El Camino de Santiago – The Way of Saint James.

People have been making the journey to Santiago de Compostela, in the northwest of Spain, for more than twelve centuries. For some, the walk — which can last days, weeks, and months depending on how you plan it and how you go — is physical challenge, for others it is an emotional one, a slowing down from high speed life to the speed of how far your feet will take you in a day. For some it is just a day’s journey, an excursion from a visit to San Sebastian or Burgos, or Leon. For others it is a month of walking with friendship, in solitude, through hills and flatlands and rain mist, sun and wind. For all who spend time on the Camino, whatever their understandings about faith, at some point they fall in step with the spiritual journey in the footsteps of those who have walked the Way before.

There’s more than one Camino, too.

The most well known and most popular in terms of number of walkers is the French Way, El Camino Frances, which begins in the Pyrenees along the border between France and Spain and heads on into flatter territory while including the cities of Leon and Burgos. There’s El Camino del Norte, which travels more closely by the northern seacoast and the path of an ancient Roman trade route. There is a path which comes up from Portugal, and one which comes from central Spain. There’s the lesser walked Camino Primitivo to the west. The great abbey of Cluny and several other places in France have been starting points for pilgrims over the centuries, and there were, and still are, routes which lead from farther parts of Europe, as well.

The Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela is the goal of whatever route you may take. Perhaps you’ll lean against the door post where the hands of many weary pilgrims have made a mark; perhaps you’ll pray at the statue of Saint James and touch the head of the statue of Mateo, the artist of many of the sculptures you see.

If you’ve been carrying a credential, a pilgrim;s passport, along your way, perhaps you’ll ask for a certificate noting that you’ve made your journey. Perhaps you’ll look for the stories told in the figures on the Baroque front of the cathedral, or meditate in the much older interior of the church. Just maybe, you’ll hear the slap of the sandals of those who have come before. And maybe you’ll share their prayers.


Fiddle player and composer Oliver Schroer set out with three companions, his violin, and small portable recording equipment to walk the Camino one spring. Over course of two months, they walked one thousand kilometers, and recorded both Schroer’s violin and sounds of bells, birds, walkers feet, and the sounds of the space in their improvised recording places — twenty five different churches served as studios over the course of the journey. The result is Camino, a set of music which both embodies the spirit of the Camino and transcends it.

Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen, who are father and son, made a movie about a father who decides to walk the Camino after his son dies while on the journey, called The Way. They wrote a book about their personal journeys into family history and father son connection during the making of the film, too: Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son

Wanting to know more about Spain? Discover Spain does a good job of hitting the highlights of the country through both image and text. There’s a useful section on the regions around the Camino Frances, and good insights on what to look out for at the Cathedral itself, among other things.

photograph of pilgrim’s passport from wiki commons
landscape photographs from El Camino Frances and El Camino del Norte by Piers Nicholson, courtesy of the photographer and of www.santiago-compostela.net

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