Camino de Finisterre: the history of an ancestral route
There is a path that is before even the history of the Camino de Santiago: The Camino de Finisterre. This route, unlike the rest of the pilgrim routes, does not lead to Santiago de Compostela but leaves from it. The Camino de Finisterre has two possible destinations: the Finisterre Lighthouse, 88 km away, or the A Barca Sanctuary in Muxía (Mugía, in Spanish), 82 km away.
It is an ancient route full of magical enclaves, legends of lost villages and esoteric rites. You will enter the most fascinating popular culture in Galicia. If you want to discover everything you can see and do on this route to the end of the world, as well as how difficult its stages are, you can check our article on the Camino de Santiago to Cape Finisterre and Muxía.
In this post, we want to talk about the history of the Camino de Finisterre. An uncertain history, but even older than Christianity. Thus, many years ago, long before the remains of Santiago the Apostle were discovered and the pilgrim tradition was established, pagans were already travelling along this route, bordering the Costa da Morte, towards Finisterre.
How the Camino de Finisterre was born
Its origin and primitive history are not very well documented. However, it is known that, in the past, it was thought that Finisterre, or Finis Terrae as the Romans called it, was the most western point in the world and, therefore, the end of the earth. They believed, at that time, that beyond the peninsula formed by the Cape Finisterre there was nothing.
At that point, there would be all the unknowns of the inhabitants of those times. There was nothing known after Cape Finisterre. For them, it was the place where the sun died.
There they believed that the big star spent the nights, hidden among the waves. Therefore, they hastened to build an altar in that enclave in honour of the Astro King.
The Ara Solis altar
The belief that was where the sun was hiding during the night, together with the miraculous powers that were attributed to the big star, led to the people in those times, to build in the Cape Finisterre an altar from which to venerate the sun. The place was called Ara Solis.
At the altar, they worshipped the star king, prayed and made offerings of gratitude to the gods. Various rituals were also practised, many of them related to fertility rites.
The origin of the name “Costa da Morte”
Related to the belief that the Camino de Finisterre led to the end of the world, is also the origin of the name of the coast that bathes these lands: the Costa da Morte. Of the three existing theories, two allude to this fact.
One indicates that the name comes because it is the coast in which the Sun died, while the other indicates that the term of death refers to “the death of all known land”. A third current defends that the origin of the name of the coast of death is due to the high mortality of sailors which is recorded in those seas.
The Camino de Finisterre: from pagan route to Camino de Santiago
As we have seen before, the Camino de Finisterre was born as a pagan route that had nothing to do with Christianity or the discovery of the remains of Santiago the Apostle. However, the road to Finisterre, just as it did the way to Muxía, soon joined the network of routes frequented by the pilgrims who were heading to Compostela.
Since the consolidation of the Camino de Santiago, in the Middle Ages, many were the pilgrims who, after reaching the tomb of the Apostle, decided to continue their journey to the Cape Finisterre. Throughout history, many illustrious and even clerics, guided by the Milky Way, walked to the altar of Ara Solis, in search of the supernatural mysticism that hid the Camino de Finisterre.
However, it was not exclusively the pagan rituals that were celebrated there that explained the cravings of the pilgrims to continue walking, after having travelled hundreds of kilometres. The history of the life of Santiago the Apostle situates, both in Finisterre and Muxía, various events that contributed to generate the desire to do the Camino de Finisterre.
The pilgrim history of Cape Finisterre
According to the history of the origin of the Camino de Santiago, it was the apostle himself who destroyed the Ara Solis altar, on his pilgrimage through the Iberian Peninsula. In that place, at his request, the Chapel of San Guillermo was built. Nowadays it no longer exists.
Also, according to the Codex Calixtinus, the remains of the apostle were transferred to Dugium, to request the King’s consent to bury the saint. According to pilgrim legends, the passage of the apostle’s disciples to Dugium (at present, Duio) was one of the many tricks played by Queen Lupa designed to prevent the saint from being buried in Galicia.
Muxía: the other destination for the Camino de Finisterre
Muxía, throughout history, was also set as a destination on the Camino de Finisterre. The Santuario da Barca, located in the locality, was the scene of various apparitions of the Virgin Mary.
According to the pilgrim history on the Camino de Finisterre, the mother of Jesus appeared in the place, on several occasions. The purpose of her visit was to encourage Santiago the Apostle in his work of preaching Christianity in pagan lands.
Is the route to Finisterre a Camino de Santiago?
All of the above led to the Camino de Finisterre, convert itself, throughout history, into a pilgrimage route that combined the divine with the pagan. An end of the world where it was impossible not to find the answer to the concerns that disturbed pilgrims during the Middle Ages.
As seen in the stories and legends related to the origin of the Camino de Santiago, the church made a multitude of efforts to integrate this pagan cult destination into pilgrim tradition. We must not forget that the origin of the Camino de Santiago was not only religious but also socio-political.
The Christian character of the Camino de Finisterre
The inclusion of scenes starring the Apostle in the lands of the end of the world allowed the church to recognize the pilgrimage to Cape Finisterre and Muxía as the culmination of a religious journey. The pilgrims, besides worshipping the apostle in the Cathedral of Compostela, visited the Virgin and the Saviour, following the Camino de Finisterre.
It was the divine that justified walking beyond Santiago de Compostela and not the cult of the sun or non-Christian gods. In this way, the church integrated into pilgrim tradition, a pilgrimage route that was more ancient than the Camino de Santiago itself.
Pilgrim’s extension to Finisterre
Even so, the Camino de Finisterre was never recognized, properly, as a Camino de Santiago. The route to Finisterre has always been considered as an extension or an epilogue of the Camino. In fact, the associations of Friends of the Camino de Santiago, refer to the Camino de Finisterre as “Pilgrim’s extension to Finisterre”.
For this reason, the Camino de Finisterre has two certifications: the Fisterrana and the Muxiana. The church never found any reason to grant the Compostela to those pilgrims who did not have the Apostle’s tomb as their destiny.
The Camino de Finisterre nowadays
The Christianisation of the Camino de Finisterre contributed strongly to the route being much more popular. So, like all the roads of the pilgrim network, it experienced a strong development during the Middle Ages. However, as with the rest of those roads to Santiago, the Camino de Finisterre recorded an important decline from the 16th century.
The recovery of the Camino de Santiago in the 20th century provoked a new surge on the route to the end of the world. The creation of its own pilgrimage certificates, together with the diffusion and promotion efforts made by local entities, made the Camino de Finisterre popular once again.
In fact, the success of this route has been such that it is believed that it is now the second most popular pilgrimage route, just behind the Camino Frances. Nevertheless, it is difficult to be able to state this fact with total certainty, since the Pilgrim’s Office collects the statistics of people arriving in Santiago de Compostela, but not the number of them that continues along the Camino de Finisterre.
What can be guaranteed, given the data that register both the lodgings of the Camino de Finisterre-Muxía and the donor entities of pilgrimage certificates, is that the number of pilgrims certainly increases, year on year. There are many who are attracted by this route that not only hides part of pilgrim tradition but also hides magical beliefs.
Myths and legends of the Camino Finisterre-Muxía
The legends surrounding the Camino de Finisterre have been transmitted orally from the first villages that inhabited them. To this day, the history of the Camino de Finisterre, and its legends survive in the culture and nature of this incredible route. Here, we have two of them.
The submerged city of Dugium
Very close to Finisterre you will find the small hamlet of Duio. In it stands the fantastic legend of the lost city of Dugium.
It seems that the inhabitants of these lands followed pagan rites and led a life away from Christian religion, regardless of their sins. So one day, God punished their audacity by sinking the town under the ocean.
Legend has it that from the catastrophic flood only two oxen were saved, which turned to stone. They say that these animals are two of the small rocks that can be seen in the Bois Gures Islands.
Without a doubt, the existence of archaeological remains in the surroundings of Duio corroborates the existence of an old settlement. However, studies indicate that the anger that struck this civilization was not that of God, but that of the Swabians.
Vaker the Terrible and his misdeeds
The story is told on the Camino de Finisterre that in Hospital, a small village in which separate the Finisterre and Muxía routes, there was a terrible monster called Vaker. This wicked being was engaged in kidnapping the pilgrims who stayed the night in Hospital and then devouring them.
Maybe he’s still doing it! Be careful if you are going to do the Camino de Finisterre!
Traditions that became legends
Cape Finisterre has always been a place of rites. It was also for the pilgrims in the Middle Ages and for many of the pilgrims who travelled that route in the 20th century.
However, the popularization of the Camino de Finisterre ended up causing some of those rites that were practised as closure for the pilgrimage, to be banned, for safety reasons. So, traditions turn into legends. If you want to know what they are, you can check our articleson traditional rites on the Camino de Santiago.
Do you dare go to the End of the World?
As you can see, the Camino de Finisterre is a unique experience with a long history. A trip that allows you to dive between legends and enjoy the incredible landscapes and charming coastal villages along the Costa da Morte. Magic and tradition in its purest state!
If you want more information or want to enjoy the advantages of a pilgrimage on an organized trip, you can get in touch with us. In Santiago Ways, we will be happy to help you do the Camino de Finisterre!