The Camino de Santiago: A Pilgrimage of Nature, Culture, Adventure as well as Religious Heritage

The Camino de Santiago: it conjures up images of romantic nature, physical challenge, a Pilgrim’s religious contemplative journey. But did you know the route is also viewed as an adventure of a lifetime, a cultural immersion, and an iconic hiking or walking route? Did you also know that the Camino is actually various routes one can choose, all of which end in the city of Santiago de Compostela?

The Camino de Santiago can be done by almost anyone as an iconic journey of a lifetime. Click To Tweet


What is the Camino de Santiago?

The Camino de Santiago is “The Way of St. James”.

It is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St. James (Santiago in Spanish) in Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.

Camino de Santiago refers to the different routes leading to Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia. Here, in the cathedral, are the remains of the saint.

Santiago de Compostela old town is a UNESCO-listed heritage site since 1985 and its University dates to 1495.

Traditionally pilgrims used to start their ‘Camino’ from their own homes, so there are many routes that are the Camino, starting in France, Portugal and Spain.

Therefore, the Camino is a long-distance trail with thousands of kilometers across Europe that combines off-road tracks with country trails, small roads and pavement, particularly getting in and out of bigger towns and cities.


Why are the Routes Marked by a Scallop Shell?

The yellow scallop shell and yellow arrows mark the way to Santiago.

The scalloped shell is painted on trees, tiles and on signposts or implanted in sidewalks with the arrow and helps travelers find their way.

But, what does the scallop shell mean?

It is said to be a metaphor for the many routes that all lead to one place. It is rooted in practical purposes, too.

The Medieval pilgrims wore the shell as a handy and light replacement for a bowl so they could be used to hold food and drink on their long journey. Pilgrims would also be given food at churches and other establishments, and a scallop shell scoop was the measure for the food they would receive as a donation. Wearing the shell, then, marked them as pilgrims.

The Symbol of Fertility and the Setting Sun

The scallop shell was also considered in pre-Christian times a symbol of fertility and many travelers were couples with the wish of children in their hearts.

The scallop was also a symbol of the setting sun, so this land is called Fisterra (“Finis Terrae”), or the “end of the world”, which was a place of magical powers for pre-Christian communities. In fact, Kilometer 0 of the trail is not in Santiago de Compestela, but in Cape Fisterra by the Atlantic Ocean. Today, the shell is a memento for travelers who complete a route, found either in the souvenir shops surrounding the Cathedral de Santiago, or in the seaside town of Fisterra, for those traveling a coastal route.

The Ancient Link Between the Scallop Shell and the Saint James Way

There are many stories, legends and myths trying to explain the ancient link between the scallop shell and the Saint James Way.

It is no coincidence that in French the scallop is called Coquille Saint Jacques, while in German scallops are called ‘Jakobsmuscheln’ (James mussels). It has been said that either the knight who carried the body of St. James (or his horse after falling into a river) was covered the scallop shells.

Find your way along the many routes of the Camino de Santiago by following the scalloped shell markers. Click To Tweet
The Camino de Santiago: A Pilgrimage of Nature, Culture, Adventure as well as Religious Heritage

“Faith, without works, is dead.” ~Saint John

The meaning of this quote is: “If a brother or sister is lacking clothing and enough food for the day, yet one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but you do not give them what they need for their body, of what benefit is it (Faith)?”


How can I Commemorate My Journey on the Camino de Santiago?

You can have a special route pilgrim’s passport stamped each day proof of your journey.

It needs to be stamped at least once a day; twice a day if you are starting your Camino in Galicia. *Please note in order to receive any of the certificates issued by the Pilgrims Office in Santiago your finishing point must be Santiago de Compostela.

You receive the Compostela certificate.

If you are traveling the route for religious reasons, like over 200,000 pilgrims who arrive in Santiago each year, you will receive a Compostela certificate. The ‘Compostela’ is the original religious certificate written in Latin, expended by the Church when pilgrims prove they have either walked 100km or cycled (or travelled on horseback) 200km to Santiago de Compostela.

This Camino passport (Credencial del Peregrino) will be proof that you have walked the 100km necessary to obtain your ‘Compostela’ or ‘Certificate’, the official documents that are a testament to your journey.

Walkers, Cyclers, or Riders can receive the Certificate of Welcome.

Those who walk, cycle or do the journey by horseback as a sport or cultural experience and other non-religious reasons can obtain a non-religious version of the Compostela, called Certificate of Welcome. The same rule of 100km for walkers and 200km for cyclists and horse riders apply for this certificate.

You can obtain the Certificate of Distance in Addition to the Compostela.

Another certificate, a Certificate of Distance is also available, stating the starting point and distance walked/cycled of each pilgrim, available in many different languages. This can be obtained in addition to the ‘Compostela’.

Compostela and Welcome certificates are issued to pilgrims with properly stamped Camino passports on a donation basis by the Pilgrims Office in Santiago.

Culminating Your Special Camino Journey as a Religious Pilgrim

You have come all this way, so a visit to the cathedral and a Mass would be the way to end your sojourn.

You can request a Cathedral Visit Certificate (Certificado de visita a la Catedral), also from the Pilgrims Office. You then take your pilgrim certificate to the pilgrim mass to sit in the seats reserved for pilgrims.


How to Choose the Right Camino Route for You?

There are so many routes of the Camino de Santiago, and of varying degrees of difficulty from easy to challenging, that your journey can be tailored to your needs and time limit. Click To Tweet

Earlier in this blog I mentioned that there are many different routes, connecting from all over!

You can experience The Way many different times over the course of a lifetime; don’t think that you are limited by just one choice, or there is only one “right” way to the journey.

So, whatever your considerations are for this first- or fifth- trip, here but a few of the different ways to experience The Way:

  1. The Camino Primitivo or Original Camino is the oldest Camino de Santiago route, as this was the route followed by King Alfonso II the Chaste in the 9th century, from the city of Oviedo, in Asturias, to Santiago de Compostela. This was the first Camino de Santiago trail when most of Spain was under Moorish control. The first stage of the Camino Primitivo, across the mountains, is one of the most challenging of all Camino routes but the scenery along this way is simply breathtaking.
  2. The most famous Camino route is the Camino Frances or French Way, starting in St Jean Pied de Port, in the French Pyrenees. The trail from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago is 800kms long and takes approximately five weeks to complete. Remember, however, but you can start your Camino at any point. In fact,many pilgrims start their trip from Sarria, in Galicia, to walk the last stretch (111kms) of the route; this can be done in under a week or in 10 days at a more leisurely pace (why not?).
  3. Your journey can be as social or as solitary as you want it to be. It all depends on the route chosen for the purpose you want. Here it is best to consult with an expert to design your perfect travel itinerary.
  4. Your trail can be as challenging (or not) as you want it to be. It depends on your desires, purpose, ability- and with whom you are traveling this time. You can have longer or shorter journeys, depending on your time. Some will take weeks; others want to travel over the course of a week, or simply walk a portion as a part of a larger vacation. You can challenge yourself by the route through the high Pyrenees mountains. You can travel along the coast through fishing villages along an easier route perfect for families on the Portuguese route. You can choose an art-and-gastronomy route and not end in Santiago de Compostela by heading north through San Sebastian, Bilbao and Santander; and further on the green Northern coast to the seaside town of Ribadesella. There is even a way for the trip to be started in Ireland with a special stamp that then allows you to finish in Santiago de Compestela!

Basically, The Way is there for you to be done your way.  It is a journey of a lifetime!

When you work with Enlightened Journeys Travel to set up your (or your group’s) journey along the Camino de Santiago, we take care of your lodgings in hotels and inns along the way (eliminating the need to hope for the best at first-come; first-served pilgrim hostels, while incorporating cultural experiences or church visits if you want them) and we secure your official credential necessary to document your journey issued by Santiago Cathedral. We love to cater to church groups, families or friends and clubs!

If you’d like to have more ease in your travel planning, I’d love to help!

You can stay informed and inspired in planning your travel in 2018 by reading more of my blogs. You can also follow me on Facebook. Twitter @enlitndjrntrvl, and Instagram @enlightenedjourneystravel. Sign up to receive the blogs and a newsletter filled with more insights and offers so you don’t miss a thing.

luxury travel advisor Theresa Jackson on one of her adventures journeys

At Enlightened Journeys Travel, we design handcrafted travel itineraries for your immersive journeys of a lifetime.

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