Curious facts about the Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Santiago is a collection of routes full of curiosities. These pilgrim routes have more than 1,000 years of history and have been the place of passage for all kinds of people.

Curious facts about the Camino de Santiago

Their antiquity and popularity make the Camino de Santiago a place full of curious details that not many pilgrims know. That is why in this blog post about the Camino de Santiago we want to tell you some of the curiosities that we like most in Santiago Ways.

Curiosities of the Camino de Santiago in the Middle Ages

In this section, we want to share with you some curiosities of the Camino de Santiago related to its golden age during the Middle Ages. Some of them have endured to this day and others have disappeared.

The oldest pilgrim route is the Camino Primitivo

Although as we told you in our article on the origin of the routes for the Camino de Santiago,  they are all equally as authentic, the first was the Camino Primitivo. King Alfonso II was the first to complete it, after the discovery of the remains of St James the Great or Santiago the Apostle in Compostela.

The number of Caminos de Santiago are infinite

Currently the routes of the Camino de Santiago are delimited in a certain way, since only some routes have the signage and the infrastructure necessary to make the pilgrimage a simple experience. However, a curiosity that many people are unaware of is that, in the Middle Ages, the Camino de Santiago departed from the house of every pilgrim.

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    The first guide to the Camino de Santiago is from the 12th century

    The first guide to the Camino de Santiago is Book V of the Codex Calixtinus. The original document is to be found in the Cathedral of Santiago, although there are handwritten copies in various cities of the world.

    Worshipping the tomb of Santiago the Apostle is an act of faith

    There is no reliable evidence to show that the remains guarded in the Cathedral of Compostela belong to Santiago the Apostle. As much as the Catholic Church assures that the remains actually belong to this saint, it will never allow scientific tests to be carried out to confirm it.

    In the Middle Ages favours were offered for doing the Camino de Santiago

    Yes, we’ve said it many times. The motivation for doing the Camino de Santiago are not always religious. This happens today and happened too in the Middle Ages.

    After the advance of the Reconquista and with the transfer of power from Oviedo to León, the Camino Frances began to become popular among pilgrims of the Middle Ages. A curiosity that few know, is that as a strategy to spread the Camino Frances, the kings Sancho III the Great and Sancho Ramírez offered, to rich and powerful pilgrims from other countries, marriage commitments and gifts.

    The Botafumeiro and its true origin

    A curiosity about this impressive artefact is that it was installed to disguise the bad smell of the pilgrims from the Camino de Santiago. This happened in the 14th century.

    curiosities of the Camino de Santiago

    Since then, the huge censer has fallen apart more than once. Luckily, with no fatalities.

    The origin of the name Monte del Gozo

    All pilgrims who follow the Camino Frances to the Cathedral of Santiago cross the Monte del Gozo. From there it is possible to see the towers of the Cathedral of Santiago.

    The curiosity of the Camino Frances that few know, is that the name of this mountain comes from the expression: “mi felicidad o mi gozo” ( “my happiness or my joy”). Something the ancient pilgrims shouted when they reached that point of the journey.

    Spaniards were forbidden to dress as pilgrims

    During the origins of the Camino de Santiago, pilgrims dressed like other travellers. However, over time, very specific clothing was consolidated that defined the pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago.

    This was formed by a short coat that did not bother them when walking, a layer that served to protect themselves from the cold and the staff, with an iron tip. At the end of which, they used to hang the pilgrim’s pumpkin that served to transport water.

    When this dress was established in the society of the time as an identifying symbol of the pilgrim, rogues and ruffians began to proliferate. A curiosity of the Camino de Santiago at that time, which almost no one knows, is that Philip II, in 1590, forbade Spaniards to wear such clothing, to prevent fraud.

    The Camino de Santiago fell into oblivion for two centuries

    It is common to hear about the Camino de Santiago as a medieval route. In fact, it was in the 9th century with the discovery of the remains of Santiago the Apostle that the pilgrim tradition was established.

    However, a curiosity that not everyone knows about the Camino de Santiago is that from the end of the 18th century to the end of the 20th century, its routes fell into oblivion. It was from 1965 that work began on their recovery.

    Today’s Curiosities

    In this block of the article, we want to tell you about some of the current curiosities on the Camino de Santiago. Many of them are the result of the process of recovery of the pilgrim routes and their evolution.

    There are places which remain alive thanks to the Camino de Santiago

    This is one of those curiosities that no one who has done the Camino de Santiago will doubt. Many of the villages that cross the pilgrim routes are almost unpopulated and the few inhabitants who live in them are dedicated to providing services to pilgrims.

    A clear example is Foncebadón. This small town on the Camino Frances was completely abandoned and in ruins in 1990. After the popularization of the Camino Frances, this small mountain village was revived. Today it has several services and population that resides in a stable way in the town.

    The yellow arrows haven’t always been there

    If there’s one thing everyone identifies the Camino de Santiago with, they’re the famous yellow arrows. However, these have not always been on the pilgrim routes. In 1980, with his efforts to recover the Camino de Santiago, Elías Valiña, a parish priest from O Cebreiro, designed them.

    Sailing is also recognized as a mode of pilgrimage

    The most popular way to do the Camino de Santiago is on foot. The bicycle and the horse occupy the second and third place, respectively.

    What few know is that the Pilgrim’s Office also recognizes a sailing pilgrimage. Specifically, last year almost 150 people completed the boat experience.

    The Andalusians are the ones that make the most pilgrimages

    Although the Camino de Santiago is increasingly international, and on its routes, it is possible to find pilgrims of all nationalities, Spaniards continue to be in the majority. Of these, Andalusians are the most adventurous to abandon the comfort of home to live the experience.

    There are two kilometre zeros

    Unsurprisingly, kilometre 0 is located at the burial place of Santiago the Apostle. However, if you continue to Camino Finisterre, there you will find another marker indicating kilometre 0.

    routes full of curiosities, Camino de Santiago

    That means if you do that route upside down, you’ll start from kilometre 0 to get to kilometre 0. What futuristic films might call a black hole.

    The Camino Frances is the only one listed as a World Heritage Site

    In 1993, UNESCO declared the Camino Frances a World Heritage Site. This is related to the enormous diversity of routes that existed in the Middle Ages. To bring order to chaos, UNESCO decided to have the cataloguing granted to the busiest route in antiquity.

    The Camino de Santiago isn’t popular, but the Camino Frances is

    Another of the curiosities related to the Camino de Santiago is that, contrary to those who think, not all routes are equally popular. Each year it is estimated that approximately 300,000 pilgrims obtain the Compostela, after completing the minimum kilometres required to request it.

    However, the vast majority, almost 60%, do so by following the Camino Frances. That means that the Camino de Santiago is not as crowded as some people claim, what is overcrowded is the Camino Frances, especially during the summer.

    If you are looking for peace of mind you can opt for other much less popular routes. Some of them are:

    • Camino Inglés
    • The Camino Primitivo
    • Via de la Plata
    • The Camino Sanabrés
    • Camino de Invierno
    • Camino Portugués
    • The Camino del Norte
    • The Spiritual variant of the Camino Portugués
    • The Camino del Salvador

    Sarria is the town that concentrates the largest number of hostels per square metre

     If the Camino Frances is the most popular, the last kilometres on this route, from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela are the ones that concentrate the greatest influx of pilgrims. Therefore, it is not surprising that Sarria is the place that concentrates the largest number of hostels. Nothing more and nothing less than 30 hostels, all of them in Rúa Maior.

    It’s Compostela and not Compostelana

    Most pilgrims talk about obtaining the Compostelana after finishing their pilgrimage to Santiago. However, this is a misconception that has become popular. The certificate issued by the Pilgrim’s Office to all those who have traveled at least 100 kilometres on foot, or 200 by bicycle, is called Compostela.

    The compostelana is a woman who lives in the city of Compostela. Only those who fall in love with a place, take a compostelana home. The rest will have to settle for the Compostela.

    Most pilgrims lie about their true motives

    Another of the curiosities of the Camino de Santiago, which seems to be quite popular among pilgrims, is that if you indicate that pilgrims for reasons other than religious ones, the certificate issued by the Pilgrim’s Office is different.

    That is why many pilgrims declare to make the Camino de Santiago for religious and other reasons. Nothing more and nothing less than 48%.

    Less than 10% indicates that it is pilgrim for non-religious reasons. However, we know that many of them want to live their experience for other reasons, as we told you in this article on the current motivation about doing the Camino de Santiago.

    It is becoming more common to find pilgrims walking in the opposite direction

    The popularization of the Camino de Santiago has led many pilgrims to seek alternative routes. Ways to live the experience in a different way from the rest.

    That is why it is increasingly common to find pilgrims doing the Camino de Santiago in reverse. Some do so, going back home, undoing the route they have already taken, just as pilgrims in the Middle Ages.

    Others take advantage of the pilgrimage to Santiago to continue on the Camino Portugues to the Sanctuary of Fatima. And a few, for the pleasure of doing the opposite.

    The Camino Primitivo is the one that has the least asphalt

    Those pilgrims who do the Camino de Santiago by bike appreciate the stretches of asphalt because they are less at risk of falling. However, for the vast majority of pilgrims, who go on foot, the kilometres of asphalt are the most complicated and the most boring.

    One of the curiosities that few know is that the Camino Primitivo is the route that has the fewest kilometres of asphalt. That is an added difficulty for the bikegrims on the Camino Primitivo and a pleasure for the pilgrims who do it on foot.

    El Camino Ingles is the only route that does not join the Camino Frances

    All the routes of the Camino de Santiago that run through the Iberian Peninsula join the Camino Frances in its final stages. The only exception is the Camino Ingles.

    However, it is also worth noting that although the Via de la Plata joins the Camino Frances in Astorga, this route uses the variant of the Camino Sanabres. The latter also does not join the Camino Frances.

    The Camino de Finisterre is and isn’t a pilgrim route

    Generally the Camino de Finisterre is a route that is made from Santiago de Compostela to the Cape Finisterre. If you do it in this direction, it is not considered a pilgrim route, but an epilogue to the Camino de Santiago.

    However, if you leave from Muxía, passing through Finisterre, and heading towards the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, it is considered a pilgrim route. In that case, you can apply for the Compostela.

    We hope that the curiosities of the Camino de Santiago that we have told you about in this article have been interesting. We love all those little details of pilgrim tradition. Which one of them surprised you the most?

    If you want to know more curiosities about the Camino de Santiago, we advise you to consult our article on the truths about the Camino de Santiago and the one about customs and traditions. And if you feel like reading on, why not? Continue with pilgrim legends.

    We’ll leave it here for now. Remember that if you want to do the Camino de Santiago with the help of a specialized agency, you can contact our team. Leave us a comment or write to us on our Facebook page.

    Buen Camino!