What is “El Camino”?
Over a thousand years later, people from all over the world are still embarking on this pilgrimage. The route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in 1987; it was also named one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
There are several routes one can take on El Camino de Santiago. The most common route is known as “Camino Frances” and it begins in SJPP (France) before traversing the Pyernees into Spain.
In addition to people undertaking a religious pilgrimage, there are many travellers and hikers who walk the route for non-religious reasons: travel, sport, or simply the challenge of weeks of walking in a foreign land. Also, many consider the experience a spiritual adventure to remove themselves from the bustle of modern life. It acts as a retreat for many modern “pilgrims”.
The compostela is a certificate of accomplishment given to pilgrims on completing the Way. To earn the compostela one needs to walk a minimum of 100 km or cycle at least 200 km. Pilgrims arriving in Santiago de Compostela who have walked at least the last 100 km, or cycled 200 km to get there (as indicated on their credencial), are eligible for the compostela from the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago.
The pilgrim passport is examined carefully for stamps and dates. If a key stamp is missing, or if the pilgrim does not claim a religious purpose for their pilgrimage, the compostela may be refused. The Pilgrim Office of Santiago awards more than 100,000 compostelas a year to pilgrims from over 100 countries.
A Pilgrim’s Mass is held in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compestela each day at noon for pilgrims. Pilgrims who received the compostela the day before have their countries of origin and the starting point of their pilgrimage announced at the Mass.