A Pilgrimage on The Camino de Santiago
This May we will return to Spain for a pilgrimage walk on The Camino de Santiago. The Camino de Santiago, also known in English as “The Way of St. James”, is a network of routes throughout Spain that end at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. The tradition has endured for 1300 years.
Origin of The Camino de Santiago
In 711 AD, Spain was invaded by the armies of Islam. Within 7 years they had conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula. In 718 AD, A Visigoth nobleman named Pelagius defeated the Moors and founded the Kingdom of Asturias in the northwestern corner of Spain (Today known as the separate regions of Galicia and Asturias). By 791 AD, King Alfonso II had been elected King of Asturias and ruled this kingdom from the Christian seat of power in Oviedo. Around this time it came to his attention that the tomb of Saint James the Greater, one of the twelve Apostles, had been discovered in Compostela.
It is thought that St. James was martyred by King Herod Agrippa I. Tradition has it that his body was taken by boat to the lands of his previous evangelic life in Spain. It landed on the shores of Galicia and his remains were taken inland and interred in a field in Compostela.
Subsequently, knowledge of his tomb was lost until the 9th century, when it was rediscovered. The King rode to Compostela upon receiving this news. His chosen route has come to be known as the Primitivo (which means “the first”). After satisfying himself that the tomb contained the remains of St. James, the King ordered a basilica to be built over the apostle’s tomb. Word of the basilica spread quickly throughout the Christian lands and soon pilgrims from around the known world began to make the long trek to Compostela (the city now known as Santiago de Compostela).
Those were dangerous times and a pilgrimage to Compostela meant encounters with the Moor armies who were still on the move north and had not given up their attempt to take Asturias. The Knights Templar had been tasked with protecting the road to Compostela and there are many accounts of them, and the King’s Army, doing battle with the Moors in protection of the Camino and its pilgrims. Fortunately, the Moors were never able to conquer Asturias in part due to the Cantabrian Mountains that protect that part of Spain.
It is thought hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over Europe made the long and arduous trek to Compostela. The most popular route is known as the “Frances” and begins in Saint Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees. That route is 800 kilometers (500 miles) long and takes about 30-40 days to complete.
The Primitivo Route-323 km (200 mi)
The Primitivo is viewed as the first pilgrimage route because it was the road that King Alfonso II, the first pilgrim, used to travel to Compostela from Oviedo in Asturias. This was also the route taken by early pilgrims who were coming from northern Spain and Europe prior to the Frances route becoming popular.
Walking The Camino de Santiago- Primitivo Route
This route is remote in sections and considered as the most physically demanding of all the routes. It follows an old Roman Road and leads the pilgrim through some difficult ascents and descents as it crosses over the Cantabrian Mountains with its incredible views of the Picos de Europa. Unlike the Medieval era, the most dangerous aspects of the route today are blisters, encounters with livestock, and the dreaded bedbugs.
The route is broken into stages and the length of each one is determined by the individual pilgrim’s physical ability and time constraints. However, the average stage is about 20-25 km per day. This distance makes it possible to arrive in towns and villages with albergues (pilgrim hostels) that host pilgrims for the night.
Lodging along “The Way”
In Medieval times, pilgrims would rely on the residents along the route to provide them with lodging and food at no cost. More often than not, these accommodations consisted of sleeping in someone’s barn or on the floor of their simple homes. Many towns created hospitals for sick and injured pilgrims to rest, or die.
Fortunately for modern pilgrims the local municipalities, private individuals, and the Church have established albergues along the routes to cater to the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who still make pilgrimage each year. An albergue is a pilgrim-only hostel that provides a bed, hot showers, and often a kitchen where the pilgrim can cook their own food. It is also a place where pilgrims meet and frequently form what is termed as a “Camino family”. This is a group of pilgrims that end up walking the same stages and thus form family like bonds of friendship. This tradition to provide lodging has existed since the beginning of the Camino.
The cost of staying at an albergue ranges in price. Some are run by religious orders and are donation only. The pilgrim donates what they can afford but it’s expected that at least 5 Euros is offered. The majority of the albergues are municipal and run by the local government; these can range from 5-10 Euros per night. Individual owners have also opened privately run albergues that generally cost more than the municipal run ones. Their cost can be 10 Euros per person or more, per night.
You Carry Your Gear
One aspect of walking the Camino de Santiago that hasn’t changed in 1300 years is that the pilgrim carries their belongings on their back. Therefore, the rule of thumb is to limit the weight of your backpack to 10-15% of your ideal body weight. This means that you will be carrying only the essentials needed for your hike: A sleeping bag, a change of clothes, extra socks, rain gear, basic toiletries, and water. Unlike wilderness backpacking, you do not need to carry food for multiple days. Every few kilometers you pass a small town where you can usually obtain food, drinks, and of course wine. Being more remote, the Primitivo has sections where there are no services. You will need to plan ahead for breakfast and lunch. I will discuss packing in my next post.
Our Planned Stages (May 14th -May 27th)
Because metric is the unit of measurement that is used in Spain, distances are in kilometers.
Stage 1: Oviedo to Venta de Escamplero 12.8 km
Stage 2: Venta de Escamplero to Cornellana 25.7 km
Stage 3: Cornellana to Bodenaya 20 km
Stage 4: Bodenaya to Campiello 26.3 km
Stage 5: Campiello to Berducedo via Hospitales 27 km
Stage 6: Berducedo to Grandas de Salime 21.4 km
Stage 7: Grandas de Salime to Padrón 28.1 km
Stage 8: Padrón to O Cádavo Baleria 23.4 km
Stage 9: O Cádavo to Lugo 30.5 km
Rest day in Lugo (Ancient walled city dating back to the Roman era)
Stage 10: Lugo to Ponte Ferreira 26.9 km
Stage 11: Ponte Ferreira to Boente 26.2 km
Stage 12: Boente to Santa Irene 19.2 km
Stage 13: Santa Irene to Santiago 22.8 km