The present-day pilgrimage

 

"However sceptical one may be about the basis of the pilgrimage and the legends surrounding it, one cannot help being affected by it.  Maybe it's the simplicity of the life and the closeness to nature that makes one conscious of deeper realities and I hope, as a result, I have learned to be a better person, or at least I will try to be."

- an English pilgrim, 1998

The last 30 years have seen an extraordinary revival of interest in the pilgrimage to Santiago. The route known as the Camino francés was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in October 1987, and inscribed as one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in 1993 (click here for the relevant webpage).  Many thousands of people each year now make their way, on foot or by bicycle - sometimes also on horseback - along the ancient ways.  There are as many reasons for this revival as there are pilgrims. It is noticeable, however, that many people make the pilgrimage at a turning point in their lives, and that many are helped to come to terms with personal crisis by a period of separation from all that is familiar, and the shared hardship of the road. One of our members reflects on the spiritual dimension of the pilgrimage on another page of this website, and a French pilgrim, Philippe Do Ngoc, includes on his site the témoinages of a number of pilgrims who have been affected by the experience (as well as a page of prayers for pilgrims).

We have included on this site an essay written in 1997 by our former chairman, Laurie Dennett, on the Spirit of the Pilgrimage, and another, written when she stepped down in January 2003, called Gifts and Reflections: a distillation of her 20 years' experience of the pilgrimage.

Numbers have been growing steadily - and in Holy Years, there are more pilgrims than ever.

Some start from their own homes, or from other places nearby which have special significance for them; many head for one of the traditional asssembly points in France: Paris, Vézelay, le Puy-en-Velay, or Arles, and then follow one of the old routes to the Pyrenees and the beginning of the Camino francés in Spain. Those with less time either start from a point on the route nearer to Santiago, such as St Jean Pied-de-Port or Roncesvalles (this is the most popular starting point for Spanish pilgrims); or make the pilgrimage in stages, as holidays allow, picking up each year where they stopped the year before.

The growing popularity of the pilgrimage has meant that the routes where the infrastructure of waymarks, published guides, and pilgrim accommodation was first to develop - the Camino francés in Spain and the le Puy route in France - have become pretty crowded.  Other routes, especially the Via de la Plata in Spain and the Vézelay route in France (though this does feed into the Camino francés) have developed very rapidly in recent years, and provide entirely feasible, very attractive, and much quieter alternatives to the more traditional routes.

The cathedral authorities in Santiago require that pilgrims must 1) carry the credencial or pilgrim passport (which entitles you to a place in the Spanish refugios) and produce it, stamped and dated at each stage of the journey; 2) have walked or ridden on horseback the last 100 km to Santiago, or cycled the last 200 km, and 3) declare a spiritual or religious motivation, to qualify for the Compostela, the traditional Latin certificate of pilgrimage. There is a certificado, also in Latin, for those making the journey for other reasons, or not meeting the Cathedral's criteria.

There are no other "rules" about how you should make your pilgrimage: but you will find among pilgrims to Santiago and those who support them a clearly defined ethos - a stong sense that certain attitudes and ways of comporting oneself are appropriate to the pilgrimage.  This is summed up in the need to be true to oneself and to respect the motivation of others. Laurie Dennett's first essay, referred to above, covers this more fully.

The Confraternity and similar pilgrim associations throughout the world exist to help the modern pilgrim, by providing advice and information, and issuing (in the case of the Confraternity, to members only) the credencial.

How to contact the Confraternity
 

Some statistics

The Cathedral at Santiago records the number of pilgrims receiving the Compostela each year:
 

1986
2,491
  1999(Holy Year) 154,613
1987
  2,905
  2000 (Jubilee Year)
55,004
1988
  3,501
  2001
61,418
1989 (Pope's visit)
  5,760
  2002
68,952
1990
  4,918
  2003
74,614
1991
  7,274
  2004 (Holy Year)
179,944
1992
  9,764
  2005
93,924 
1993 (Holy Year)
99,439
  2006
100,377 
1994
15,863
  2007
114,026
1995
19,821
  2008 125,141
1996 23,218   2009 145,877
1997
25,179
  2010 (Holy Year) 272,135
1998
30,126
  2011 183,366

The pilgrim office at Santiago keeps daily, monthly and annual statistics.

In the mid 2000s, roughly 60% of pilgrims each year were men, 40% women (though the proportion was apparently reversed in Holy Year 2004); 80% make the journey on foot, 20% by bike . Some 39% of pilgrims are up to 30; 37% are between 31 and 50; 23% are 51-70; and 1% 71+).  Most pilgrims are Spanish (ca 70%), with Germans and French predominant among the remainder. See

For a more detailed breakdown, click here; and here for another (German captions, but figures clear enough).

For the numbers of pilgrims staying at the Confraternity's refuge in the mountains of León, by country of origin and means of making the pilgrimage, click here. Similar figures for our newer refuge at Miraz are here.

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