Which is the original Camino de Santiago?

The true Camino de Santiago does not exist. We can talk about which pilgrim routes have more tradition, but all the paths on the Camino de Santiago are just as authentic. There is no single Camino de Santiago. There are many.

When people contact us to ask what route of the Camino de Santiago to do, we always explain in the same way. All pilgrim routes have their characteristics and peculiarities.

The true Camino de Santiago

You should choose the Pilgrim’s path that best suits your personal characteristics and the time when you plan to pilgrimage. In this article we explain which route to follow in order to do the Camino de Santiago , depending on this.

Another fact is that, in addition to your personal choices, you want to choose the Camino de Santiago depending on its history and tradition. In that case, you should know that the most traditional routes are not necessarily the most popular, nor the reverse.

Therefore, we cannot say that the true Camino de Santiago is the oldest. Nor is the real road the busiest. Here is a summary of the origin of the pilgrim routes.

You will quickly realize that all the roads leading to Santiago de Compostela are just as true as each other. Each one of them has a reason for its existence.

Origin of the Camino de Santiago

The origin of the Camino de Santiago dates back to the discovery of the remains of Santiago the Elder, in the 9th century. The saint was assassinated in 42 A.D. in Jerusalem. His disciples moved his remains to Galicia. They hid them in a Roman pavilion, to protect them from Doña Lupe, the Queen of the land at that time.

The corpse was forgotten. It was discovered in 814, by Bishop Teodomiro. Between the years 820 and 830, King Alfonso II confirmed that the remains of the bones found belonged to Santiago the Elder.

There is no evidence of the reasons that led him to make such a finding. From that moment on, however, many believers were pilgrims to the tomb of the Apostle. In this way, throughout the centuries the different routes of the Camino de Santiago were created.

Many of them settled with using the old Roman roads that were used as roads of communication and routes of commerce. Now, we will explain the history of each of the routes on the Camino de Santiago.

Is the first Camino the real Camino de Santiago?

The Camino Primitivo  It is the route that connects Oviedo with Santiago de Compostela. It is known for being, as its name indicates, the first pilgrim path.

The first pilgrim was King Alfonso II himself, in 834. He came from Oviedo, crossing the mountains that divided Asturias and Galicia; And the walls of Lugo, until reaching the tomb of the Apostle.

Later, many of his subjects followed in his footsteps. These were the ones that created the rest of the pilgrim routes. However, given the weight that Alfonso II had in society at that time, the passage through Oviedo Cathedral, dedicated to the Saviour, was established as obligatory.

This is why many of the routes of the Camino de Santiago have a variation that passes through Oviedo Cathedral. The result of this is the popular chant that says:

“quien visita Santiago y no el Salvador, sirve al criado e ignora al señor”

(“Whoever visits Santiago and not the saviour, serves the servant and ignores the Lord”)

If we think about which is the real Camino de Santiago we might think it is this one because it was the first. However, this route was used for a very short time. As you will see below, the pilgrims soon opened simpler routes.

Today, the Camino Primitivo, since it is the most difficult route, is not very popular. Less than 5% of the pilgrims who have reached Santiago de Compostela during the last years have done so following the Camino Primitivo.

The Camino del Norte, the alternative to the Camino Primitivo

The Camino del Norte  is the route that crosses northern Spain, following the Cantabrian side, from Irún. This route of the Camino de Santiago is established by the need to find a path that was less difficult than the one chosen by the monarch.

The real Camino del Norte

The lands to the south of the Camino Primitivo were dangerous because of the presence of Muslims. Therefore, the pilgrims of the time all they could do was to find a route to reach Santiago de Compostela that was further north. Hence his name.

Nowadays, it is not the most crowded Camino de Santiago, although it is more popular than the Camino Primitivo. Approximately 6% of pilgrims use this Jacobean route to get to Santiago de Compostela.

The authentic Camino de Santiago: The Camino Frances

The Camino Frances , as its name suggests, it begins in France, in Saint Jean de Port. Its route crosses Navarre, Huesca, Zaragoza, La Rioja, Burgos, Palencia, León, Lugo and A Coruña.

The history of this route of the Camino de Santiago dates back to the 10th century. To the years when the reconquest of Muslim lands was advancing and the insecurity that existed south of the Camino Primitivo disappeared, during the previous decades.

At this time the power centre was located in León. The Kings Sancho III the Elder and Sancho Ramírez of Navarre and Alfonso VI greatly strengthened the Camino Frances.

In those years the pilgrimage to Santiago was already established among pilgrims. Not only in Spain, but also throughout Europe. The Camino Frances was a friendlier route than the previous two. This explains that it was the most used route during the Middle Ages by European pilgrims.

Still, nowadays, it is still the most travelled Pilgrim’s route. Approximately 60% of the pilgrims who have arrived in Santiago de Compostela during the last years have done so following the Camino Frances.

This Pilgrim’s route has been catalogued as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has also been the most promoted, making it the most famous. So, many people think that the Camino Frances is the real Camino de Santiago.

Want to know more about why this route is so popular? Don’t forget to read this article about the story of pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela . You will learn a lot more.

Is the Camino Ingles a true Camino de Santiago?

The Camino Ingles  is the route that connects Ferrol with Santiago de Compostela, passing through A Coruña. Its name comes from the origin of its first pilgrims. These were mostly English, Irish and Scottish.

Many English pilgrims landed in the ports of Ferrol and A Coruña to begin, from there, their journey to the Tomb of Santiago the Apostle. This route was consolidated in the 12th century when a team of English, Flemish and German visited the sepulchre of the saint. However, there are previous testimonies about the use of the Camino Ingles.

At present, it is, of the northern roads leading to Santiago de Compostela, one of the least frequented. Less even than the Camino Primitivo. Over the last few years, 4% or less of the pilgrims who arrived in Santiago de Compostela used this Pilgrim’s route.

Vía de la Plata, a commercial route

The Via de la Plata  is the route that crosses the Iberian Peninsula from south to north. This route existed even before the pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela.

Its physical layout uses largely an old Roman road that was used as a trade route. This route begins to be used as the Camino de Santiago when the battles with the Muslims ceased. Many pilgrims who came from the south of Spain used La Via de La Plata to reach Santiago de Compostela.

Its name might seem to be linked to its commercial character. But, in reality, it is the result of the phonetic difficulty that it involved for the Spanish speakers, the use of Arabic words. Thus, during the Muslim domain, this route was named as the “paved road”, whose pronunciation was similar to the word silver.

Today this route is still in force. It is used, almost exclusively, to pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. However, it is one of the least used pilgrim paths. During the last years, between 2% and 3% of the pilgrims have followed La Via de La Plata.

Is the Camino Portugues to Santiago also a true route?

The Camino Portugues crosses Portugal from Lisbon, to enter Galicia by Tui. This Portuguese path has two variants: the Camino Portugues (Central) y el Camino Portugues coastal route, which begins in Oporto.

The Portuguese way begins, like other pilgrim routes, with the discovery of the remains of Santiago the Apostle. However, while in the late Middle Ages other Pilgrims paths lived their moment of splendour, the Camino Portugues took longer to consolidate.

The Camino Portugues was already used in the 10th century. However, it is not until the 12th century, after the independence of Portugal that the route became important. From that moment on, an important flow of pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela was established.

However, it was the pilgrimage of Queen Isabel of Portugal, in the 14th century, the moment that ended up consolidating the Camino de Santiago in Portugal. The itinerary of the coast came later.

The Camino Portugues coastal route is created with the emergence of new infrastructures that allowed to cross the Miño. Previously, the only infrastructure was in Tui, so the use of the Camino Portugues (Central) was the only alternative.

Nowadays, the Portuguese way is the second most used pilgrim route, just behind the French road. Last year, approximately 25% of the pilgrims who went to Santiago de Compostela used one of the two itineraries in Portuguese territory.

What is a true pilgrim?

All the people who are heading to Santiago de Compostela following any of the pilgrim routes are considered pilgrims. Regardless of the reason for their pilgrimage and how it is done.

The pilgrim’s real motivation

The Camino de Santiago, as we have indicated above, has its origin in the veneration of the remains of Santiago the Apostle. Its character is therefore fundamentally religious.

However, over the centuries, the motives that have led pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela are very diverse. The Camino de Santiago has been used to a great extent as a trade route, both nationally and internationally.

It is also important to consider that the pilgrimage to the tomb of the saint was established as both religious and penal penance. During the Middle Ages, many pilgrims were obliged to go to Santiago de Compostela.

Authentic pilgrimage

Nowadays, the motivations to complete the Camino de Santiago are also very diverse. Among the pilgrims who arrived in Santiago de Compostela last year, most of them did it for religious and other reasons.

42% did so for purely religious reasons and 9% for other non-religious reasons. In this article we tell you the motives for completing the Camino de Santiago that are hidden behind the official figures.

The kilometres on the Camino de Santiago

The distance that is covered does not make you a better or worse pilgrim. According to the Pilgrim’s origin and the time that is available for pilgrimage, you can choose one route on the Camino de Santiago or another.

The real pilgrims are incorporated at any point of the Camino de Santiago. There is no compulsory starting point.

Of course, only those pilgrims who travel a minimum of 100 kilometres on foot, or 200 on a bicycle, can get the Compostela. That means having about 5 days in order to complete the Camino de Santiago . The section between Sarria and Santiago de Compostela is the most popular in this case.

The characteristics of pilgrimage

Finally, the Camino de Santiago does not make you better or worse pilgrim. You can do the Camino de Santiago without a backpack, contracting a transport service, or complete it with a guide .

It can also be done austerely. Carrying your own backpack and sharing a room with hundreds of pilgrims in the hostels. They are all authentic ways of doing the Camino de Santiago.

Pilgrimage on foot, by bicycle, on horseback, by boat or in a wheelchair does not make the experience more or less authentic. Obviously, in the Middle Ages, it was only done on foot or on horseback, but the society is transformed and with it, the Camino de Santiago.

Now you know that regardless of the pilgrim route you choose and how you complete your pilgrimage you will be doing the real Camino de Santiago. If you want us to join you during your pilgrimage to Santiago to Compostela, get in contact with us.

Buen Camino!

The real Camino de Santiago
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