So what is this Camino de Santiago we are going to be walking? Perhaps it is more apt to ask, what are the Caminos of Santiago?
- Camino is a Spanish word, meaning “path,” “trail,” or, more generally “way.”
- Santiago is the Spanish term for Saint James, the disciple of Jesus.
The name of the trail is often translated in English as “The Way of Saint James.” The modern day Camino(s) de Santiago follow various ancient tracks across Spain and end at the cathedral in the city of Santiago de Compostela, the traditional burial place of St. James, recreating the ancient pilgrimage walked by millions throughout the past thousand years.
Today the most developed and popular route is the Camino Francés, or “French route,” traditionally beginning at St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees. When most people today talk about the Camino de Santiago, they are referring to this route, made popular in the 2011 Martin Sheen film “The Way“.
The Camino Francés stretched about 800 km (500) miles. There is an amazing system of albergues (pilgrim hostels) every 5-10 km which cost as little as $6/€5 per night. These are dormitory-style accommodations with beds, showers and facilities to wash clothing, some also have a kitchen for preparing meals and other amenities. Many churches feature a special pilgrim Mass of blessing for those on the route.
The Camino is not just for Catholics and not just for Christians, and even in the Middle Ages there was a diverse crew of pilgrims. A 12th-c. song about the Roncesvalles pilgrim hospice said:
“The doors are open to the sick and well
to Catholics as well as to pagans,
Jews, heretics, beggars and the indigent,
and it embraces all like brothers.”
This is the spirit of the Camino which continues to draw pilgrims from all walks of life!