There are many different reasons why people choose to walk the Camino, among them are cultural, religious and spiritual, but whatever the reason each pilgrim has for walking the Camino de Santiago they will share at least one thing, the experience of traveling a path with over 1000 years of history. This shared experience happened to over 300,000 people in 2018 , each receiving a Compostela (the certificate issued to certify the completion of your pilgrimage) to commemorate and celebrate their achievement.
El Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage to Santiago, it has been written began with the rediscovery in 814 AD of the body of Saint James the Apostle, which had been transported by boat some 800 years earlier from Jerusalem to Spain, landing at Iria Flavia (nowadays Padron on the Camino Portugues), and entombed in a field in Galicia, the site of which is now Santiago. The Apostle, Saint James, the patron Saint of Spain, gives his name to the route, the Camino de Santiago (Santiago meaning Saint James), which translates as the Way of Saint James.
Through the following centuries, culminating with the establishment and consecration of the present cathedral in 1211, Santiago de Compostela become the centre of a number of pilgrimage routes, the Camino Primitivo, Camino del Norte, and later the Camino Frances. These routes through northern Spain, crossing Navarra, Aragon, Castilla and Galicia drew pilgrims from far and wide, and settlements with infrastructure, such as pilgrim hospitals and monasteries began to be established to service the pilgrims’ physical and spiritual needs on the way to Santiago.
The pilgrim’s journey in Medieval times, was often very challenging, especially alone, and pilgrims would sensibly join together, walk in groups, and enjoy protection and hospitality from the towns and villages along the route.
Fast forward 600 years to the modern Camino, which after centuries saw a renaissance in the 1990s, predominantly due to a program of promotion and waymarking by enthusiastic individuals in the 1980s, and it’s recognition in 1987 as the first Cultural Itinerary by the Council of Europe. In 1993 the route’s recognition was further elevated when UNESCO declared the Camino Francés a World Heritage Site, and ever since the number of pilgrims receiving their Compostela on arrival in Santiago has been growing, from over 100,000 in 1993 to over 320,000 in 2018.
People from over 100 nations all walk the many different camino routes for many differing reasons, yet they all share one thing, being part of the history and tradition, stepping in the previous footsteps of millions of pilgrims and feeling the energy the new community of like-minded spirits yields. As you start to walk any camino you instantly join your new “Camino family”, all following the yellow arrows, all getting your passport stamped and making your own way of transformation.
It is said that walking Camino has three parts: one each for the body, mind, and soul. In the the first part the pilgrim becomes physically fit and builds endurance, the body getting stronger, more resistant and powerful. Then comes the second part, where pilgrims simply walk and enjoy the time walking for reflection, clearing the mind, refocusing and reconnecting, finding inner-peace, and the development of discipline and determination. The third and final part, nearing journey’s end, is devoted to the soul. Pilgrims are asked to consider their purpose, empowering and moving the souls of even those who have started the walk for recreation, and on reaching Santiago the absolute joy and elation of achievement lifts the spirit to an extraordinary high!
Many say “The Camino changes you. Be prepared.” And they are absolutely right…!