The Camino de Santiago
June 10, 2018
The Pilgrims Way
“We need sometimes to escape into open solitudes, into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure hazard, in order to sharpen the edge of life, to taste hardship, and to be compelled to work desperately for a moment no matter what.” GEORGE SANTAYANA- ‘THE PHILOSOPHY OF TRAVEL’
This quote from Santayana beautifully sums up what the Camino de Santiago is all about: finding clarity and a way forward.
The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage that has been walked for centuries. Although for many this is a Christian pilgrimage, for thousands of others it is a journey of self-discovery and a way to find clarity and direction in life.
“The pilgrimage to Santiago has never ceased from the time of the discovery of St. James’s remains in 812 AD, though there have been years of fewer pilgrims, particularly during European wars.”
Excerpt from CAMINO ADVENTURES:
“You have to be fairly motivated to walk the Camino de Santiago from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in North West Spain – as it is 800km. Usually 800km with your rucksack on your back containing everything you need for a month. Sleeping in hostels with strangers, communal showers, and no privacy.”
“To many this does not sound like a holiday or a good use of their precious time, however, more than 100,000 people walk one of the Camino routes in Spain each year – and the numbers keep growing. Pilgrims, as they are called, come from all over the world and put themselves through physical hardship, subjecting their body to the rigours of walking between 25 and 30km a day – day after day. It really is quite a feat in our modern convenience orientated life.
So why walk the Camino de Santiago?”
“This appears to be the main reason for most. Many of us have reached a point in life where we need time to think, time to get away from life as it is. Many times I asked pilgrims why they were on the Camino and the simple answer was just getting away from everything.”
“And on the Camino you do. The pace of life is slower, you are not subjected to advertising, and social media and the internet seems like another world. Imagine for a month not being in a taxi, a car, bus or any other mode of transport – only walking. You don’t have TV, ubiquitous email, and mobile phones.”
“There seems to be little that compares with walking for a month. People come out the other end often wanting to make changes to their own lives, and having a sense of being refreshed – being washed clean of the daily cynicism that can surround us by hearing too much news.”
“I went more than a month, twice, without my daily morning check of email and news sites, something I find almost impossible at home and this does not cover the changes in my life since walking the Camino de Santiago.”
“And it is. The real problem is not walking 25 or 30km, it is doing this day after day. You discover if your boots really do fit if they don’t you learn very quickly how to repair the blisters on your feet.”
“Apart from looking after your feet, the main challenge is to have your backpack as light as possible. The first time I walked the Camino my rucksack was 13kg at the start in St Jean; far too heavy. The next time I had the weight down to 6kg; walking was much easier and I was happier. Sometimes there are no washing machines, so you hand wash the clothes you wore for walking – I haven’t ever hand-washed clothes at home.”
“If you manage to just walk in the day and not think about all the days ahead, walk at your own pace, do your own Camino – there can be a tremendous sense of accomplishment at the end. However, there can also be an anti-climax. What next, is often a common thought? What, no more walking? I felt a bit lost not walking – I was so used to walking all day every day.”
For me, the reason I intend to walk the Camino de Santiago next year is as a dividing bridge between the old life I am leaving behind and the new Hippie Kushi life I intend to live; moving onto a boat and travelling five to six months of the year, especially through India. The long walk will allow me to clear my mind and contemplate my future. On top of this, I simply love walking and walking through the beautiful landscapes of Northern France and Spain makes the gruelling journey worthwhile. You also meet lots of interesting people along the way.
A great reference to get an idea of what the Camino is like is the fantastic, atmospheric film: ‘The Way‘ starring Martin Sheen:
History and outline of the Camino:
Camino de Santiago
“Is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Its official name: Routes of Santiago de Compostela: Camino Francés and Routes of Northern Spain
“The Camino de Santiago (Latin: Peregrinatio Compostellana, “Pilgrimage of Compostela”; Galician: O Camiño de Santiago), known in English as the Way of Saint James among other names, is a network of pilgrims’ ways serving pilgrimage to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. Many follow its routes as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth. It is also popular with hiking and cycling enthusiasts and organized tour groups.
The French Way (Camino Francés) and the Routes of Northern Spain are the courses which are listed in the World Heritage List by UNESCO.”
The Christian route
The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
“The Way of St. James was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during the Middle Ages, together with those to Rome and Jerusalem, and a pilgrimage route on which a plenary indulgence could be earned; other major pilgrimage routes include the Via Francigena to Rome and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Legend holds that St. James’s remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain, where he was buried in what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela. (The name Santiago is the local Galician evolution of Vulgar Latin Sancti Iacobi, “Saint James”.)”
“The Way can take one of dozens of pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Traditionally, as with most pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James began at one’s home and ended at the pilgrimage site. However, a few of the routes are considered main ones. During the Middle Ages, the route was highly travelled. However, the Black Death, the Protestant Reformation, and political unrest in 16th century Europe led to its decline. By the 1980s, only a few hundred pilgrims per year registered in the pilgrim’s office in Santiago. In October 1987, the route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe; it was also named one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Since the 1980s the route has attracted a growing number of modern-day international pilgrims.”
“Whenever St. James’s Day (25 July) falls on a Sunday, the cathedral declares a Holy or Jubilee Year. Depending on leap years, Holy Years occur in 5-, 6-, and 11-year intervals. The most recent were 1982, 1993, 1999, 2004, and 2010. The next will be 2021, 2027, and 2032.”
Monument of the pilgrims, Burgos
“The main pilgrimage route to Santiago follows an earlier Roman trade route, which continues to the Atlantic coast of Galicia, ending at Cape Finisterre. Although it is known today that Cape Finisterre, Spain’s westernmost point, is not the westernmost point of Europe (Cabo da Roca in Portugal is farther west), the fact that the Romans called it Finisterrae (literally the end of the world or Land’s End in Latin) indicates that they viewed it as such. At night, the Milky Way overhead seems to point the way, so the route acquired the nickname “Voie lactée” – the Milky Way in French.”
The modern symbol of the way
“Today, hundreds of thousands (over 200,000 in 2014) of Christian pilgrims and many others set out each year from their front doorsteps or from popular starting points across Europe, to make their way to Santiago de Compostela. Most[quantify] travel by foot, some by bicycle, and a few[quantify] travel as some of their medieval counterparts did, on horseback or by donkey (for example, the British author and humorist Tim Moore). In addition to those undertaking a religious pilgrimage, many are hikers who walk the route for other reasons: travel, sport, or simply the challenge of weeks of walking in a foreign land. Also, many consider the experience a spiritual adventure to remove themselves from the bustle of modern life. It serves as a retreat for many modern “pilgrims”.”
“A marking in a boardwalk of the Portuguese coastal way: Coastal sands dunes of Póvoa de Varzim.
Here only a few routes are named. For a complete list of all the routes (traditional and not so much), see: Camino de Santiago (route descriptions).”
A post marking the way
“Camino Francés, or French Way, is the most popular. The Via Regia is the last portion of the (Camino Francés). Historically, because of the Codex Calixtinus, most pilgrims came from France: typically from Arles, Le Puy, Paris, and Vézelay; some from Saint Gilles. Cluny, site of the celebrated medieval abbey, was another important rallying point for pilgrims and, in 2002, it was integrated into the official European pilgrimage route linking Vézelay and Le Puy.”
“Camino Primitivo, or Original Way, is the oldest route to Santiago de Compostela, first taken in the 9th century and which begins in Oviedo.
Camino Portugués, or the Portuguese Way, is the second-most-popular route, starting at the cathedral in Lisbon (for a total of about 610 km) or at the cathedral in Porto in the north of Portugal (for a total of about 227 km), crossing into Galicia at Valença.”
“Camino del Norte, or the Northern Way, is also less travelled and starts in the Basque city of Irun on the border with France or sometimes San Sebastián is considered the start of the route. It is far less popular since the route goes up and down a lot (whereas the Camino Frances is mostly flat). The route follows the coast along the Bay of Biscay until it gets close to Santiago. It also does not hit the same number of historic cities and points of interest as the Camino Frances, but is a lot cooler in the summer and most consistently pretty. The route is believed to have been first used by pilgrims to avoid travelling through the territories occupied by the Muslims in the Middle Ages.”
“Most Spanish consider the French border in the Pyrenees the natural starting point. By far the most common starting point on the Camino Francés is Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, on the French side of the Pyrenees, with Roncesvalles on the Spanish side also being popular. The distance from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostella through León is about 800 km.”
St. James’s shell, a symbol of the route, on a wall in León, Spain
“A marker in the pavement indicates the route of the Way of St. James through Navarrete, La Rioja, Spain.
In Spain, France and Portugal, pilgrim’s hostels with beds in dormitories dot the common routes, providing overnight accommodation for pilgrims who hold a credential (see below). In Spain, this type of accommodation is called a Refugio or albergue, both of which are similar to youth hostels or hostelries in the French system of gîtes d’étape.”
“Staying at pilgrims’ hostels, known as albergue, usually costs between 6 and 10 euros per night per bed, although a few hostels known as donativos operate on voluntary donations. (Municipal albergues cost 6 euros, while private albergues generally cost between 10 and 15 euros per night.) Pilgrims are usually limited to one night’s accommodation and are expected to leave by eight in the morning to continue their pilgrimage.”
“Hostels may be run by the local parish, the local council, private owners or pilgrims’ associations. Occasionally these refugios are located in monasteries, such as the one run by monks in Samos, Spain and the one in Santiago de Compostela.”
“The final hostel on the route is the famous[according to whom?] Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos, which lies across the plaza from the Cathedral of Santiago de Campostela. It was originally constructed by Ferdinand and Isabel, the Catholic Monarchs. Today it is a luxury 5-star Parador hotel, which still[when?] provides free services to a limited number of pilgrims daily.”
Credential or pilgrim’s passport
“St. James pilgrim passport stamps in Spain for the Camino Frances
St. James pilgrim passport stamps in France on the Via Turonensis (Tours route) for the Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle. The World Heritage Sites of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France lists the major French towns with stamps.”
“Most[quantify] pilgrims carry a document called the credencial, purchased for a few euros from a Spanish tourist agency, a church or parish house on the route, a refugio, their church back home, or outside of Spain through the national St. James organization of that country. The credencial is a pass which gives access to inexpensive, sometimes free, overnight accommodation in refugios along the trail. Also known as the “pilgrim’s passport”, the credencial is stamped with the official St. James stamp of each town or refugio at which the pilgrim has stayed. It provides pilgrims with a record of where they ate or slept, and serves as proof to the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago that the journey was accomplished according to an official route, and thus that the pilgrim qualifies to receive a compostela (certificate of completion of the pilgrimage).”
“Most often the stamp can be obtained in the refugio, cathedral, or local church. If the church is closed, the town hall or office of tourism can provide a stamp, as can nearby youth hostels or private St. James addresses. Many of the small restaurants and cafes along the Camino also provide stamps. Outside Spain, the stamp can be associated with something of a ceremony, where the stamper and the pilgrim can share information. As the pilgrimage approaches Santiago, many of the stamps in small towns are self-service due to the greater number of pilgrims, while in the larger towns there are several options to obtain the stamp.”
“The compostela is a certificate of accomplishment given to pilgrims on completing the Way. To earn the compostela one needs to walk a minimum of 100 km or cycle at least 200 km. In practice, for walkers, the closest convenient point to start is Sarria, as it has good bus and rail connections to other places in Spain. Pilgrims arriving in Santiago de Compostela who have walked at least the last 100 km, or cycled 200 km to get there (as indicated on their credencial), and who state that their motivation was at least partially religious are eligible for the compostela from the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago. At the Pilgrim’s Office the credencial is examined for stamps and dates, and the pilgrim is asked to state whether the motivation in traveling the Camino was “religious”, “religious and other”, or “other”. In the case of “religious” or “religious and other” a compostela is available; in the case of “other” there is a simpler certificate in Spanish.”
So, if you think this walk is for you, my advice is do lots of research and preparation first. As you walk along on your own pilgrimage, perhaps it is worth contemplating what you wish to do when moving forward with your life.
When making a life-changing decision:
“At this time, it was just a dream. But the more we thought about it, the more the idea appealed to us. This was a big decision. Huge. Enormous. Many friends just thought we were completely mad to even consider it. Giving up your home and a way of life that is considered ordinary or normal is not a decision to be taken lightly. Most people aspire to realising their dreams – whatever they may be – when they retire. However, we have known and heard of many people who did not reach retirement age or were not in good enough health by that time to carry through their plans. We have always held a philosophy that we should live life to the full and make the most of whatever time we have. This is not morbid, but common sense and there are far too many people who wish they had the courage and bravery to realise their dream before its too late.” ISN’T IT COLD IN WINTER? – BY KAREN WILES – AMAZON BOOKS
Walk the walk…
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