The apostle James, was one of the 12 apostles traveled to Spain to preach the faith, the legend says that the success was forthcoming, which returned the apostle to Jerusalem. After his decapitation instructed by Herodus, 2 of his disciples put his body in a boat. Led by an angel, the boat went from Palestine all the way to Galicia at the mouth of the river Ulla. The boat bumped into a stone and came to a halt. The pupils were looking for a cemetery which they found inland. Later the grave overgrown by dense bushes. Centuries later, in 813 his grave was discovered by Theodomirus, bishop of Iria Flavia. St. James now called San Tiago or Santiago. His tomb became the core of one of the religious capitals of the Western world.
Throughout the medieval period it was one of the three most important Christian pilgrimages undertaken. Indeed, it was only these pilgrimages—to Rome, Jerusalem and to Santiago de Compostela—which could result in a plenary indulgence, which frees a person from the penance due for sins.
The word ‘pilgrim’ comes from the Latin ‘peregrinus’ means ‘wanderer, outsider, stranger’. The pilgrimage to Santiago had a concrete goal: they wanted to visit the grave of the apostle James. As a souvenir they brought a shell home. To this day, the shell has persisted to become the universal symbol of the pilgrimage.
The medieval pilgrims had different reasons to go on a pilgrimage: many went out of devotion, even more did it because they were criminally obliged, as a penalty for an offense. There were also professional pilgrims, they were paid, as substitutes for people who did not want or could not go. Some certainly embarked on the journey due to a curiosity of the unknown which resulted in out travel diaries.
In the Middle Ages, the whole idea was to arrive in the holy city of Santiago de Compostela, and you started at your own front door; there was no official “starting point”. Because it was safer for people to walk together, common routes were established, and many of the paths through other European countries converged in St. Jean Pied de Port at the foot of the Pyrenees.
But what if you lived in England? Or Portugal? Or Madrid? It wouldn’t make sense to travel to France to start your pilgrimage there. As a result many smaller routes were established by pilgrims making their way from their homes, and are named accordingly: The Camino Portugues travels northwards through Portugal, while the Camino Inglés catered to English pilgrims who arrived on the north coast by boat. Today, as the French Route draws more and more tourists, many walkers are starting to rediscover these secondary paths like the Camino Spiritual.
What are you waiting for?
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