February 12, 2004

The Pilgrimage to Santiago

The pilgrimage to Compostela emerges within the Christian tradition as a journey of devotion to a saint’s tomb. Alongside this basic feature, other reasons for making this pilgrimage include the desire for adventure or sense of mystery that drew medieval travelers to Finisterre, the place that was believed to be the end of the world, or the mere fulfillment of a canonical or civil punishment for one’s sins or crimes. The existence of other reasons does not take away from the fact that the true meaning of the Camino de Santiago which begins to take shape with the walking of the pilgrims is one of a religious pilgrimage with all of the characteristics that we have seen in all religions.

The great boom of the Jacobean pilgrimage takes place between the 11th and 14th centuries. it is not easy to calculate the number of pilgrims that walked the Camino in that time period. Some sources have offered estimates based on data taken from statistics, passage through specific toll roads, data from pilgrim itineraries, and from other sources. Based on this information, the European Center for Compostelan Studies in Paris has estimated an amount of between 250,000 and 500, 000 pilgrims per year during those centuries. This number seems overstated keeping in mind the demography of that timeframe and the difficulties involved with making a pilgrimage.

Starting from the 15th century a decline in pilgrimage begins until the last decades of the 20th century when a resurgence in the Jacobean phenomenon occurs and there is a growing presence of pilgrims coming from Spain, other European countries, and even from continents which are geographically and culturally different from ours.

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