What does the Camino de Santiago mean?
There are many people who contact us to ask us exactly what the Camino de Santiago is and what its meaning is. The truth is that there is no single answer, since we find ourselves with an ancient route whose meaning has changed over time.
In ancient times, the meaning of the Camino de Santiago was strongly associated with religion, although some pilgrims lived it as a form of punishment or used it as a trade route. Today, the meaning of the Camino de Santiago is much more complex.
Today, it intermingles aspects of religion with tradition, as well as with personal and spiritual reasons for pilgrims. Here, we’ll talk about it.
What is the Camino de Santiago?
The Camino de Santiago is a collection of routes that lead to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. These are travelled as a pilgrimage, usually on foot, as a way of paying homage to St James the Apostle, whose remains rest in that temple.
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As well as the pilgrimage to Mecca or Rome, pilgrimage to the Camino de Santiago also has a sacred meaning. All pilgrimages involve sacrifices, although not all people are willing to submit to the same degree of suffering.
Depending on the degree of sacrifice to which the pilgrim submits, one degree or another of devotion is spoken about. That is why, universally, the fact of pilgrimage is linked to the religious, although not necessarily to the Catholic religion. The pilgrimage to the source of the Ganges, for example, takes place within the religious framework of Hinduism.
Therefore, the Camino de Santiago is a set of pilgrimage routes that lead to the Cathedral of Compostela, where homage is paid to Santiago the Apostle. This is arguably the original meaning of the Camino de Santiago.
Other meanings of the Camino de Santiago in the Middle ages
However, since the Middle Ages, the Camino de Santiago had other meanings, which had nothing to do with religion. Here are some of them.
The Camino de Santiago as a prison sentence
During the Middle Ages there were many thieves and wrongdoers who were condemned to make pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela for their crimes. At that time, the Camino de Santiago was a very dangerous route, in which many pilgrims lost their lives at the hands of assailants or became disoriented in the mountains.
So the meaning attributed to the Camino de Santiago could also be seen as a death sentence or a means of redemption. In fact, although it may seem incredible the Camino de Santiago is still used as a conviction, as explained by a judge in Granada in this news story from ABC. Although in this case, more than a punishment, it can be interpreted as a reward.
The Camino de Santiago as a trading route
Another meaning strongly associated with the Camino de Santiago is that of being a trade route. During the Middle Ages, many were the merchants and craftsmen who travelled the Camino de Santiago in search of opportunities and business.
Today, after the resurgence of the Camino de Santiago, at the end of the 20th century, it is also possible to find people leaving their homes to move to the small towns that line the Camino routes. On them, numerous business opportunities flourish aimed at meeting the needs of pilgrims.
The meaning of the Camino de Santiago nowadays
However, today the meanings attributed to the Camino de Santiago are much more complex and diverse. Many of the pilgrims who arrived in Compostela during the 1990s, did so on religious grounds.
However, the great fame achieved by the Camino de Santiago, so far this century, has made the Compostelana pilgrimage associated with other meanings. So, today, it can be said that the Camino de Santiago now has as many meanings as it has pilgrims. Below we explain some of the meanings that are attributed to the Camino de Santiago, today.
A spiritual meaning
Many of the pilgrims who, today, make the Camino de Santiago do not attribute a religious, but spiritual meaning, to it. The Camino de Santiago is understood as an inner journey, an experience that delves into oneself, in a search for balance and well-being.
Many people decide to do the Camino de Santiago in an effort to find themselves. Therefore, that doing the Camino de Santiago alone it is commonplace, as well as the practice of yoga, during the pilgrimage.
Another form of tourism
For others, the Camino de Santiago has a tourist meaning. During the last few years, more and more people have been looking for different ways of sightseeing and, without a doubt, the Camino de Santiago offers a wide range of touristic possibilities. Here are some of the options it offers.
Synonym of active tourism
Over the past few years, the demand for people looking for travel that allows them to enjoy nature and escape the classic sun and beach packages, has only increased. The natural environment that crosses the Camino de Santiago allows you to enjoy days and days of excursions.
In fact, many of the routes of the Camino de Santiago (Frances, Norte, Primitivo or the stages on the Camino Ingles) traverse one of the most popular areas of the peninsula for active tourism. We refer to the so-called green Spain.
Some pilgrims decide to do the Camino de Santiago on foot. Others choose other forms of tourism that are increasingly popular as a mode of pilgrimage: on horseback, by bike or by the Camino de Santiago by kayak.
Tradition and culture
For others the true meaning of the Camino de Santiago is in its tradition and culture. They decide to do the Camino de Santiago to discover its architectural heritage and all its pilgrim culture.
On all the routes of the Camino de Santiago, it is possible to enjoy constructions of great artistic value and enormous beauty. Spending several days on the Camino de Santiago allows you to enjoy various artistic currents (Gothic, Renaissance, Mudejar, etc.).
Visiting the city of Santiago de Compostela is undoubtedly one of the greatest motivations for pilgrims who are interested in the culture and tradition of the Camino de Santiago. The architectural richness of the Cathedral of Compostela, as well as its long construction history make it an authentic jewel of architecture.
We must not forget at this point that UNESCO declared in 1985 the Camino de Santiago a World Heritage Site. Subsequently, in 1993, the Camino Frances was included in the World Heritage list. In 2015, the northern routes were included.
A cheap way to travel
Another of the motivations to make the Camino de Santiago is to be able to enjoy a holiday without spending a lot of money. Depending on how you complete the tour, the trip can be very cheap. At least, there’s nothing spent on transportation.
The Camino de Santiago as a sporting challenge
The Camino de Santiago has also been given a sporting significance and many people decide to do so as a physical challenge. That is why it is increasingly common to find people facing routes with steep slopes such as the Camino de Santiago by bike, for example, or those who do the Camino de Santiago running.
A social journey
Another fact with which the Camino de Santiago is strongly associated is with its social character. That is why for many pilgrims to do the Camino de Santiago means to go and make friends, to meet new people.
Not all pilgrims seek spiritual retreat on the Camino de Santiago. Some people even go to the Camino hoping to find love.
An international route
Another meaning attributed to the Camino de Santiago is that of being an international route. A tour in which all cultures, religions and languages have space. People from all over the world decide to make pilgrimage to Compostela, for very different reasons.
You see that, depending on how you look at it, the Camino de Santiago may have one meaning or another. I’m sure the list of meanings could be much broader, but for now we’re going to leave it here.
We do not want to say goodbye without first clarifying that the meanings we have set out in this article are not mutually exclusive. The Camino de Santiago can be given many different meanings by the same person.
This is the beautiful thing about the Camino de Santiago, that each one of us can give it its own meaning. Live a unique and personal experience.
Now that you know the meaning of the Camino de Santiago, do you dare to try it? If your answer is “yes”, we congratulate you, it’s a wise decision. Call us, leave us a comment in this post or write to us on our Facebook and we will help you organize your pilgrimage.