The Camino de Santiago is known in English as the Way of Saint James among other names. It is a network of pilgrim’s trails that lead to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great which lies in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in the region of Galicia in northwestern Spain. Although there are many pilgrim ways that lead to Santiago the route I will be following will be the Camino Frances which starts in Saint-Jean-Pied-de- Port and covers a distance of 800 kilometres.
The Way of St. James was one of the most important pilgrimages for Christian’s during the middle ages, together with those leading to Rome and Jerusalem. One of the other major pilgrim routes is the Via Francigena which leads to Rome and one that I completed in 2013.
According to legend St. James remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain, where he was buried in what we now call Santiago de Compostela. Santiago is the local Galician evolution of the Latin Sancti lacobi, Saint James. The remains of Saint James are said to have been found in 812 AD. Pilgrims have been traveling to Santiago ever since.
Although there are dozens of pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela, traditionally, as was the case with most pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James began at ones home and ended in Santiago. During the middle ages the route’s was followed by a large numbers of pilgrims but the Black Death, the Protestant Reformation and political unrest in 16th century Europe led to its decline. In the 1980’s the numbers following the Way of Saint James was just a few hundred, at least it was only a few hundred that registered in the pilgrims office in Santiago. In October 1987 the Council of Europe declared it the first European Cultural Route, it was also named one of Unesco’s World Heritage sites. Since the end of the 1980’s the Way of Saint James has been attracting a growing number of international pilgrims. Today some 250,000 set out on the Camino each year. Whenever St. James Day (July 25th) falls on a Sunday the cathedral declares a Holy or Jubilee Year and the numbers following the Way increase significantly. The next Holy Year will be 2021.
The main pilgrimage route follows an earlier Roman trade route, which continues to the Atlantic coast of Galicia, ending in Cape Finisterre. The Romans called this place Finisterrae which in Latin means the end of the world. A small number of pilgrims still continue to Cape Finisterre after they have been to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
The scallop shell has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago and has taken on a variety of meanings, practical, metaphorical, and mythical although it is said that it actually derived from the way pilgrims took one as a souvenir from the shores of Galicia. It is also said that pilgrims returned home with a scallop shell as proof that they had completed the pilgrimage. The scallop shell served practical purposes as well for pilgrims who used them to gather water to drink and as a bowl to eat from. This symbol of the camino can be seen frequently along the tracks, trails and on posts and signs to guide pilgrims along their way. Most modern day pilgrims carry a scallop shell with them on their journey.
It seems I've been travelling for most of my life.
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