The remains of Sant Iago (St. James the Apostle) were discovered in 816, buried in a field in Galicia in the north west of Spain. It is said that a sometime hermit, Paio, was directed to the site by a divine light encircled by stars. The field became known as the campus stella (field of stars) - hence the current name Santiago de Compostela. St. James is the patron saint of Spain.
Camino de Santiago - (The Way of St. James)
Camino de Santiago refers to the various pilgrimage routes throughout Europe, all of which lead to Santiago de Compostela. Originating over 1,000 years ago, these routes started from the pilgrim’s hometown. Irish pilgrims started from St. James’ Gate in Dublin, close to where the Guinness Brewery has stood in more recent centuries. All the routes merged at the Pyrenees and continued in a single trail to Galicia. This route was called ‘Camino Francés’ (the French Way), starting at the French side of the Pyrenees in St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and passing through Roncesvalles, Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos and León on its way to Santiago (780 kms) - about 35 days walking. Later other routes emerged - The Coastal Route, The Eastern Route, The English Route, The Portuguese Route, and The Camino de la Plata, which begins in Seville. Today, more than 100 different routes have been recognised, but the ‘Camino Francés’ is, by far, the most popular route. This route is dotted with interesting towns and villages, cathedrals, churches, monasteries, hospitals, inns, hotels, cafes and restaurants. At the entrance to the Galician region you can still see the pallozas – ancient Celtic roundhouses with stone walls and thatched roofs.
Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela is the capital of Galicia, and is the final destination of the renowned pilgrimage route. Regarded as one of Spain’s most beautiful medieval cities, it has been declared a National Monument and a UNESCO World Heritage site. At the heart of the town is the harmonious Plaza del Obradoiro dominated by its awe-inspiring Cathedral. Santiago is a compact, lively and buzzing university city with long arcades and narrow cobbled winding streets, almost entirely pedestrianised.
The Baroque entrance to the Cathedral, raised two stories above the Plaza Obradoiro, is very impressive. The Cathedral is crowned with a statue of St. James attired in traditional pilgrim costume. The Cathedral was, and is still, the goal of every pilgrim. The traditions associated with the pilgrimage include the practice of touching the Tree of Jesse under the statue of St. James in the main entrance, Portico de la Gloria, and “hugging the Apostle” - embracing the Statue of St. James behind the high altar, before descending to the tomb of the saint in the crypt. A special pilgrims’ Mass is celebrated at noon each day. The cathedral’s huge incense burner or botafumeiro, swung right across the transept by eight men, is now only used on certain ceremonial occasions - it was originally used on a daily basis to offset the unpleasant body odours of trail-weary pilgrims!
In recent years, the Camino has undergone a revival helped in no small way by the visits of Pope John Paul 11 in 1989, American actress Shirley MacLaine, who wrote “The Camino – A Journey of the Spirit” based on her experience and, of course, the visit of our own President, Mary McAleese. Today, the Camino is recognised as one of Europe’s most important cultural/religious itineraries. Tourists and pilgrims alike travel the road by foot, bicycle, horseback, private car and by coach.
EACH TRAVELLER HAS A DIFFERENT REASON FOR MAKING THIS JOURNEY:
some are on a spiritual quest; others wish to explore the rugged and unspoilt landscapes; discover Romanesque monuments and treasures or simply savour the local gastronomic delights. Whatever the motivation, travellers arriving in Santiago will be guaranteed a warm welcome and an enormous sense of satisfaction at their achievement!