Camino literally means "way". The
Camino de Santiago or, The Way of Saint James, is one of the oldest and most famous pilgrimage routes in Europe.
Along with the road to Rome (the Via Francigena) and the road to Jerusalem, the Camino de Santiago was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during the Middle Ages. Pilgrims came on foot from all over Europe to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in order to receive their plenary indulgence.
Today, pilgrims walk
The Way for many different reasons; to escape from their busy lives and have time to contemplate, to explore a new country, to be part of a unique gathering of people from around the world, to take on a physical challenge, as a religious or spiritual quest...whatever your motivation to set out, the experience offers all of the above and more.
The historical context of the Camino de Santiago is steeped in myth and legend. This pilgrimage has existed for over a thousand years and as a result there are many differing accounts of how Santiago de Compostela came to be the focus of so many pilgrims. Here is one account...
James, brother of John and son of Zebedee and Salome, was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee and the fourth of Jesus’ apostles. Before Jesus was crucified, he sent his disciples to spread the word and James was sent to the Iberian Peninsula. He returned to Jerusalem and was beheaded by Herod Agrippa in 44AD. His body was taken and put on a boat made of stone with no sails, oar or crew which found its way to Padrón, near Finisterre on the Galician coastline in the North-west of Spain, where it was met by some of James´ disciples who took the body and placed it on a stone. Legend has it that the stone curved to meet the body. The disciples Teodoro and Atanasio searched to find a place to entomb the remains and asked the local Queen Lupa if they could bury James on her land. The Queen set several trials for the disciples, the last being to harness two wild oxen. The oxen, knowing that the remains of James were holy, became placid and allowed themselves to be yoked and took the body to a hill where he was buried and apparently forgotten for nearly 800 years...
During this time the Iberian Peninsula was gradually Christianised, and in the early 9th Century a Christian hermit called Pelayo was led to the site of the burial by a strange starry light shining on Mount Libredón. He found the bones, which were later authenticated by the local bishop as those of the Apostle James and his disciples Teodoro and Atanasio. A city slowly grew up around the site where a small chapel was erected and a trickle of pilgrims began to come to the shrine. The discovery of the relics came at an opportune time for Christian Spain, as most of the Iberian Peninsula was ruled by Muslims and the protection and money of Kings and nobles started to pour in to establish an infrastructure for the pilgrimage. Whilst the popularity of the Way of St James has had peaks and troughs it has never waned and in 2009 nearly 150,000 people arrived in Santiago de Compostela to receive their Compostela or certificate of completion.