Journey along the Way of Saint James
For many of the Christian faith the Way of St. James is a religious pilgrimage that is of great significance to them. For many tourists, hiking the Way of St. James is an adventure that takes them on paths that are not often explored by visitors and an opportunity to discover the beauty of the landscapes and noteworthy sights along the way. But either way, both pilgrims and hiking enthusiasts end up at the same destination, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
The cathedral is located in Galicia, which is situated in the northwestern region of the country. It is here that the tomb and final resting place of Apostle Saint James can be found and there are a few versions of how his body came to be buried in Spain. One version explains that St. James was sent to Spain to preach, but was summoned to Palestine where he was beheaded on orders given by Herod Agrippa. Disciples later took his body and sailed back to Galicia where they buried him in his tomb. Another version describes how his body was thrown into the ocean upon his death where it washed up onto the shore near Galicia. From after his burial, all stories seem to agree that his tomb was discovered in approximately 813 by a hermit, and Alfonso II commissioned that a church be built on the site. It is said that in 844, St. James appeared in the battle of Clavijo, and on top of his mighty steed he led the Christian armies to victory. Many representations of St. James on horseback have been painted over the years, referring to him as St. James the Moor-Slayer.
The Way of St. James, or el Camino de Santiago as it is known in Spanish, does not consist of one planned route for pilgrims to follow. There is an extensive network of routes to follow that runs alongside and over what is viewed to be the main route. For example, there are four different routes to choose from when leaving France; and depending on how much time pilgrims and hiking adventurers have, they can plot their route from anywhere in Europe. In Spain, the main route is extremely well established and all pilgrims need to do is follow the shells that mark the path.
When making the journey, it is recommended that pilgrims ask any tourist agency in Spain to purchase a Credencial, or pilgrims’ passport. In the passport, pilgrims will be able to build a record of their journey, getting an official St. James stamp in the towns and villages they pass through. It also serves as proof of travel, as pilgrims have to walk at least a hundred kilometers or cycle two hundred kilometers to earn their compostela, which is a certificate to confirm that a pilgrim has completed the Way of St. James.
At the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, pilgrims cue for hours to touch the St. James statue behind the altar or place their hands on the column inside what is referred to as the Portico de la Gloria. And even if some visitors do not participate in the rituals at the cathedral, the hike alone will be worth their while, as they will be exploring while discovering the importance of the pilgrimage.