For over a thousand years, individuals in search of plenary indulgence, self discovery, and indulgent adventure have braved blisters, rain, and bad chorizo to walk across Spain, the Way of St. James, El Camino de Santiago de Compostela.
We leave our front doors and walk to the end of the world. Ostensibly, we journey to reverence James, the son of Zebedee disciple of Jesus and patron saint of Spain whose remains miraculously returned to Iberia from Jerusalem in a stone boat and were discovered in a field of stars – a Campus Stellae.
In the Middle Ages, we were nearly ten percent of the entire European population who risked all our personal belongings and relationships for fear of our mortal souls.
Then came the Black Death.
And the Reformation.
The flow of pilgrims never completely stopped. John Adams, en route to Paris during the American Revolution to ask for money, walked the Way in reverse and “regretted that we could not find time to make a pilgrimage to Saint Iago de Compostella.” By the 1980s, only a handful of pilgrims were arriving in Santiago each year.
Today, the Camino is a European Cultural Route — the first — and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Pilgrim Office in Santiago awards more than 100,000 Compostelas (the certificate signifying one’s completion of the pilgrimage) each year. International bestsellers by Paulo Coelho,, Shirley MacLaine, and German comedian Hape Kerkeling have catapulted the Walk to the travel mainstream as Martin Sheen’s forthcoming film “The Way” will not doubt do as well.