The Camino de Santiago is the name of any of the pilgrimage routes to the shrine of the apostle St James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
This was one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the Middle Ages, and today attracts huge numbers of walkers and cyclists, plus a few on horseback, many of whom consider themselves pilgrims, along with those doing it for reasons of tourism, sport, the particular challenge of a strenuous walk or as a retreat experience removed from day-to-day concerns.
There is a network of pilgrims’ hostels providing basic overnight accommodation and food at modest prices. To qualify it is necessary to obtain and carry a pass called a credencial or pilgrims’ passport, which can be bought through tourist agencies, the Confraternity of Saint James in the UK (http://www.csj.org.uk) or at pilgrim venues along the route. This passport should be stamped in each town or hostel stayed in to qualify for a certificate of completion on arrival in Santiago, subject to having walked at least 100km or cycled at least 200km.
A Pilgrims’ Mass is held at the cathedral of St James at noon each day, with mention of the countries of origin and starting points of pilgrimage of those receiving their credencials the previous day.
Paulo Coelho’s book The Pilgrimage and Emilio Estevez’s film The Way starring Martin Sheen are based on the Camino experience.
There are a number of internet sites offering advice on the Camino de Santiago, including the Confraternity of Saint James which also has an office, bookshop and library in central London close to Blackfriars Bridge, open to the public at various set times or by appointment.