The need to go on pilgrimages has always been a human characteristic. People have long trodden paths to destinations that promised miracles or penance or to atone for sins. And even in this rational age, people are drawn on spiritual quests to the sacred sites of the world. In the Christian world, few sacred sites are more famous than Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northern Spain. Pilgrims have walked this route for more than 1000 years. And nowadays, over 100000 pilgrims annually make the journey that ends at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. What draws them there?
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral:
One of the oldest extant pilgrim routes is the Camino de Santiago de Compostela or The Way of St James in English. This way is in fact made up of a collection of old pilgrimage routes which lead to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwest Spain. Here a cathedral has stood since the 9th century.
According to legend, the appearance of the remains of the Apostle Saint James led to the construction of Santiago de Compostela in the ninth century. It soon became a pilgrimage destination on a par with Jerusalem and Rome.
Of all the many paths that lead to Santiago de Compostela, the most popular is known as the French Way. This is a 750-kilometer route that begins in France and crosses the Pyrenées at either Somport or Roncesvalles.
Camino Walk Spain:
How long does it take to walk the Camino de Santiago? It takes 30-35 days to walk the full Camino Frances, it typically takes 30-35 days, walking between 25-27km each day. Of course, you can go at a more leisurely pace although the terrain on the Camino is relatively flat and easy.
The commonly agreed-upon route for El Camino de Santiago begins at Saint Jean Pied de Port, France, and travels 500 miles through four of Spain’s 15 regions, ending at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.
Modern pilgrims make this journey for a number of reasons, only some of which are spiritual. In fact, over 100,000 pilgrims from over 100 countries make the journey each year on foot, bicycle, donkey, or horseback. And that’s just official pilgrims holding a pilgrim’s passport’. Most conclude however that it is a moving experience and rewarding in ways they did not anticipate
So for whatever reason you may wish to travel this trail, you can do so on foot or bicycle. Here are some pointers for the journey.
Firstly, you should get a Pilgrim’s “credencial” by registering in a town such as Roncesvalles on the border with France. This document identifies you as a bona fide pilgrim and permits you to stay in the small inns known as refugios or albergues in Spain. These hostels dot the routes along the pilgrim’s ways and often cheap or even free accommodation. This usually takes the form of dormitory beds and accommodation is generally limited to one night.
The credential is also necessary for getting your Compostela, the certificate awarded to pilgrims on completing the way. To earn this you need to walk a minimum of 100 kilometers or cycle at least 200 kilometers on your pilgrimage. To get your compostela, you need to have you credential stamped in the towns you pass through on your pilgrimage. This proves you’ve walked the route recognized by the Pilgrim Association of St James.
Many take the pilgrimage for secular reasons. It’s a scenic route winding its way through vineyards, farms, orchards of apples and pears, herbs and vegetable gardens and a varying landscape marked with villas and quaint villages set high in the mountains.
Whatever the reason for the pilgrimage, finally arriving at the great Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is a moving experience. True pilgrims embrace the statue of Saint James and often break down in tears of happiness. And even those who traveled for pleasure find themselves affected in ways they can’t explain.
So if you’re considering a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, don’t hesitate. Whatever your motives, you’ll have a wonderful experience and who knows, it could change your life.
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