The Camino Today

Why do people do the Camino?

Whereas in the Middle Ages, the Camino was pretty exclusively a penitent pilgrimage to the tomb of St James the Apostle in exchange for absolution from your sins; nowadays it has evolved into something more holistic.

The reasons that people make their Caminos range enormously. Of course, many pilgrims go because of their faith and want to observe the traditional religious practices along the way. There are others who simply see it as a long hike through beautiful countryside and gastronomy. But in fact we find that most modern pilgrims fall somewhere in the middle. 

For us, the Camino is a much-needed opportunity to get away from the busyness and stress of your everyday commitments, where you can clear your head and be with your own thoughts.

Doing the Camino has given me more faith in myself and in my abilities.

People fall in love with the independence, living to your own schedule, often spontaneously, without deadlines or dependants. The traditional pilgrim will refrain from booking their accommodation and even their journey home in advance, offering maximum flexibility and scope for spontaneity. And although at busier times of year and on busier routes it is advisable to book ahead, you can still enjoy make your own itinerary without needing to compromise for the needs or wants of others. 

The opportunity to mix with people from all over the world is also a real draw for modern pilgrims. Of course, this didn't used to be the case until modern times but the social element of the pilgrimage has blossomed in the last few decades, and pilgrims often find friends out on the Camino who they stay in touch with for the rest of their lives! No matter what your background, nationality or beliefs, the Camino attracts all types of person and walking together can be incredibly bonding.

Thirdly, what people love most about the Camino is the simplicity. Living out of the contents of your relatively small rucksack for weeks at a time affords a minimalism that most people are not used to, but which is very conducive to a calm mind. The spirituality of the Camino is much talked about among pilgrims, but there is a mysticism to it which makes it difficult to relate to someone who has never done it! Truly, it is an experience to be experienced. To read more about what CSJ members have called the 'Spiritual Dimension,' click here.

If you pilgrimage to Rome, you discover the Pope. If you pilgrimage to Jerusalem, you discover Jesus. If you pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, you discover yourself. 

How many people do it?

The number of pilgrims who have reached Santiago has multiplied in recent years due to increased exposure in the media and popular culture. Its growing popularity has led to improved infrastructure, literature, and accommodation available, particularly on the Camino Francés – which is now becoming increasingly overcrowded. 

In 2018, more than 327,000 pilgrims received the Compostela, the personalised Latin certificate from Santiago Cathedral to acknowledge completion of the pilgrimage. Of these, two thirds had come via the Camino Francés. For a full breakdown of the statistics of pilgrims that come into Santiago – click here.

What are the rules?

There are no real rules for doing the Camino. Although normal standards of courteous behaviour are expected in the places you stay!

If you want to stay in any pilgrim hostels, you will need the credencial (pilgrim passport) – a small booklet inside which you have your personal details and several pages for sellos (stamps) to collect from hostels, churches and cafes along the way to document your journey.

If you want the Compostela from the cathedral in Santiago, you will need to have walked or ridden on horseback the last 100 km of the route you are doing or cycled the last 200 km. You will also need to specify a spiritual or religious motivation when you collect.

Note, there is also the Certificado – the certificate for those that specify cultural or sporting motivation. 

The CSJ and similar pilgrim associations throughout the world exist to help the modern pilgrim, by providing advice and information, and issuing the Credencial which you can read more about here.

Nothing more rewarding after a hard day’s walking than a warm welcome, a new pilgrim stamp, a decent bed and a meal with pilgrims from literally all over the world.

The Cathedral of Santiago

The great cathedral of Santiago is the the goal of the Camino pilgrimage.  Every pilgrim arrives in the square in front of it, the Plaza Obradoiro, and can gaze up at the beautiful façade with its many statues of Saint Iago, Saint James, himself.

There's usually someone in the square outside the cathedral who is in tears. After such an emotional journey it's normal 

Pilgrims are normally welcome in the the cathedral, though not with their rucksacks.  On St James Day, 25th July, and other holy days, a giant censer, the famous Botafumeiro, is swung on ropes from the floor to the vaults, emitting clouds of incense over the people inside. 

For regular updates on the Covid restrictions at the Cathedral, visit their website here.

The pilgrim mass on Sunday in the church of San Francisco in Santiago was a joyous occasion, packed full of people from around the world. It didn't matter what language you spoke!

Santiago and the Compostela

Swinging the Botafumeiro

THINGS TO DO IN SANTIAGO

There are a plethora of things to do once you reach Santiago de Compostela. Apart from being a beautiful city in its own right, there are churches, museums, and exhibitions many of which offer a pilgrim discount. And if you're not too exhausted(!), there is some lovely walking around its parks, through its ancient cobbled streets, and of course even onwards to the coast!  The seaside town of Finisterre was once believed to be the end of the world, hence its name, and nowadays offers spectacular views, sweeping beaches and a special mysticism that Camino pilgrims can identify with. 

The CSJ sell a booklet on the city of Santiago city which gives all the details about what there is to do when you arrive. Available for just £5 here in our online shop

HOLY YEAR XACOBEO 2021

When the feast of St James the Apostle (Santiago) falls on a Sunday, it is said to be a "Holy Year."  Taking place on 25th July, the last Holy Year was in 2010, and after 2021, the next won't be until 2027.  Typically, Holy Years mean a huge surge in the number of Camino pilgrims, and the city becomes extremely busy, particularly around Easter and the feast of St James. 

It is a very exciting time to do your Camino and to be in Santiago - but we recommend very strongly that you book your accommodation as far in advance as possible because of the increased numbers of pilgrims. 

Holy Year celebrations

Top tips:

The Hotel de los Reyes Católicos gives away 10 free pilgrim meals three times a day. If you take a photocopy of your Compostela (they will keep it) you can take advantage of this for up to 3 days.  Make sure you queue at the garage door, down the ramp to the left, and collect the meal on a tray from the kitchen. There is a small dining room set aside for pilgrims.

It also gives you reduced-price access to the Cathedral museum, and is supposed to give access to the refugios for those making the return journey the way they came.

For anyone on pilgrimage to the Cathedral but travelling by air/road/rail etc, it is now possible to buy a Certificate of Visit from the Archicofradía Offices in the Plaza de la Quintana (€3) to commemorate your visit there – please see the Cathedral website.

The Compostela

The Compostela is like a Certificate of Welcome. Pilgrims must present their credencial and answer questions about their personal details and their motivation for doing the Camino. Once the Pilgrim Office worker is satisfied that you have either walked the last 100 km or cycled the last 200 km, you will receive your final stamp in your credencial and be issued with either:

  • The Compostela (still written in Latin) confirming the completion of the Camino) if you state “religious” or “spiritual” as part of your reason for doing the pilgrimage
  • Or the Certificado, the certificate for pilgrims who have done it for other reasons or have not quite met the requirements of the Compostela

See the Pilgrim Office website for details about how to qualify for a Compostela and a translation of the Latin text.
The compostela and certificado are free, but you may make a donation if you wish.

You might also want to purchase a Certificate of Distance to record exactly how far you have walked or ridden (€3), and a tubo (€2) (a cardboard tube to protect your compostela or certificado). Alternatively, shops nearby will laminate your compostela in plastic for a small fee.