History and Legends of the Camino

Found this on a website today.  Interesting.

The Camino de Santiago is named for Santo Iago, or Saint James – one of the 12 Apostles and rumored brother of Jesus Christ. According to legend, his body was found in a boat that washed ashore in Northern Spain thousands of years ago. His remains were transported inland and were buried under what is now the grand Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which marks the end of the Camino. His bones were rediscovered in the 9th century, when a hermit saw a field of stars that led him to the ancient, forgotten tomb.

Map of the Camino

Map of the Camino

In the millennium following its re-discovery, millions from all over Europe have walked thousands of miles to visit the remains of the disciple. At the height of its popularity in the 11th and 12th centuries, anywhere from 250,000 – 1,000,000 people a year are said to have made the pilgrimage.

According to Catholic tradition, if you faithfully completed the arduous trek, one’s sins were forgiven. If one completed the pilgrimage during a Holy Year – the infrequent occasion when St. James Day, July 25th, falls on a Sunday – a plenary indulgence was granted, allowing one to bypass purgatory and enter straight into heaven. In the Middle Ages, wealthy aristocrats would often hire people to walk in their name in order to, by proxy, absolve them of their sins without actually setting foot on the Camino.

Historically, many countries have provided criminals with the choice to either serve prison time, or do the Camino. Even today, Belgium will sometimes allow minor crimes to be pardoned by completing the pilgrimage. While, in these cases, the Camino was used as a form of punishment, its impact upon a pilgrim’s connection with themselves and their world community could instead be regarded as an unconventional form of rehabilitation.

The Camino de Santiago’s creation remains shrouded in myth. One such belief, not frequently found in print, is that the Spanish government and the Catholic Church invented the entire story to entice Christians to Spain, so that once there, they could be enlisted to fight against the Moors invading from the South. It is also claimed to be an ancient Celtic route, as well as astrologically and energetically aligned to promise personal transformation and spiritual growth – whether one is seeking it or not.

UNESCO has declared it a Universal Patrimony of Humanity and a World Heritage Site. In 1987, the European Union declared the Camino de Santiago to be the first European Cultural Itinerary. Although originally known as a Christian pilgrimage, the Camino now attracts people of all faiths and backgrounds – from atheists to Buddhists, adventurers to mourners, and college students to retired friends.