El Camino de Santiago

The Pilgrim Routes in Spain

A General Description and some History of the Camino

This website describes my walks through Spain following the ancient pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela. The navigation bars on each page will take you to sections relating to five of the main routes (there are many more) where you can read about my walks and those walks I intend to follow soon. I have also included some snippets of interest concerning the history and customs of some of the places along the way.

The site is not intended to be used as a guidebook because the infrastructure of the Caminos (paths, accommodation etc.) changes from year to year but there are more detailed sites listed on the Links page. This also has a section on books that have helped and stimulated me in my research.  

History

Who was Saint James?
Santiago Cathedral

Saint James (Sant Iago in Spain) was one of the fishermen sons of Zebedee who were called by Jesus to be disciples. James and his brother John were prominent amongst the disciples and were known as Boanerges or sons of thunder because of their fervour.

After the crucifixion of Christ legend has it that St. James went as a missionary to the Iberian peninsular (part of the Roman Empire then) and returned to Jerusalem leaving behind a few converts. Shortly afterwards he became one of the first christian martyrs when he was beheaded on the orders of King Herod (about 44AD).

The legend then continues with the body of St. James being taken by his followers to the coast where a boat was waiting. With the assistance of angels this boat was transported to the Northwest of Iberia where it landed at Padron. The body of the saint was taken inland to what is now Santiago where he was buried in a tomb on a hillside.

The site of this tomb was forgotten for over seven hundred years until its location was revealed to Pelayo, a hermit. At this time most of Iberia had been conquered by Moorish invaders so the discovery of the tomb of one of the apostles became a focal point for the christian revival in the North of the peninsular. The pilgrimage to Santiago became, along with Jerusalem and Rome, one of the most important pilgrimages of the christian world.

The popularity of the pilgrimage was given a boost when Diego Gelmirez, Bishop of Santiago from 1100, became its first Archbishop in 1124. The Benedictine monks of Cluny also influenced the status of the pilgrimage and it became very popular until a decline in the late middle ages. The second half of the 20th Century has seen a revival in the number of pilgrims and a corresponding improvement in the infrastructure needed to support a large number of people walking for long distances across the country.

General Description of the Routes

Caminos

There is no starting point to the Camino, only the end at Santiago de Compostella. Many pilgrims even continue beyond Santiago to Cape Finisterre (The End of the World). There are however certain recognised routes which have been followed for centuries and facilities for rest and provisioning built up along with roads and bridges for the pilgrims. Shrines and churches looked after the spiritual needs of the travellers and this makes the traditional routes more interesting for modern day pilgrims.

Nowadays the routes are maintained by local councils and volunteers, regional governments (especially in Galicia) and some foreign organisations such as the Confraternity of Saint James (CSJ). Some funding has come from the European Union and some from small charges and voluntary donations at the overnight refuges. Local volunteers mark the routes with yellow arrows and other signs and attempts are made to divert the walkers away from busy roads and motorways which in many cases coincide with the medieval routes.

I have restricted this site to the routes in Spain and then only to the routes I have walked or intend to walk, given sufficient health, time and money. The links page should be of help to anyone wishing to delve deeper into the history and practicalities of the various Caminos.

If you wish to contact me with any suggestions, errors, omissions or anything else you can reach me here:
Tom Vickerse-mail

You can use the links below or the navigation bars at the top and bottom of each page to reach more detailed descriptions of each route.

El Camino Frances
Samos

This is the route most people think of when referring to the Camino. It is by far the most popular with modern walkers with lots of infrastructure. Three routes from France meet near the small French town of St. Jean Pied-de-Port and cross the Pyrenees via the pass at Roncesvalles. Another route crosses the Somport pass and joins the main camino at Puente la Reina. The cities of Pamplona, Logrono, Burgos, Leon and Astorga are visited but most of the route is through open countryside.

I walked this route in 1993 then again in 2002, both times starting from St Jean Pie-de-Port.

La Via de la Plata
Giralda This route heads north from Seville following an old Roman and Moorish road to Astorga where it joins the Camino Frances for the remainder of the way to Santiago. On the way the Camino passes through the medieval cities of Zafra, Merida, Caceres, Salamanca and Zamora.
 
 
El Camino Fonseca
Cea

An offshoot of the Via de la Plata. From Salamanca the way coincides with the main route but from the village of Granja de Moreruela (north of Zamora) it heads in a northwesterly direction to enter Galicia through the province of Ourense. Also known as the Camino Sanabrés because it passes though the fortified hill town of Puebla de Sanabria.

I walked this route in early Summer 2006, starting from Zamora.

El Camino del Norte
Oviedo

This follows the north coast of Spain from the French border to Galicia then turns inland to cross the hills to Santiago. The cities of San Sebastian, Bilbao, Santander and Oviedo (or Gijon) are visited before the route leaves the coast at Ribadeo.

El Camino Primitivo
Lugo A very ancient route from the Asturian capital of Oviedo, through the Roman walled city of Lugo to Join the Camino Frances at Palas de Rey or Melide. The modern pilgrim can use this route as an alternative western stage of the Camino del Norte.