THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO (THE WAY OF ST JAMES)

What is the Camino?

For thousands of years, the Camino de Santiago has led pilgrims to the sanctuary of a Christian apostle: James the Great, also known as Saint James the Greater. The discovery of his tomb one night during a meteor shower in the year 813 on the sacred hill of Libredón would lead to the construction of an extraordinary cathedral and a city that, from that moment on, would feel the footsteps of so many travellers that it would come to contain traces and echoes from all over Europe.

Camino de Santiago

Every time a pilgrim starts their journey along the old continental routes of the Camino de Santiago, an ancient search mechanism common to all Christendom is put into motion: the journey towards salvation. At the same time, the profoundly human experience of self-discovery begins once more. Just as there are many roads that lead to Santiago, so too are there many ways of reaching the most personal revelations, something that all pilgrims claim to experience as they follow these roads that lead to so many things - chance meetings as well as solitude, to voices as well as silence, to shady landscapes and dry plains - all in the pursuit of a single goal: reaching Santiago de Compostela.

History

The pilgrimage to Santiago was the most notable and most profound religious and cultural experience of the Middle Ages, something that was recently recognised in the European Parliament when they named the Camino as the first European Cultural Route, as well as by UNESCO, which declared it a World Heritage Site.

Camino de Santiago

The discovery of the tomb of the Apostle James, son of Zebedee and brother of John the Evangelist, changed the face of a small settlement with Roman origins in the northwest Iberian Peninsula that, over many centuries, had become a necropolis. It was also a turning point in the spiritual history of a continent that would soon set about building a road that led to this precious relic.

The Caminos

The French Way

This is the camino par excellence. It is the route with the longest history and is the most well-known internationally. It was described in the year 1135 in the Codex Calixtinus, a key text about Saint James. The fifth book in this codex is a true medieval guide to the pilgrimage to Santiago. It identifies the sections of the French Way, beginning in France, and explains in detail the sanctuaries, hospitality, people, food, fountains, and local customs that could be found along the route. It is written with the conciseness and clarity that is required of a practical response to a specific demand: how to realize the pilgrimage to Santiago.

Camino de Santiago

This guide, attributed to the French clergyman Aymeric Picaud, shows the joint political-religious desire to promote the sanctuary of Compostela and make it easy to access. When this book was written, pilgrimages were at the highest, and the French Way and its affluence were at their peak (not including the present). Santiago became the goal for pilgrims from all over Christendom.

The Portuguese Way

This route became more popular from the 12th century onwards, just after Portugal gained its independence. It incorporated several ancient roads and routes, such as the Vía XIX, which was created in the first century and provided a route between Braga and Astorga through Ponte de Lima, Tui, Pontevedra, Santiago, and Lugo. It was also one of the most important Roman roads, as it was the backbone of the province of Gallaecia. One version of this route that follows the coast crosses the Miño river in A Guarda and, following the shoreline, heading inland in Redondela.
The Portuguese Way is key to understanding the true international reach of the pilgrimage phenomenon. This route became more relevant from the 12th century onwards, just after Portugal gained its independence in the middle of century.

The Northern Way

The Northern Way, which follows the Asturian coast and has its entrance to Galicia along the ria of Ribadeo, became more important in the late Middle Ages. At that time, sea pilgrimages were at their peak. It was also when the Jubilee of the Holy Cross was first celebrated in Oviedo.
Pilgrims at the end of the Middle Ages, who were eager to venerate relics and receive indulgences, visited Oviedo to complement their pious journey to Compostela.

The Silver Way

This route is an extension of the Roman road Vía de la Plata, which connected the cities of Emerita Augusta (Mérida) and Asturica Augusta (Astorga). The road was mapped out during the early days of Christianity, making use of ancient routes. It enters Galicia in A Mezquita and is the most popular Galician camino. The name “Vía de la Plata” (The Silver Way) has nothing to do with the mining or sale of the precious metal, but rather comes from the Arabic term Bal’latta, which Muslims in the south used to refer to this wide, paved, public road that was well mapped out and that they used to reach the Christian north. However, this road was eventually used for the trade of silver that came from the Americas via Sevilla.

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