Camino de Santiago
In every way imaginable, the road to Santiago soars high above any efforts of definition or explanation. Whether describing the intriguing history, a host of past legends, or the differing routes across the nations, the words, however fascinating, pale in comparison to the experience. Some things just need to be tasted. It is literally step by step that the greatest truths are to be found, and in doing so, the Camino roars to life. Having said that, its origin and history are quite enchanting, and are more than worthy of review.
The roots of both Santiago de Compostela and the pilgrimage itself reach all the way back to the early 9th century. At that time, a hermit by the name of Pelayo discovered the tomb of Saint James (one of the twelve disciples in the Bible). Legend has it that James was beheaded in Palestine, and two of his followers placed his body in a boat and set him out to sea. With no captain at the helm, the journey defied all odds with the ship finding its way to the Galician coastline and the Apostle's body eventually buried on Mount Padrón. Month by month, and year by year, all was eventually forgotten. Until the year 813!
True to Camino form, the discovery of the grave went hand in hand with the miraculous, the story providing the key ingredient to its illustrious name. Compostela (or campus stellae), is so named because the light of the stars guided Pelayo to the ancient burial site. The magnificent Santiago Cathedral now stands on the very same spot.
Within three hundred years, the small settlement evolved into a thriving city that has never looked back. Year after year, a growing number of pilgrims from all around the world were drawn to Santiago in the hope of securing eternal pardon for their sins. As a result, the city (along with Rome and Jerusalem) became one of the major hubs of the Christian world. So popular was the pilgrimage that in the year 1135, a French cleric, Aymeric Picaud, wrote a corresponding guide.
Arguably the first ever travel guide, the Codex Calixtinus explained the principal routes of the Way in both France and Spain. No detail was considered too small in this practical, and often life-saving, guidebook.
The best known amongst the many routes to Santiago, and as described by Picaud, is the Camino Francés (the French Way), often referred to as the Ruta de las Estrellas (the Way of the stars, or the Milky Way). This route starts in Saint Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees, and travels westward for nearly eight hundred kilometres (following the yellow arrows and scallop shell markers) to the legendary city of Santiago de Compostela.
The Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James) is a unique and endless mixture of discoveries. Mountains, dirt roads, cathedrals, local legends, bridges and monasteries are but a mere handful of the memorable treats on offer. However grand these things may be, the journey is infinitely more. It is a beautiful combination of external and internal discovery, and a rare chance in this modern world to radically change one's life. Over the centuries, the Camino has been imbued with the powerful goodwill of a billion pilgrim footsteps, making it the perfect catalyst for a life-changing experience.