First thing most people think of in Galicia is the Camino de Santiago, or in English, the Way of St. James. It’s the world famous pelgrimage to the grave of the apostle Saint James the great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Yearly thousands of pilgrims walk one of the different routes that lead to Galicia’s capital.
A website about Galicia ain’t complete without the Camino de Santiago. Although I started this website about the idea to tell Galicia is so much more than just the famous pilgrim’s way. Nevertheless the camino can’t miss on this site as it is the main attraction of Galicia and off course a marvellous experience to discover Galicia.
What is the Camino de Santiago?
The Camino de Santiago is pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. In Galicia’s capital is, according the story, the grave of the holy apostle Saint James. By the way, the pilgrimage isn’t just one single route. There are several routes from many locations, all have the same goal and finish in Santiago. I will tell more about the different routes further in this article.
Traditionally, the purpose of the pilgrimage is religious. The Way of Saint James is a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Nowadays the main reason for most pilgrims isn’t religion anymore, but mostly a spiritual goal. About 40% of the pilgrims today still start with purely religious motives.
Every year more than 300.000 pilgrims make the journey to Santiago. That’s about three times the amount of inhabitants of the city! And in the special Xacobeo years it’s even more busy! In earlier days pilgrims just started their journey from home. Nowadays there are several official starting points.
The closer you get to Santiago, the more routes get together and more people you will find on your road. Over the last years the popularity of the camino increased enormously. In 2006 there were 100.000 pilgrims. Ten years later this has doubled three times!
However, the Camino de Santiago has been popular for a longer time. More than 1000 years ago the first pilgrims made their route to Santiago. During the following centuries the popularity increased and decreased, mainly due to circumstances as war, safety and popularity of religion.
Routes: The different Ways of Saint James
There are no less than 10 official pilgrimage routes to Santiago in Galicia. Coming over all these routes you can obtain the famous certificate that belongs to the pilgrimage. In the following image you can see how the different routes go through Galicia.
By far the most popular way is the Camino Frances. About 55% of all pilgrims on the camino de Santiago follow this route. The Camino Frances enters Galicia at O Cebreiro and follows route via places like Sarria, Portomarin and Palas de Rei to end in Santiago.
An alternative to the Camino Frances is the Camino del Norte. This route passes through the North of Spain. About 6% of pilgrims obtain for this less crowded route via the beautiful northern coast of Spain.
Another popular way is the Camino Portugues from Portugal. About 25% of the Pilgrims walk from the south to Santiago.
The Camino Primitivo from Oviedo is the oldest Camino de Santiago.
On the following image you can see how the different routes go through Europe. This also makes clear way the Camino Frances is the most popular way.
Credencial (Pilgrim’s passport) and the Scallop symbol
One thing all pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago have in common is they all wear a Credencial del Peregrino with them, better know as the pilgrim’s passport. This pass you can buy at a starting point or simply order online before you start. With this passport you can obtain stamps along the way. At the end of the route you can proof with these stamps that you’ve successfully fulfilled the Camino de Santiago. The pilgrim’s passport has to be stamped daily, and if you start your pilgrimage in Galicia even twice a day.
Besides the credencial most pilgrims also wear a scallop symbol with them. This scallop is the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. During the route you can recognise the way because it’s marked with yellow scallop symbols or yellow arrows.
How to fulfil the Camino de Santiago
There are some rules for fulfilling the camino. There is a minimal distance you have to travel and, as mentioned, you have to get your pilgrim’s passport stamped daily.
The minimum distances for completing the Camino de Santiago are:
- Hikers: 100 kilometers
- On horseback: 100 kilometers
- Cyclists: 200 kilometers
The majority of the pilgrims goes hiking. 94% of all pilgrims goes by foot and 6% on a bike. A horse you rarely see and looks more from ancient times.
Partly because of the required minimum distance of 100 kilometers the place Sarria, about 111 kilometres from Santiago is a popular starting place. About a quarter of all pilgrims start in this Galician village!
When reached Santiago de Compostela you can obtain the official certificate of completing the Camino de Santiago. This certificate is called the ‘Compostela‘ and can be obtained at the official endpoint by showing your fully stamped pilgrim’s passport. If you’ve completed the way of Saint James for non religious purposes you will get the ‘Welcome certificate‘.
Whatever the reason you take part of the camino, all pilgrims experience an emotional encounter when entering the famous Praza de Obradoiro, the square of Santiago’s cathedral, where the pilgrimage ends.
Continue to Finisterre, the end of the world
Some pilgrims don’t stop in Santiago de Compostela and continue to Fisterra (Finisterre). It’s the most western point of Galicia, and also known as ‘the end of the world’. According the legend it’s this place where Saint James first hit land in Galicia. A mythical place, but also a very beautiful place with an impressive coast to finish your trip. As a bonus you will see a nice part of Galicia on the road!