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Walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela

This blog post was updated on November 2, 2018.

The 2012 film “The Way,” directed by Emilio Estevez brought renewed interest in the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (known in English as The Way of St. John), and introduced this historic walk to many Americans.

The Camino de Santiago de Compostela are a series of walking and cycling paths that allow walkers to make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain, where the remains of the apostle Saint James are believed to be buried. The walking trails begin in locations all over Europe. However, the most popular walking trail is the Camino Frances. This part of the Camino begins in Saint Jean Pied de Port in France. From this point, the walk to Santiago de Compostela is approximately 780km  across northern Spain. Although The Way traditionally ends at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, many pilgrims continue walking all the way to the sea.

The symbol of the Camino de Santiago is the scallop shell, which is found on the shores of Galicia. The trail is marked with signs bearing this symbol, and many of the refugios (hostels for pilgrims) along the way are also marked with the shell.

Most pilgrims carry a credencial (the passport of The Way, which can be purchased for a few euros at churches on the Camino). As the pilgrim travels to Santiago de Compostela, the credencial is stamped with the official St. James stamp of each town or refugio along the way. It is a meaningful souvenir to pilgrims, and a reminder of where they slept or prayed during their journey. The stamped credencial also serves as proof to the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago that the pilgrim completed the journey along the official route, which is necessary if the pilgrim wants to obtain his or her compostela, a certificate of completion of the pilgrimage.

People of all backgrounds and ages walk the Camino for a variety of reasons—spiritual, health-related, for an adventure or as a personal challenge. However, almost all pilgrims who have traveled The Way will tell you the same thing: “It changed my life.”


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