I recently returned from a wonderful month in Spain: three weeks of which were spent walking the Camino de Santiago – an ancient pilgrimage that stretches across the north of Spain, culminating in the city of Santiago, and more specifically in the Cathedral of St James.
The entire pilgrimage is 800km long, if you start from the most established starting point of St Jean Pied de Port in France. The first day of this epic trek takes you up and over the Pyrenees, where it frequently snows… Even in Spring. 800km of walking takes most people between 5 and 6 weeks (an average of about 20km a day). Luckily, because we only had 3 weeks to walk, we could only (only!) do 500km, so we started from the lovely city of Burgos.
Although this is the most popular route, there are actually variations of the Camino de Santiago route from all over Europe – in ancient days medieval pilgrims would begin their pilgrimage as soon as they stepped out of their front doors, and continue walking until they arrived in Santiago. Their reason? Absolution. The relics of St James (actual bones, apparently) are in a casket in the cathedral, and they believed that the pilgrimage would absolve them of their sins and could effect miracles – particularly heal illnesses.
These days, there are fewer pilgrims walking for absolution, but just as many for religious and spiritual reasons (which may not be that far off). It’s a well-organised path that thousands of people walk every year, backpacks filled with necessities, shoes worn down by the many steps on gravel, road, dirt, mud and grass. You can start anywhere you like, although you have to walk the last 100km to receive your Compostela (a certificate of completion). You start when you like, walk as far as you like and end when you like, so long as your last steps take you to the Catedral de Santiago.
These are the basic facts about the Camino, but the true meaning of it will take many hundreds of blog posts to distil… It is an extraordinary experience. Let me know if you have any specific questions and I’ll be sure to include them in my next post. The first rule? Greet everyone with Hola! and Buen Camino!