The Pilgrim’s Pumpkin

The Pilgrim’s Pumpkin on the Camino de Santiago is part of the classic outfit worn by the medieval pilgrim, along with the staff and leather bag. This led to this pumpkin variety (lagenaria siceraria) being popularly known as the Pilgrim’s Pumpkin.

The Camino de Santiago Pumpkin is part of the classic outfit worn by the medieval pilgrim

That is why we would like to dedicate this article to this peculiar symbol of pilgrimage. Here’s where the Camino de Santiago Pumpkin comes from and how it was used during the Middle Ages. At the end of the article, we’ll also tell you about other characteristic elements of pilgrim’s clothing.

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The origin of the Camino de Santiago Pumpkin

The pumpkin that characterized pilgrim’s clothing during the Middle Ages on the Camino de Santiago does not originate from the pilgrim’s route. The lagenaria siceraria pumpkin has been used since time immemorial and therefore its use goes back to before the history of the Camino de Santiago.

Origin and precedence of the Pilgrim’s Pumpkin

Regarding the geographical origin of the Pilgrim’s Pumpkin, there is not much agreement. However, it is believed that this pumpkin variety first appeared in Africa and from there, it extended to Europe and America.

How their seeds spread between different continents is also not very clear to researchers. Some point out that it was human migration itself that can explain the widespread spread of the Pilgrim’s Pumpkin.

However, recent studies indicate that given the great capacity of this fruit to resist the sea, its extension is likely to have occurred through sea currents. This is another reason that has led to the lagenaria siceraria being known as the Pilgrim’s Pumpkin.

How to produce the Camino de Santiago Pumpkin

The lagenaria siceraria, in Spain, is planted at the end of April, or in early May. A popular saying refers to this:

“On Holy Thursday, my pumpkins I plant; but the old lady who said it earlier, has already planted hers.”

Popular quote

Turning them into a container, the fruit is emptied of its seeds and dried so that skin hardens. There are two ways to do this. One consists in burying the pumpkins for several months, if they rotted, they were worthless.

The other method simply consisted of letting them dry. This one was slower. Since the container of the Pilgrim’s Pumpkin was delicate, they were often lined with goatskin, to prevent any blows from spoiling them.

The Pilgrim’s Pumpkin and its use

For centuries, thousands of pilgrims used the Camino de Santiago Pumpkin as a container to store water or wine. Hence it is also known as the “water pumpkin”.

Before being used by pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, the lagenaria siceraria pumpkin was mainly used in domestic and agricultural environments. Its lightness and low cost, made its use spread quickly among pilgrims, from the very origins of the Camino de Santiago.

The Pilgrim’s Pumpkin was made up of two parts. One wider side, which corresponded to the bottom of the bowl, and a much thinner side. In the middle was a much narrower part that was used to hold it, with a rope, to the waist, to the staff or some other part of the pilgrim’s own clothing.

Symbolism of the Camino de Santiago Pumpkin

Even though the Codex Calixtinus does not mention the Camino de Santiago Pumpkin, among the attributes of the clothing of the medieval pilgrim, it is believed that it should be placed in such a way that it would be easy to offer its contents to other pilgrims. In this way, the Pilgrim’s Pumpkin is credited with the symbolism of solidarity, typical on the Camino de Santiago.

The Pilgrim’s Pumpkin nowadays

Today, pilgrims no longer use the pumpkin, but aluminium water bottles or canteens. However, it is still possible to see on certain routes some pilgrims carrying the Camino de Santiago Pumpkin as an emblem of pilgrimage tradition.

Today, pilgrims no longer use the pumpkin, but aluminium water bottles or canteens.

Many of the shops in Compostela sell the Pumpkin of the Camino de Santiago as a souvenir. In most cases, tied to a staff. This is largely because during the Holy Year of 1993 the Pilgrim’s Pumpkin was used as an image of the Xacobeo 2021.

Other uses of the Pilgrim’s Pumpkin

However, the Pilgrim’s Pumpkin has not been used only to make containers that could store liquid. In various regions, the Camino de Santiago Pumpkin has had other functions. Here are some of them.

The Camino de Santiago Pumpkin as a musical instrument

The Pilgrim’s Pumpkin is also used to manufacture various instruments, such as a soundboard, some percussion and string instruments. Two examples are the berimbau, which is used in Brazil in capoeira, and the Nyatitis, in Kenya.

Crafts with the Pilgrim’s Pumpkin

The Camino de Santiago Pumpkin has also been frequently used in the production of handicrafts. For example, in Peru it is used to manufacture burilado matte and in Bolivia, to make a traditional game.

The Pilgrim’s Pumpkin as a float

As we told you at the beginning of this article, the Pilgrim’s Pumpkin is very buoyant. This has led to its being used as floats, both for bathing and fishing nets.

The lagenaria siceraria as food

The Pumpkin of the Camino de Santiago is a rather bitter fruit, that has led to it being a little-valued fruit used in the kitchen. However, it has been common to use as animal feed or as medicinal fruit.

Other elements that accompany the Pilgrim’s Pumpkin

As we mentioned earlier, the Codex Calixtinus does not refer to the Camino de Santiago Pumpkin. However, it does mention other classic elements of the pilgrim’s usual clothing. Here are some of them:

The Staff

The staff is a long straight wooden rod, which usually exceeds the height of the pilgrim’s shoulder. Sometimes, a moulding was fixed at the top to wield or hang other elements of the pilgrim’s clothing such as the Camino de Santiago Pumpkin.

The staff is a long straight wooden rod, which usually exceeds the height of the pilgrim's shoulder.

According to Codex Calixtinus, the staff, like the leather bag, was blessed in churches, before starting the pilgrimage. Its role was to make the complicated paths of the Middle Ages more bearable. However, it was also used as a defensive weapon, against thieves or aggressive animals.

Many pilgrims used the staff to make notches with which they kept track of the days on the Camino de Santiago. Finally, the staff, like the modern-day trekking poles, served to make circulation in the arms easier.

On a symbolic level, the Codex indicates that the staff functioned as the pilgrim’s third leg. In this sense, reference was made to the Holy Trinity and the faith that the pilgrim should place in it.

The leather bag

Another of the basic elements of the pilgrim’s clothing was the zurron (leather bag), also called esportilla, escarcela or morral. It was open at the top, which the Codex recalled, and symbolized the pilgrim’s willingness to give and receive.

The hat and the cape

Two other elements that characterized the pilgrim’s clothing was the wearing of a hat and a cape. The hat was made with various materials, but was always wide-brimmed as protection from the sun. On the shoulders was placed the cape, made with skin in most cases.

The shell

Of all the elements that characterized the pilgrim’s clothing during the Middle Ages, the shell is the one that has acquired the greatest prominence over the centuries. That is why in our blog we already dedicate an article to this symbol of pilgrimage. If you want to know more about the famous shell, you can take a look at it.

We hope that you have found all the information we have provided in this article about the Camino de Santiago Pumpkin and pilgrim’s clothing. At Santiago Ways we love everything related to pilgrim tradition.

To say goodbye, we just want to remind you that if you are planning to do the Camino de Santiago and want to count on the support of a specialized agency, do not hesitate to contact us. Call us or write to us on Facebook.

Buen Camino!