Background notes on the Camino   Leave a comment

I will briefly give some background and offer some resources for anyone interested in walking the Camino. I am intrigued by the legends of how it is that the city of Santiago in Spain’s northern province of Galicia, came to house the remains of St. James, the Apostle, or how the site became the third most visited Christian pilgrimage site, only after Rome and the Holy Land. According to legend shortly after the crucifixion, the apostles dispersed;  James came to the area in what is now Northern Spain to Christianize the population. When he returned to Rome, he was martyred and his remains were then put on a raft that arrived on the coast at Muxía. Queen Lupa, refused to grant his burial three times until a miracle happened. His burial, however, remained forgotten for centuries, until the year 813 when a shepherd saw a bright light over the plains and discovered the burial of the apostle and two of his followers. In no time, the bishop of the area, Teodomiro, declared that the remains were those of the apostle Sant Iago, notified King Alfonso II in Oviedo, and set about building a chapel at the site. In time, they built the Cathedral and the many miraculous events attributed to Santiago Apostol soon made the remains, housed in the Cathedral, one of the most popular pilgrim destinations during the Middle Ages, attracting pilgrims  from all over Europe and Santiago (St. James in English, St. Jaques in French, Giacomo in Italian).  The map below shows the various paths. The RED route in Spain marks  the Camino Francés that I followed from St. Jean Pied a Port to Santiago.


However, what became the Christian pilgrimage route was merely following an ancient “path of the stars” that mirrored the celestial Milky Way on earth to the end of the earth to end at Finisterre. For centuries before the Cathedral was built travelers had followed the path to Finisterre from all over Europe. During the Roman Empire, it was a trade route and many of the roads pilgrims travel upon and the bridges they cross are from the time of the Romans. Today, there are a number of paths that lead to Santiago from various points in Europe and Spain, as indicated in the map. The Camino Francés, is one of the oldest and the most traveled. I felt privileged and honored to have walked the ancient route.

When I was a graduate student in Nebraska, I met the Chair of the Spanish Department at the time, Professor David Gitlitz and his wife Dr. Linda Davidson. It was from them that I first learned about Santiago de Compostela and the Camino. In the late 70s and early 80s when Linda began leading groups of students on the pilgrimage, it was a much more primitive and rustic proposition.  About 10 years ago, they published a wonderful book, The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago: The Complete Cultural Handbook. The Camino– the path itself–has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and with good reason. It retains many of the ancient meanings; it is indeed a treasure for all humankind.

There are many informative web sites that offer information about the Camino; I found  to be a good introduction for anyone wanting to make the trip.  Wikipedia’s entry “Way of St. James” will also serve as an introduction to anyone interested in the legends and history of the Camino.

For pilgrims and others who want to be more involved–say by volunteering to be an hospitalero or hospitalera-The Friends of the Camino web site for the US will be helpful.


Posted November 29, 2011 by normacantu in Uncategorized

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