July 25th is the feast day of St. James.
James and his brother John, sons of Zebedee, were two of Jesus’s twelve Apostles. After Jesus’s crucifixion, James took the Gospel westward to unchartered territories—Iberia—and never looked back. Oh wait, he did look back, unfortunately. After receiving a vision of the Virgin Mary, James returned to Judea where he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I in 44 AD.
But that’s not the end of James’s story. No, James’s hagiographers tells how James’s followers risked their lives to bring James’s body back to Iberia. They witnessed several miracles on the way, eventually laying his relics to rest at the edge of the western world: Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain.
Santiago de Compostela is the destination for thousands of pilgrims who make the journey to St. James’s resting place each year. The route is known as Camino de Santiago, or the Way of Saint James.
The most commonly traveled route is the Camino Frances. It starts somewhere north of the border in the French Pyrenees near St Jean Pied de Port. The trail winds 780 kilometers westward across Northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela, though many pilgrims continue a little further west to Cape Finisterre on the Atlantic. Finisterre comes from the Latin for “land’s end”.
The cape was once believed to be the end of the world.
On foot the pilgrimage takes about a month of walking. Peripatetic veterans recommend walking from 6am to 1pm. There are plenty of towns to stop in along the way, and such a schedule figures in nicely with the Spanish siesta, falling around 2pm each day.
The numbers of pilgrims have skyrocketed since the 1980s, when only a few thousand travelers would make the journey each year. These days that number is in the hundreds of thousands. Religious devotion varies among trekkers.
“Modern Pilgrimages seems to be a lot less about religion and more about peace, finding something in their life, a time to think, and for some a challenge…
“I did not set out on a Spiritual or religious journey – but it ended being that way…”