What is the Camino de Santiago in 2019 for pilgrims? We reflect on the meaning of the Jacobean route and how it has changed with the passage of time
The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage route of Christian tradition (although it is not the only one), but today it is carried out by very different motivations by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year. The Camino de Santiago does not have a defined starting point; each pilgrim can start it from any point of the numerous Jacobean routes that run through Spain and southwestern Europe; You can start it, if you want, even from the door of your house. What is common to all the routes is its end, in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in the northwest of Spain.
The meaning of the Camino de Santiago today, in 2019, is very diverse and totally depends on each pilgrim. Many pilgrims travel mainly for religious reasons: they seek to reach Compostela (place of pilgrimage) to pay their respects to the remains of the Apostle Santiago. However, from the late twentieth century the motivations of the pilgrims are diversified: many begin to embark on the Camino de Santiago looking for a new experience, wanting to live an adventure, leave your comfort zone, play sports or practice a totally different way of doing tourism.
Unlike today, in the early days of the Camino de Santiago -in the middle of the Middle Ages- the motivations of the pilgrims were purely religious, so the meaning of the Jacobean route for the first pilgrims was totally different from what it is. now. In the years of greatest splendor of the Camino de Santiago, between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries, the pilgrimage to Compostela was a trip with enormous risks for the walker, exposed to all kinds of dangers, such as assailants, scammers, wild animals, the cold of winter, or the lack of signage (in ancient times the path was marked with stakes, not with cairns or yellow arrows), with few points to refresh or rest.
The Camino de Santiago was a test of faith for Christians who embarked on this journey, a feat that took many months to complete, if they survived to tell. The pilgrims, arriving from all Europe, faced a double trip; the one of the going to Compostela and the one of the return to the home after completing it, although many did not obtain it and spent their last days in the Way of Santiago. The most fortunate, it took years to return home after leaving for the tomb of the Apostle; yes, with the scallop shell hanging and a letter issued in the cathedral of Santiago that proved that they had completed the risky adventure.
The Camino de Santiago has more than a thousand years of history behind it. After almost four centuries of splendor suffered its great decline in popularity with the arrival of the Black Death, which ravaged the continent in the s. XIV; Europe was greatly diminished, the countryside and the abandoned cities and the pilgrimage routes took a back seat. With the recovery of the continent, the Camino de Santiago re-greened, but without ever recovering the importance that it once had, passing into complete oblivion until many centuries later.
In the middle of the 20th century, the authorities began to invest very slowly in the recovery of the Camino de Santiago, putting their heritage to value, until the phenomenon exploded again decades later, with the recognition of the pilgrimage route as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, which gets the claim of pilgrims from around the world. Today, in 2019, the Camino de Santiago continues to grow without signs of weakening, breaking records of influx, surpassing the figure of 300,000 pilgrims per year arrived at the Cathedral of Compostela.
The Camino de Santiago of the s. XI has nothing to do with the Way of the beginning of the s. XXI, with an enormous offer of services for the pilgrim and perfectly signposted in all its routes. The Jacobean route is no longer a dangerous journey (quite the opposite) for the pilgrim, who can return home comfortably by train, bus or plane, regardless of how far he has to travel and without risking his life. As we said, the motivations of the pilgrims have diversified and are no longer solely religious; On the other hand, the brotherhood among the pilgrims is still intact, as well as the economic impact of the Camino de Santiago in the regions it crosses, promoting commerce and business, just as it happened in medieval times.
It is difficult to know how far the Camino de Santiago can go. There are many questions in the air: will the diminishing weight of religion affect Western societies?
© Copyright LA VOZ DE GALICIA S.A. Polígono de Sabón, Arteixo, A CORUÑA (ESPAÑA) Inscrita en el Registro Mercantil de A Coruña en el Tomo 2438 del Archivo, Sección General, a los folios 91 y siguientes, hoja C-2141. CIF: A-15000649