El Camino de Santiago: What Is It And Why Is It Important?

by Faith & Life, Family, History of the Church

5ks may be all the rave, but would you walk 75 miles? In Europe, through mountains? On something called The Way of St. James?

El Camino de Santiago is a 75-mile walking pilgrimage from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela (St. James of the Field of Stars). 

Yes, 75 miles on foot.

I guess it depends where you start, but most commonly the path begins in France.

People from all walks of life—not necessarily only Catholics—travel it, which is such a blessing. What a way for God to reach out to every one of us through the beauty He’s created in the land and our bodies.

Legends says that St. James, Spain’s patron saint, was sent to that area to preach the Gospel before he returned to Judaea and was beheaded in 44 AD.

The El Camino de Santiago ends in Santiago de Compostela, where tradition says the body of Saint James the Apostle rests. A 9th-century hermit Pelayo received a dream revealing the remains of St James, to which the bishop he told decided to check and then told the king.

Some say James’ disciples shipped his body to the Iberian Peninsula for burial, but it was shipwrecked and washed ashore covered in scallops. Others say an angel brought his body back and a groom saying his vows on the beach ended up covered in scallops after his horse spooked and dragged him into the water and they miraculously resurfaced. Either way scallops are a symbol for pilgrims along the Way.

El Camino de Santiago was referred to as Finisterae (Land’s End in Latin) when Romans used the path as a trade route. The French also referred to it was Voie lacte’e (the Milky Way) because that galaxy is overhead and seems to point the way, as if God is leading us through it. 

This route may’ve also been a way for people in the Middle Ages to do penance—or even a sentence for civic crimes. Not that walking it automatically gets you into heaven! A pilgrimage is a way to strengthen (or even start) your spiritual life, which is definitely needs to avoid temptations and to have transformations. 

The road years ago was dangerous, for pilgrims and those punished to walk it alike, but today it is a way of pilgrimage, tourism, tradition, and a physical challenge. Small towns along the Way and the companions you may pass foster a social aspect.

Imagine all the stories of those walking it. We too often go through life not telling our story or listening to those who are walking through life beside us, but on the Way, stories are part of the experience.

Many might not walk it for Catholic spiritual purposes, but El Camino remains important because we are nomads on earth (cf. Hebrews 11:13). Even those who aren’t Catholic or even spiritual seek this path out because they, too, are here for the journey. You could completely change your spiritual life with an experience like this.

Buen Camino! (Good way!)

More Catholic Pilgrimage Resources

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