The Camino de Santiago’s ‘Camino Frances” is a 790 km (491 miles) trek from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in western Spain. Since medieval times this pilgrimage has hosted millions of travelers en-route to the site of the remains of St. James. The Camino was highly trafficked during the middle ages, but with the black plague and general turmoil of 16th century European history it fell into disuse.
Today, and especially in the year 2010 (a holy year) the numbers of pilgrims will top 200,000. There are many routes to Santiago de Compostela, but by far the most popular is St. James Way which begins in southern France and crosses through such cities as Pamplona, Burgos, Leon and Astorga. Over breathtaking mountains to the east, the cornucopia of central Spain and ending in the Gallic alpine of the west the Camino offers a rich experience for its travelers.
The custom of the locals is that no traveler will be without a roof over their heads and accommodation though “rustic”, is offered up by a very supportive Spanish people. Pilgrims have the options to stay at alburgues, hostels or hotels. Most enjoy the economical approach and within a stones throw alburgues pepper the Camino from start to finish. Food and refreshment are plentiful for these hungry travelers and most bars and restaurants offer a “peregrino special” that is ample and nourishing.
A pilgrim passport called the “credencial” is issued from most local churches. The credencial is necessary for overnight accommodation in the alburgues. At the end of a days walk the pilgrim shows the local church or alburgues his passport and receives a special stamp documenting their arrival at that location. This stamping of the pilgrim passport is proof to the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago that the journey has been properly transversed. The pilgrim’s office in Santiago will issue a “compostela” which is a most cherished certificate given to pilgrims for completing the Camino.
The enduring symbol of the Camino is the scallop shell. In the colors of blue and yellow its representation marks the way for all travelers. The Shell of Saint James plentiful on the shores of the Atlantic was physical proof a pilgrim had walked to Fistera (end of the earth). It also served as a drinking vessel, too. The people of Spain will open their doors and hearts to a traveler with this icon of faith.