El Camino de Santiago, Xacobeo

El Camino de Santiago: What You Need to Know

El Camino de Santiago: What You Need to Know About One of the Biggest Christian Pilgrimages of Modern Times and UNESCO's World Sites

“El Camino” as it is commonly known in Canada, is one of the most important Christian pilgrimages since the later Middle Ages.

Legend holds that the remains of St. James (in Spanish, “Santiago”) were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain, where he was buried in what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela. (The name Santiago comes from the  Galician translation of the informal Latin “Sancti Lacobi”, or "Saint James".)

Traditionally, as with most pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James began at one's home and ended at the pilgrimage site. However, a few of the routes are considered main ones. 

During the Middle Ages, the route was highly travelled. However the Black Death, the Protestant Reformation, and political unrest in 16th-century Europe led to its decline. By the 1980s, only a few hundred pilgrims per year registered in the pilgrim's office in Santiago. In October 1987, the route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe; it was also named one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. Since the 1980s the route has attracted a growing number of modern-day international pilgrims.

Pilgrims in El Camino de Santiago

The number of pilgrims has grown, and also the mix of nationalities increases every year. The official information (year 2018) says Canadians are in 12th place with 5,027 pilgrims that represents 1.54% of the total. However, it is important to consider that the actual number of  people doing the trail is likely much higher, as this official information only shows those who have received a “Compostela”. A “Compostela” is a document that certifies someone has completed the Camino de Santiago. To achieve this, it is necessary to have walked at least the final 100 kilometers of the route or 200 kilometers if by bicycle.

St. James Day

Other important facts to be known about “El Camino” is that whenever Santiago’s (St. James's) Day (25 July) falls on a Sunday, the cathedral declares a Holy or Jubilee Year (Año Santo Compostelano). Depending on leap years, Holy Years occur in 5-, 6-, and 11-year intervals. The most recent were 1982, 1993, 1999, 2004, and 2010. The next will be 2021, 2027 and 2032.