The pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostel

The pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostel

Publié le : 2022-07-13 18:30:00
Catégories : Religious News

Sommaire :

1- What is the religious significance of pilgrimage?

2- To make a pilgrimage is to make an inner journey

3- A transformed return from a pilgrimage

4- The history of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela

5- The discovery of the tomb of Santiago in Compostela

6- The development of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela

7- Variations according to the times

8- The pilgrimage to Santiago today

9- Being a pilgrim in the 21st century

10- Some figures on the pilgrims to Compostela

11- Different ways of making the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela



On 25 July 2022, the feast of Santiago de Compostela will take place. The celebrations will begin earlier in Compostela, around 15 July. The climax of the celebrations will take place on the same day in the Cathedral of Santiago. One of the attractions of this celebration is the Botafumeiro ceremony: a huge thurible swings at high speed in the transept of the building, which is filled with the smell of incense.

This celebration of Santiago, spectacular as it is, is only one sign of the fervour that exists around the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Earlier this summer, we will examine the religious significance of pilgrimages in general, explore the extraordinary history of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, and consider what this pilgrimage has become today.

What is the religious significance of pilgrimage?

Pilgrimage is not only a Christian practice: it is also a strength of Islam, Buddhism, but also of other world religions.

During a pilgrimage, one makes a long journey to a sacred place. Today, fast means of transport allow travellers to quickly reach the desired pilgrimage site. Despite modernity, many pilgrims still choose traditional means of transport and some may make all or part of the journey on foot.

Making a pilgrimage means making an inner journey

The importance of pilgrimage has always gone beyond simply where one goes. Making a pilgrimage means going on a journey, experiencing a strong inner adventure. For several decades, Santiago de Compostela has been particularly interested in the revival of pilgrimages. Every year, more and more people flock to its various routes.

In the past, pilgrimages were made to ask for a particular grace or to be forgiven for a specific fault.

Today, many of those who go on pilgrimages are not believers. However, a very high percentage of non-believing pilgrims attach spiritual significance to their journey. The journey itself is experienced as an inner journey. The route, the stages, the encounters, all these aspects of the journey are an opportunity to step out of one's comfort zone and confront the outside world.

A return transformed by pilgrimage

This is why, today as in the past, one does not return from a pilgrimage as one left it.

In Islam, there is even a term for someone who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca: he is said to be a Hajji. The pilgrim is also defined as such by his clothing and his respect for others. Also in the Christian religion, the person returning from the pilgrimage has made a journey that has transformed him or her.

The history of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela

The pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela has a special status because today it is experiencing an extraordinary renaissance. Before that, the history of this pilgrimage spans more than a thousand years. It has been marked by many ups and downs.

The discovery of the tomb of Santiago de Compostela

The pilgrimage was established in the 9th century following the discovery of a tomb in Galicia by the hermit Pelagos. Pelagos is said to have had a revelation during his sleep about the location of the tomb. He is said to have been guided by a shower of stars to the site of the tomb, on which a burial mound stood. According to legend, it was this shower of stars that gave the site of Compostela its name. This tomb was attributed to the apostle James of Zebedee, a contemporary of Christ and a martyr who was beheaded by Herod in the 1st century in Jerusalem. His body is said to have been recovered and brought back to Compostela by his companions.

Soon the relics were officially recognised by the ecclesiastical authorities of the time, giving rise to a pilgrimage.

The development of pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela

Several historical facts contributed very quickly to the development of Santiago de Compostela as a place of pilgrimage:

- At the time, Spain was partly under Muslim rule. The apostle Santiago was a representative of Spanish identity and his cult was strengthened during this occupation.

- In the following centuries, the reconquista further developed the cult of Santiago. This led to an influx of pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela.

- At the same time, the success of this pilgrimage site was also due to the taking of Jerusalem by the Turks in the 11th century. At that time, European Christians were left with only two major pilgrimage sites, Rome and Santiago.

Periodic variations

The peak of the pilgrimage to Santiago in the Middle Ages occurred in the 13th century. Each year, several hundred thousand pilgrims flocked to the site.

In the following centuries, historical events caused a gradual decrease in the number of pilgrims:

- In the 14th century, several episodes of the Black Death followed by the Hundred Years War created a climate of insecurity for travellers.

- In the 16th century, the advent of the Protestant Reformation challenged the cult of relics.

- In the 17th and 18th centuries, the wars between Louis XIV and Charles V created administrative complications for pilgrims.

- From the 17th to the 19th century, the development of the cult of Mary created other pilgrimage sites in Europe.

From the 19th century, with the rediscovery of the relics and their authentication in 1884, the pilgrimage was revived. In the 1980s, John Paul II himself made two pilgrimages to Compostela, which definitively revived this place of worship.

The pilgrimage to Santiago today

Being a pilgrim in the 21st century

Today, the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela has never been more alive.

The Santiago routes have been progressively retraced and upgraded throughout Europe. Little by little, as in the Middle Ages, reception places are being developed and facilities for pilgrims are multiplying.

However, we are far from the ancient times of the Middle Ages and pilgrimage today has a new face. Most modern pilgrims continue to make the journey on foot, carrying their personal belongings. However, means of transport make it possible to adapt to modern life and make the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago in stages.

Making a pilgrimage in the Middle Ages meant setting off for several months or years on an adventure involving great uncertainty. Today, the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago can be walked safely thanks to modern communications and equipment.

Even the scallop shell, which many carry in their backpacks, remains a strong symbol of the pilgrimage. It was originally carried by travellers who ate the shells on their way to Santiago de Compostela.

Some data on Compostela walkers

In 2019, a total of 350,000 pilgrims walked the roads of Compostela. 94% of them travelled the route on foot, 5-6% by bicycle and some travelled on horseback or in wheelchairs.

Fortunately, all these people take different routes to reach Santiago de Compostela. The most popular route is the so-called Camino Francés, used by about 60% of walkers. Other pilgrims are divided between the Portuguese routes, the Camino del Norte along the Spanish coast and other routes throughout Europe.

Finally, Spaniards make up about half of the walkers, but other European nationalities are also present: French, Italians, Germans and others. Some pilgrims come from other continents to walk the Camino de Compostela: mainly Brazilians and South Koreans.

Different ways of making the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela

These very different profiles of walkers lead us to question everyone's approach to pilgrimage.

90% of pilgrims say that they walk for spiritual reasons: half of them do it for religious reasons, while the other half do it for personal reflection and self-reflection. Finally, other pilgrims do it more for historical, sporting or accompanying reasons.

There is another way of making the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela: by receiving pilgrims, welcoming them, providing them with food and accommodation, some Christians actively participate in the pilgrimage to Compostela. Whereas in the Middle Ages the reception of pilgrims was mainly reserved for the religious, today it is Catholic volunteers or hoteliers who take care of pilgrims.

For volunteers, as for some tourism professionals, welcoming walkers on their way is also a bit like being a pilgrim.

Our world, which is increasingly confronted with the search for the essential and the need for meaning, can explain the renewed interest in the Pilgrim's Way. Immersing oneself in the Pilgrim's Way for several days or weeks is a way of breaking with one's habits and coming face to face with oneself, whatever one's beliefs may be.

Partager ce contenu