern “pilgrims”.
The Camino is made up of a number of different pilgrim roads which ultimately finish in Santiago de Compostela:
- Camino Francés – St Jean Pied-de-Port to Santiago – 800km
- Camino del Norte – Irún to Santiago – 825km
- Via de la Plata – Seville to Santiago – 1000km
- Camino Portugués – Lisbon to Santiago – 610km
- Camino Inglés – Ferrol to Santiago – 110km
- Camino Primitivo – Gijón to Santiago – 320km
- Camino Aragonés – Somport Pass to Puente La Reina – 170km
- Camino de Finisterre – Santiago to Finisterre – 90km
THE CAMINO FRANCÉS
Beginning in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains, in the French village of St. Jean Pied-de-Port, the Camino Francés is the most popular route to Santiago de Compostela. Its full distance is 496 miles (796km) and the minimum time generally required to walk the route is around 31 days. Many people complete the Camino over several stages in line with their holidays.
As you walk the Camino Francés you encounter beautiful landscapes, experience the different regional cultures within Spain, the Castillian and regional languages, different gastronomic delights, Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture and many customs and traditions.
The journey can be thought of in three sections; the first 10 days being walking over the Pyrenees Mountains and through the wine regions of Navarre and La Rioja. The second 10 days involving crossing Spain’s barren, table top plateau called the Meseta and the final 10 days, the luscious and fertile region of Galicia to its capital, Santiago de Compostela.