The Camino de Santiago de Compostela, is a pilgrimage route which has existed for over 1000 years across northern Spain from
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees to
Santiago de Compostela. There the catholic cathedral is considered to be the burial place of St James the Major, Christ’s Apostle. Over the centuries multitudes of pilgrims have followed the trail known in Spanish as the Camino or path.
During the Middle Ages the Camino had been the third most important pilgrimage route in Christendom after those to Jerusalem and Rome. Throughout the centuries lodgings were built to house the hoards of pilgrims. Some were in monasteries, others in hospitals. The tradition still continues. Today towns along the route provide simple shelters for pilgrims. Known as Albergues de Peregrinos most are generally priced at 6 or 7 euros a night for a bunk bed in a mixed dorm; some are donativo; one donates what one wishes. In order to use them you need a pilgrim pass or Credencial del Peregrino. Stamped each night it provides proof of your trip when you arrive at Santiago de Compostela. To obtain the pass you must state your intention as either a religious pilgrimage or a spiritual journey and not just tourism. Some albergues have kitchens; others provide meals. Often nearby restaurants serve a basic menu de peregrino, a simple three course set meal for about 10 euros including wine.
Since the legend or hagiography of St James recounts that his dead body miraculously washed ashore in Spain, scallop shells from the sea are his symbol. Hence, from time immemorial pilgrims have worn scallop shells (in French, coquilles St Jacques). Many carved shells decorate doorway lintels and latches along the old streets of the route....Often the Camino became the central spine leading westward in the plan of the towns or cities along it; during the Middle Ages independent neighborhoods called burgos de francos evolved and were settled by former pilgrims along the way.
Beginning in the latter part of the last century there has been a revival of great interest in the Camino. In 1987 it was designated the first European Cultural Itinerary by the Council of Europe. Multitudes of pilgrims now follow it each year, generally in summer. A search on the Internet will bring up much contemporary information. However three sources are particularly complete and useful. Since November 2009 participating in the unique Camino de Santiago Forum has been part of my daily life and providing information on-line in English for unknown readers has become a distinct pleasure. Additional scholarly and practical information is provided by the Fondation David Parou Saint Jacques in French and Mundicamino in Spanish. Let your fingers begin your walk!