Characteristics of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela

Today we want to talk about the traditions that flood the Camino de Santiago, the customs that the passing of thousands of pilgrims have been creating on the pilgrim route. If you have read our article on the reasons for doing the Camino de Santiago, we assume that you already know that pilgrimage to Santiago is much more than just a trip.


The Camino de Santiago is a spiritual experience, beyond the religious beliefs of each one of us, laden with traditions and customs, full of symbolism. Each pilgrim throws themselves into the adventure of doing the Camino de Santiago as something personal, but, no doubt, the spiritual motives are present in many of them.

On the pilgrim route, there is a feeling that is quite common among all pilgrims, it is a journey of transformation. Hence many of the rituals and customs of the Camino de Santiago are interpreted in this line.

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    The feeling of renewal, of rebirth, and starting over, runs through all the routes that are directed to Santiago. For many, the Camino de Santiago is a metaphor similar to the legend of the Phoenix that rises from its ashes.

    A journey of purification of the body and the soul. Kilometre by kilometre the pilgrims leave behind, worries, problems, mistakes and bad memories. Some of the rituals of the Camino de Santiago base their origin on this desire for resurrection.

    In fact, when they have finished, one of the lessons that the pilgrims learn on the route is that with less emotional baggage, life is easy. Here we tell you what are the rites and traditions on the Camino de Santiago that help so many people to come home with totally renewed energy.

    Customs and traditions on all the routes of the Camino de Santiago

    The customs and traditions that the pilgrims have established on the Camino de Santiago form, to a great extent, the pilgrim culture. Therefore, in order to fully understand the process of pilgrimage it’s necessary to understand the meaning of some of those traditions.

    The ritual of the piles of stones on the Camino

    If you have already completed the Camino de Santiago once, you probably have found some curious piles of stones. In the past, this practice was done to signal the correct route and show the walkers who came behind a confirmation that they were on the right track.

    However, with the passage of time, the custom was gaining a new meaning. So that today, every stone that stands in the way, symbolizes pain or guilt. There are many rituals on the Camino de Santiago that try to express repentance.

    This tradition has spread throughout many parts of the world and nowadays it is common to find all kinds of landscapes plagued by small mountains of stones. Ecologists are not very happy with this custom because they say that it changes the ecosystem and harms the flora and fauna of the place.

    The custom of leaving wooden crosses

    On all the routes of the Camino de Santiago, it is common to see a multitude of wooden crosses hanging from fences, in crossroads, altars, etc. The pilgrims have the habit of collecting fallen branches of the trees, with which they form crosses and decorate the Camino de Santiago.

    The origin of this pilgrim tradition is not very well known. It is believed to have begun as a way of honouring the death of loved ones. At present, it is also used as a way to show passing a particular place.

    If you decide to be part of this tradition it is important to remember that crosses are made with fallen branches. You mustn’t damage trees to get the wood.

    Customs and traditions on the Camino de Santiago Frances

    The Camino Frances is the most famous route to Santiago since the Middle Ages. Therefore, it is one of the routes to Santiago that contains a greater number of customs and traditions. Now, we tell you some customs that are only done on this pilgrim’s route.

    The tradition of having a glass of wine at the Irache Fountain

    A free glass of wine for all the pilgrims. Yes, although it is difficult to believe in the Camino de Santiago happens this type of miracle. A fountain that emanates wine and water throughout the day and to which anyone can approach to toast with the pilgrim’s scallop.

    The wine fountain is located in the Navarre town of Ayegui, on the stage that finishes at Los arcos on the Camino Frances. It is owned by Bodegas Irache and there is a camera there that allows you to see the Pilgrim’s route live. The following texts can be read on the walls of the wine fountain: The following texts can be read on the walls of the wine fountain:

    “To drink without abusing it, we invite you with pleasure. To be able to carry the wine, you must be a Compadre “

    “Pilgrim if you want to get to Santiago with strength and vitality, take a drink of this great wine and toast to happiness”

    Its construction was carried out in 1991 and since then it is a tradition on the Camino de Santiago, making a stop in the place and toasting happiness. No wonder that the ritual takes effect, most pilgrims pass by it first thing in the morning, as many of them begin that stage from Estela, a few kilometres from the unusual fountain.

    The custom of throwing a stone at the Cruz de Fierro

    This is one of the most literary ways and traditions of the Camino de Santiago. According to this rite, the Pilgrim must carry in their backpack, from his place of origin, a stone as big as their sorrows, guilt and anguish. When you get to the Iron Cross, you will throw the stone.

    Customs of the Camino de Santiago Frances Iron Cross

    The symbolism of this tradition is interpreted in various ways. For some it means, to leave behind the past, to get rid of the physical and emotional burden that they carried on their journey. Others point out that with this ritual you get spiritual protection on the Camino de Santiago.

    Some historians point out that this pilgrim tradition goes back to the rituals of the Galician reapers and the nomadic shepherds. Those who passed by the Iron Cross, on their way to Castile, used to throw a stone over their backs.

    Whatever the origin, this ritual has been established as a true tradition on the Camino de Santiago laden with symbolism. The mast base of this cross, located at the highest point of the Camino de Santiago, in León, is totally surrounded by stones.

    Customs and traditions in Santiago de Compostela

    At the end of the Camino de Santiago, the arrival in Santiago de Compostela, is not exempt from customs and rites. Here are some of the rituals performed by pilgrims on arrival at the tomb of Santiago the Apostle.

    The ritual of hugging Santiago the Apostle

    One of the most famous rituals of the Camino de Santiago is the embrace of the apostle. Of all the pilgrim customs, this is one of the few that are preserved from the origin of pilgrimage to Santiago.

    The hug on the back to Santiago means the end of the Camino de Santiago. It represents the reunion with God, with faith or with oneself.

    Custom of giving a hug to Santiago the Apostle

    The gesture is a symbol of gratitude to the Apostle for helping the pilgrim to complete the feat. This tradition on the Camino de Santiago is so widespread that to access the statue of the apostle are formed long lines next to the alcove.

    The tradition of going to the Pilgrim’s Mass

    Another of the customs extended among the pilgrims of the Camino de Santiago is to attend the Pilgrim’s Mass in the Cathedral. In it, the people who have come during the day to Santiago de Compostela are blessed. Although undoubtedly, one of the most anticipated moments by all, is the spectacle of the Botafumeiro.

    The custom of hitting Mateo on the head

    Another of the customs and traditions of the Camino de Santiago is to hit master Mateo on his head. Its figure is located in the central mullion of the Portico de la Gloria.

    According to this rite, striking the image transmits wisdom and intelligence. However, since the year 2005, making the three traditional head butts on the image has been forbidden.

    The rite of placing of the hands

    Another of the rites of the Camino de Santiago that has also been banned is the placing of the hands. This was also carried out in the mullion of the Portico de la Gloria, on a chiselled cavity.

    The conservation plan of the Cathedral of Santiago banned this practice dating back to the 11th century. The origin of this pilgrim tradition is not well known but it is known that during the Middle Ages the pilgrims placed their hand instead of praying.

    Later, and with the greatest popularization of the Camino de Santiago, prayers were replaced by quick pleas and desires. Some interpretations of this tradition point out that the gesture was also made as a symbol of belonging to the community of Santiago and as a bond of union with other pilgrims.

    The tradition of the Holy Years

    The lucky ones who visit the Cathedral of Santiago in Holy Year, that is to say, those years in which the 25th of July falls on a Sunday, they will be able to enjoy a very select pilgrim custom: The one of crossing the Holy Door. This entrance to the cathedral is only open during holy years.

    Traditions and customs on the Camino de Santiago to Finisterre

    If you do the epilogue of the Camino, to Finisterre, which is already a tradition in itself, you can enjoy other traditional rituals of the Camino de Santiago. This stretch of the pilgrim route is full of mysticism and beliefs, mostly pagan. Here are some of the traditions and customs of the Camino de Finisterre.

    The rite of bathing in the cold water on the Costa da Morte

    The pilgrims who arrived in the old days to the Costa da Morte, the epilogue of the Camino de Santiago, really needed a good bath. For that reason, they threw themselves without squeamishness to the Langosteira beach to take away the dust and the mud.

    This practice established the belief that naked bathing on this beach contributes to figurative cleansing of the soul. This purification ritual is only suitable for the brave, as the water is normally very cold.

    The tradition of burning belongings in Finisterre

    The last of the rituals on the Camino de Santiago that we will comment in this post has to do with the purifying element par excellence: fire. The rite of igniting boots or any other garment that symbolized our past life was very widespread among the pilgrims who visited Cape Finisterre.

    According to pilgrim culture, the fire took the sorrows and obsessions from modern life. From the ashes arose the inner peace that would accompany the pilgrim from that moment.

    Like other traditions and customs of the Camino de Santiago, this one is also currently banned. The high volume of pilgrims who travel the pilgrim routes every year does not allow many of the rites of the Camino de Santiago to continue, without jeopardizing the environment.

    What do you think of the traditions and customs of the Camino de Santiago that we have told you in this article? If you liked it don’t forget to share it on Facebook, we all love to know these kinds of curiosities.

    Do you know more traditions related to Pilgrim’s rebirth? We want you to tell us! Leave us a comment!

    Buen Camino!