Religious Destination: Santiago de Compostela

The three major pilgrimage destinations in Christianity since medieval times are Jerusalem, Rome and here, Santiago de Compostela, in northwestern Spain. Santiago is Spanish for St. James. He was one of Christ’s twelve Apostles.

The pilgrimage route with World Heritage status starts in France, and stretches for more than 800 kilometers in Spain. It would take more than a month to walk the entire route. After crossing the Pyrenees, pilgrims reach the town of Roncesvalles. Pilgrims can receive a Pilgrim Record at the pilgrimage office where it gets stamped.

St. James’ remains were discovered in Santiago at the beginning of the 9th century. The local cult associated with the saint spread throughout Europe in the 11th century. It was believed all sins would be forgiven by making a trip to Santiago. The Maundy ritual here hasn’t changed since medieval times: the pilgrims feet are purified with water and there is a prayer for the pilgrims safety during the remaining journey. Meals and accommodation are available. Everything is run on a voluntary basis at the various stops on the way.

Monte de Gozo, or the Hill of Joy is just 5 kilometres short of the Cathedral. This is where pilgrims get their first glimpse of the Cathedral. The Santiago cathedral welcomes all pilgrims. Tens of thousands of them have laid their hands on this pillar – a groove has been worn in the stone. The pilgrims pay their respects to St. James depicted at the top of the pillar. A mass to celebrate St. James takes place on the 25th July each year. The spirit of medieval times lives on with the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

santiago de compostela - photo by Mario Sánchez Prada / Flickr

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