History of the Camino de Santiago, The Way of St James:
James' shrine is at Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, north
Spain. He was the brother of John the Evangelist and is recorded in
the Bible as having been with Jesus at various significant points
in his life including the Transfiguration. He is said to have been delegated the Iberian Peninsula for his
When St James died his body was thrown into the sea near
the Straits of Gibraltar and was later found washed up on shore
near where his shrine/tomb lies today.
The tomb was unknown until the 9th century when a hermit called
Pelayo was led by a vision to the spot. The shrine later had a cathedral
built around it and has long been regarded as important as Rome
and Jerusalem in terms of Christian religious significance, a site
worthy to be a pilgrimage destination for over a thousand years.
'Way of St James' is therefore really any hiking route to the cathedral
shrine, but the church and millions of pilgrims have set a few precedents
over the years.
Pilgrims used to start walking from all over Europe to the shrine,
stopping at other shrines along the way, but four main pilgrim gathering
points were set up in France which allowed entrance from surrounding
These four routes converged in the Pyrenees at the border with Spain
and continued on the Way of St James to the shrine.
France, due to its size and common borders with so many other countries,
was the ideal place to have pilgrim gathering/starting points and
these were at Tours, le Puy-en-Velay, Vezelay and Arles.
They then converged at Roncevalles in the Pyrenees to form one 500
mile route to Santiago known as the Camino Frances - passing through
the Navarra, Rioja, and Castilla Y Leon regions to Galicia and
These historic walking tours as well as many others still exist
and are popular today with those seeking both greater purpose to
their lives and a heavenly walk!
The most popular route is the Camino Frances which begins in France at St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the Pyrenees, crossing the border in Spain through the Basque Country of Navarra, La Rioja, Castilla y Leon and ending 500 miles (800 kms) later in Galicia.
main Way of St. James in Spain is marked by shells and very well
established while the excellent system of Grand Randonees (Great
Hiking) paths in France are also superbly marked and recorded.
If you have months to spare you could start anywhere on the continent.
Credential del Peregrino, Pilgrim's Pass:
Being a pilgrim these days requires a certificate to differentiate
you from other tourists so that you can get official free support.
Hikers need to get their certificates stamped at the churches they visit and
the places they stay for even bigger rewards from the authorities
and even perhaps from God.
Throughout the length of the Spanish parts of the Way of St James
are many refuges/hostels specially set up as pilgrim accommodation. To stay
in them you will need the 'Credential del peregrino' pass,
and then at most a donation should ensure a place.
Get to them early if you wish to outwit the German pilgrims who
travel super early, avoid the hot afternoons and ensure a place to stay.
Best time to walk the Way of St James:
There is a festival of St James every year on the 25th July
which many serious pilgrims will try and arrive in time for, so
the Way is most busy during the blisteringly hot month of June.
This is best avoided unless you really wish to humble yourself in
God's brighest light.
These walking tours are more comfortable, though occasionally wet, April-May
and September-November. During winter time November - March getting through the Pyrenees
mountains could be an extreme adventure of snow and ice.
You may also want to consider the year in which you travel, for
if the festival falls on a Sunday, a Holy or Jubilee Year is declared
and there is a resulting increase in pilgrims.
Good pilgrims are currently considered to be those who have hiked
a solid stretch of at least 100km of the final part of the Way of
St James and had their pilgrim records stamped.
The standard reward
is a 'Compostela', a certificate of proof that the pilgrim is indeed
good and has been walking hard but the real treasures are to be
had during the Holy years when an unwritten plenary indulgence (basically
a big forgiveness of sins) is given.
Also see: Walking Greece | Germany | Iceland | Italy
Travel Guide | Spain
Travel Guide | Alps | European