We decided to do some hiking on the Camino de Santiago, a famous pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, in northern Spain, and learned some interesting things about it in the process.
- It’s ancient! Pilgrims have been making the trek from various parts of Europe to Santiago de Compostela for over 1200 years.
- It’s famous – lot´s of movies have been made
about it, including one with Martin Sheen and Emilio Esteves called The Way.
- There is still a tradition in Flanders, Belgium, of pardoning and releasing one prisoner every year under the condition that the prisoner walks to Santiago wearing a heavy backpack, accompanied by a guard. Can you imagine that?
- During the war of American Independence, John Adams was ordered by Congress to go to Paris to obtain funds for the cause. His ship started leaking and he disembarked with his two sons in Finisterre (NW Spain) in1779. From there he proceeded to follow the Way of St. James in the reverse direction of the pilgrims’ route, in order to get to Paris overland.
- Pilgrimages were a suitable act of penance for those who were guilty of certain crimes.
Why do people walk hundreds of miles to Santiago de Compostela?
The short answer is that we don’t understand why, but here is the story. The Apostle St. James, who is now the patron saint of Spain, got into some trouble in the Holy Land and was beheaded in 44 AD. He had several disciples, and they decided to take his body with them in a boat, in order to get it out of the Holy Land. Somehow they made the trip through the Mediterranean sea, through the straights of Gibraltar, north past what is now Portugal, and landed in the NW corner of Spain, and somehow, the body was miraculously entombed. Flash forward about 800 years and legend says that a hermit found the body near or in Santiago and then it was relocated its “current” location in Santiago de Compostela.
No one has proven that the tomb actually contains the body of St. James. While a very mysterious story, which defies credibility, we find it even more mysterious that thousands of people over thousands of years have made this pilgrimage! Perhaps they are seeking salvation, or forgiveness, or want to do it to show respect and thanks for something like a miracle in their lives. Or maybe it’s just a great hike!
The movie, The Way, does show how 4 modern people experience hiking the Camino de Santiago.
It is a great hike, and the hiking is comparatively easy.
As compared to other major hikes such as the Appalachian trail, the Camino requires almost no advanced planning, special equipment, carrying a heavy backpack, navigation skills, outdoor skills, climbing significant mountains or sleeping in a tent.
Navigation involves looking for yellow arrows painted on fences, gates, rocks, signposts, the road etc., and that’s all you need to do! You can count on those yellow arrows! These yellow arrows are often combined with a scallop logo. The scallop is the icon most identified with the Camino. Supposedly it
symbolizes the convergence of all the trails in Santiago de Compostela – as the scallop shell has many lines that converge into the base of the shell. Also, a scallop shell may be used as a spoon/bowl for eating, and scallops are common near the destination – Santiago de Compostela.