St. James and Santiago
A Day in Santiago
St. James and Santiago
To medieval Europeans, a pilgrimage (peregrinacíon) was a means of earning extra grace and thus attaining heaven faster. Pilgrimages
were made to many holy places, but the great goals were Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela. The apostle St. James
is known as “Sant Iago” in Spanish. The city which bears his name also is the site of his shrine and burial place. According
to legend, he had preached in Spain before returning to martyrdom in Judea in AD 44. His disciples brought his body back to
Spain, where it lay hidden until AD 844.
Legend tells that he appeared in a vision to Christian leaders and led them to victory against the Muslim invaders, earning
him the title of Matamoros, the Moorslayer. His body and relics were rediscovered at Compostela, which soon became the center
of devotion for Spain's new patron saint. By the 11th century, pilgrims were traveling from all over Europe to pray at Santiago.
The Camino de Santiago
Pilgrims traveled from France, Britain, Germany, Italy and Scandinavia, as well as Spain and Portugal, many of them taking years to complete their journey. By the mid-12th century, between 500,000 and 2 million people were on the move annually, a vast number in relation to the total population. Roads to Spain threaded their way across the Continent, but once across the Pyrenees converged into a well-organized route across northern Spain. This became known as the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James. Administered by a religious military order, the camino was policed and marked along its length, with hostels, inns and churches offering practical and spiritual sustenance to travelers. Towns grew up around the stopping points, with their own churches, hospitals and hospices. Dressed in sandals and heavy capes and armed with stout staffs, pilgrims also wore the scallop shell emblem of the saint in their broad-brimmed hats. On arrival in Santiago, the custom was to enter the cathedral and embrace the golden effigy of the saint placed high above his tomb, while giving alms and thanks in gratitude for the safe completion of the pilgrimage. The Camino Today
The custom of walking the camino died out during the 16th century, but was revived around 1880. Today thousands of people make the journey to Santiago, by car, train, plane and on foot.