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  Philosophical and anthropological aspects

of the Way of St. James. Phenomenology of the pilgrimage to Compostela.


University of Santiago de Compostela

 Twenty years ago, the Council of Europe declared the Way of St. James as the first European cultural itinerary. This declaration recognized the role that the Way of St. James had played in shaping the idea of Europe, both culturally, religiously and even politically. Thus, Galicia and, in particular, the city of Santiago de Compostela, despite its peripheral geographical location within the European continent, despite or perhaps precisely because it was located in what the ancients called the Finisterre, reached a central and universal dimension, which would vertebrate the whole Christianity of Western Europe. A fact that would endow Galicia and Europe with its own personality, based on a phenomenon known from ancient times: the pilgrimage.

The phenomenon of pilgrimages has been present in all cultures and religions since the beginning of human civilization. It is a phenomenon inextricably linked to the itinerant condition of man. Our life, as many writers and philosophers have defended through the use of this road metaphor, is nothing but the long road, full of twists and turns, that runs between birth and death. There is, therefore, a strong anthropological component in man's pilgrimage on earth.

Almost all religions since ancient times have known and practiced pilgrimage with a salvific and purifying meaning. It was a journey whose objective was to visit a place consecrated by the presence of a god, a hero or a sacred force. The sacredness of the place and the effort made to reach it redeemed man from his past misdeeds and renewed his strength to move forward on the path of life.

It should be noted, however, that to go on pilgrimage, to set out on a journey, also implied certain risks, to face the dangers that lie in wait for the traveler who leaves behind the tranquility and comfort of his native land and his home. This semantic ambivalence is reflected in the etymology of the word itself.


Indeed, an etymological analysis of the word "pilgrim" allows us to establish this semantic ambivalence in its first phoneme "per". A phoneme that comes from a very ancient root that in Latin means "through". This first element will form words as significant and, to a certain extent, intertwined in the same semantic constellation, as "periculum": danger; or "perito", "ex-per-to", "exper-iencia". The first refers to the negative aspect of going "through", the next three to the positive aspects of moving and getting to know new things. From the same root, words are derived that are related to traveling (peregrino), to knowledge (ex-per-iencia), and to the danger to some extent inherent in the two previous realities (per-iculum). A relationship that is not only found in Latin but also in German. The German phoneme corresponding to "per-" is "fahr", from which are derived fahren (to travel), Gefahr (danger) and Erfahrung (experience). In fact, as Ortega y Gasset points out, both "the Latin phonemes per and por and the Greek περ and πειρ, come from an Indo-European word that expresses this human reality: 'to travel' insofar as it is abstracted from its eventual purpose (...) and travel is taken as being traveling, 'walking through the world'. So the content of traveling is what happens to us during it; and this is, mainly, finding curiosities and passing through dangers."

Alfonso X the Wise offers us in his Partidas a description of the term pilgrim whose etymological root would come from "per-agrare": to travel through lands, also pointing out a second meaning of pilgrim related to a strange person, a foreigner.

"Pilgrims and pilgrims are made by men to serve God and honor the saints; and in order to know how to do this, they strip themselves of their lineages and their places, and their wives, and their houses and everything they have, and they go through foreign lands, lazing their bodies and sending away their possessions in search of sanctuaries".

It is evident that more than a scientifically constructed etymology, the Wise King is picking up the living and usual meaning of his time. His intuitions, however, will be confirmed to a certain extent by modern linguistics. In particular by Émile Benveniste, who studies the etymological relationship with agros and peregri.


These are, in fact, the two main orientations of the term from the etymological point of view. "Pilgrim" - informs us the Etymological Dictionary of the Castilian Language by Joan Corominas - is a term taken from the Latin peregrinus 'foreigner', derived from peregre 'abroad', and this from ager 'field, country'."

Thus, a philosophical reading of the etymological meaning of these terms takes us to the heart of Western philosophical thought, related both to the fact of traveling through unknown lands to see, to have experiences, even if these entailed dangers and misdirections, and to the fact of constructing a method or guide to advance with a sure step on the path of knowledge. Empiricism or experience," Ortega y Gasset tells us, "is, then, an effective 'walk and see' as a method, a thinking with the feet, which is what, according to the moderns, the scholastics did. Read in a philosophical key, we understand why pilgrimage is an ancestral experience that has to do with ancient religious, anthropological and even philosophical conceptions. When Greek philosophy was born on the coasts of Ionia (6th century B.C.), it was nourished by the exchange of languages, cultures and experiences that arrived in those ports. And many of the Greek philosophers will travel to broaden their experience and knowledge of the world. Plato, as is attested, travels to Egypt to broaden his mathematical knowledge and later to Syracuse to try to implement (unsuccessfully) the ideals of his republic.

We can conclude, therefore, that "in ancient times, travel or pilgrimage was, therefore, something more than a merely utilitarian action -for commercial exchanges- or pleasurable, in the style of what tourism is for many today. It was a means of acquiring experience, knowledge and even prestige and, insofar as it was dangerous, it was also an adventure, an attractive challenge for the audacious". Several cultures have associated the god of knowledge and wisdom with the god of roads and travelers. The Greeks placed at crossroads and crossroads monoliths with the faces of the god Hermes indicating each of the paths to guide the wayfarer. Hermes was venerated as the god of knowledge and commerce, but also of those who had taken the wrong path (thieves and liars). In fact, Hermes had been an expert in deception, performed with the mastery of one who knows the truth to be able to do so. Also in this mythological figure we see associated path, knowledge and misguidance or dangers inherent in walking.


Now, although pilgrimage, traveling a path, traveling, has been done, as we have just seen, for different reasons (knowledge, adventure, etc.) the main motivation of pilgrimage is, since ancient times, religious. Motivation that is also behind the Camino de Santiago.

The antonomasia meaning of pilgrimage is to travel for religious reasons to visit a holy place (sanctuary). A phenomenon shared by all the major religions. The Jews have been going to visit the temple in Jerusalem since ancient times; Muslims comply with the mandate to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime, according to their means and possibilities. And in June 2004, the World Heritage Committee, meeting in the Chinese city of Suzhou, granted World Heritage status ("World Heritage List") to the "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes of the Kii Mountain Range", which include three sacred sites and the corresponding pilgrimage routes that connect them: Yoshino and Ômine, Kumano Sanzan and Kôyasan. One of them, the Kumano Way, as we know, is twinned with our Camino de Santiago, not only because of its status as a World Heritage Site, but also because both pilgrimage routes are intimately linked to two religions and two cultures.

In the Christian tradition, pilgrimage dates back to the Old Testament, where the book of Exodus describes the pilgrimage of Abraham and the people of Israel to return to Jerusalem. In the New Testament, Jesus is described as fulfilling this tradition and visiting the Holy Places of Jerusalem. He who was to be for Christians all over the world "the way, the truth and the life".

In the Middle Ages, the Crusades took place, a kind of armed pilgrimage that began in 1095 when the Muslims got in the way of the Christians to visit the Holy Land and the Holy Places of Jerusalem. An itinerary that has existed since the 4th century, attested by the foundation of Latin monasteries in Bethlehem by St. Jerome and St. Paula from the year 385, and that continues to this day.

In the Middle Ages, two great pilgrimage centers of humanity were founded in the context of two civilizations and two religions: Santiago de Compostela and Mecca. "Both -writes Ramón Guerrero- still remain as meeting places for a multitude of pilgrims coming from distant lands in search of the hidden, arcane and mysterious of those places, making a sacred journey: every pilgrimage is understood as a journey of expiation of sin and guilt, so it is framed within the framework of a sacred journey.


of a strictly religious structure". Unlike Mecca, the Holy City of Islam, accessible only to Muslims, Santiago de Compostela is visited by people of all faiths, even though it is a sanctuary of the Christian religion, where tradition tells us that the remains of the Apostle St. James are preserved. Its influence in the Middle Ages was so great that at the beginning of the 14th century Dante wrote that only those who went or came to Santiago were pilgrims: "The word 'pilgrim' can be understood in two ways, one broad and the other strict; in the broad sense, all those who are outside their homeland are pilgrims; in the strict sense, pilgrims are only those who go to the house of Santiago or return".

We owe the doctrinal and even philosophical foundation of life as a journey, which underlies the medieval Christian worldview, among others, to Augustine of Hippo. Our passage through the world is not an end but a fleeting and ephemeral transit before reaching our true destination: the Other World. According to this conception, man is a homo viator, a being whose condition of wayfarer or pilgrim towards a higher destination is the one that best defines him. This conception is in harmony with the linear vision of time and history of Judeo-Christianity. Indeed, "for both Jews and Christians, time is a fundamental datum that is instituted and concretized as a time of waiting. From the intervention of God, by whose power cosmos and time occur simultaneously, the anxious longing for the fulfillment of the promise is established in the human heart. And so history begins, with a time directed, moved, justified and filled with content by "a good goal". Of the permanence in time of this itinerant condition of man, the fact that it returns with the work of two existentialist philosophers of the twentieth century, Gabriel Marcel and Martin Heidegger, is a good example.

"Mecca - Ramón Guerrero informs us - is not only a geographical place, located in the Arabian Peninsula, to which one goes on pilgrimage, but it is above all the place that hides the Truth, because there one finds the black stone of the Ka'ba, the 'house of God'. To go on pilgrimage to Mecca is to walk towards the Truth, because, by fulfilling the obligation of physically going to the sacred place, the Muslim expresses the aspiration that drives him to get closer to God".


The three pilgrimage routes of medieval Christianity, still in force, have as their goal Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela. Of these, the Way of St. James had such an influence and presence in medieval Europe that, as Dante writes, only those who go to the house of St. James can be called pilgrims in the strict sense of the word. Those who went to Jerusalem were called palmeros, because of the symbolism of the palm, which signified triumph or martyrdom; and those who went to Rome were called romeros. Pilgrims, strictly speaking, were those who visited the tomb of St. James the Apostle. When and how did the pilgrimage to Santiago begin?

A kind of prophetic mathematics makes Galicia, the northwestern region of Spain where the Finis Terrae of the ancient world is located, one of the centers of Western Christianity. Indeed, the command of Jesus in the New Testament states that the word of God must reach to the end of the earth. Thus, the fact that an Apostle of Jesus of Nazareth, in this case, James, came to Spain and reached one of the Atlantic Finisterres coincides with the spirit of an evangelical preaching that was born with a universal spirit. At that time, the first century, maritime traffic to the Iberian Peninsula and Galicia was relatively extensive. Something that makes plausible the chronicles of the first centuries of our era that speak of the preaching of the Apostle Santiago in the Peninsula. A fact that tradition unites with the statement of St. Jerome where it is said that the Spirit ordered that "each one should rest in the region of his evangelization and teaching".

We know with historical accuracy that James was the first of the apostles to suffer martyrdom. As we can read in the Acts of the Apostles, he was condemned and executed "with the sword" in Jerusalem. Most probably, outside the city walls to avoid the contamination of the city. Tradition has it that his body, conveniently preserved, was collected by his disciples and transferred according to his last will to the western Iberian coast. There he was buried in a place called "Arca Marmórea", an expression that rather than referring to a specific geographical location seems to indicate that his body was deposited in a marble mausoleum. Tradition also states that the estate was called Libredon, "liberum donum" or free estate. And, finally, that the burial space was called the place of Santo Santiago and later Santiago de Compostela, in allusion to the fact that it was a well-kept land or grave.

It is a legendary tradition, preserved by the people, although a letter written by a Bishop-Patriarch of Jerusalem at the end of the 5th or beginning of the 6th century is quoted, where the maritime translation of the body of St. James is related, buried in "Arcas Marmóreas" in a western city 12 miles from Iria Flavia, a city near Mount Ilicino (Monte Sacro). We are therefore faced with a question whose basis, more than historical or any other kind of scientificity, is based on the faith of a people who venerate the


tomb of an Apostle, not only since its discovery in the ninth century, but even earlier. In fact, "recent research denies the abandonment and ignorance of the tomb at the time of its 'inventio' or discovery in the time of Bishop Teodomiro. According to the authoritative opinion of one of the best experts on Jacobean themes, as is Professor Manuel Cecilio Díaz y Díaz, at most there would be a neglect due to the depopulation of the area where, however, Santiago would continue to be worshiped since his body was transferred.

The truth is that everything changes, and in a dizzying way, from the year 830 when the tomb of the Apostle is discovered. An event that comes down to us wrapped in legend. A hermit discovers lights in the forest and hears celestial chants that speak of the existence of something supernatural. The bishop of the ancient diocese of Iria Flavia, Teodomiro, visits the place and identifies the burial mound of the Apostle Santiago. This discovery is brought to the attention of King Alfonso II the Chaste (791-842), who travels accompanied by the royal family and the court to verify the facts and, once accredited, places himself under the protection of the Apostle Santiago. In a way, the discovery is a "divine revelation" and the phenomenon of pilgrimages begins at that very point.

In addition to the religious significance of the discovery, the fact has an undeniable historical opportunity that we can relate both to the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula invaded by the Arabs, and to the birth of Europe.

The Asturian court of Alfonso II was embedded in the political and cultural ideals of the court of King Charlemagne and the other Carolingian monarchs who succeeded him. Charlemagne was the first to have an idea of Europe that went beyond the nationalities that made it up. In his time (beginning of the 9th century), the idea of a universal community around Christianity that did not understand geographical or political borders emerged in the West. This idea of Christianity, a community of universal and international character, was maintained despite the birth of national monarchies and lasted until the time of the Protestant Reformation, which destroyed the unity of the Christian ecclesiastical structure.

Linked to this nascent idea of Europe, which the Way of St. James will reinforce, is the other idea of crusade and fight against Islam. Indeed, the appearance of the tomb of the Apostle in the 9th century, when the Reconquest of the Peninsula began, will turn Santiago into the champion of the Christian struggle against the Muslims. This is, in fact, one of the most repeated iconographic representations: Santiago mounted on a horse and with his sword raised against the infidels, a false representation from the historical point of view, but true from the symbolic point of view for the above mentioned reasons.


Pilgrims began to arrive from all over Europe to visit the house of St. James, since several basilicas were built over the tomb, the first of them consecrated very soon, in the year 834. By the end of the 10th century, the pilgrimage to Santiago already had an international character and would enjoy enormous splendor throughout the Middle Ages. A phenomenon that was reflected in the Codex Calixtinus, a 12th century book that is considered to be the first pilgrims' guide describing the atmosphere of the Camino de Santiago at the time. Its original title is Liber Sancti Jacobi, although having been written in the name of Pope Calixtus II (Pope between 1119 and 1124) it soon became known as the Codex Calixtinus, a title that achieved historical fortune. Regarding the universal character of the Jacobean phenomenon at the time, we read the following: "Countless people of all nations go there.... There is no language or dialect whose voices do not resound.... The doors of the basilica are never closed, neither day nor night.... Everyone goes there acclaiming 'E-ultr-eia' (go ahead, sea!)".

A pilgrimage that will be maintained until our days, knowing a great splendor in all the Middle Ages and in wide periods of the Modern age. Its decline in the 19th century is linked to the deterrent effect of the French Revolution and the successive wars and revolutions that took place in Spain and Europe. And, of course, the ecclesiastical disentailment carried out in Spain in the 19th century will have very negative effects on pilgrimages. It is necessary to think that in the Ancien Régime the Church played an important role in what today we would call the logistics of the Camino: lodging, food or medical assistance. Thus, as the economic prosperity of the Church declined, many monasteries and hospitals were abandoned, and pilgrims lost the modest conditions of lodging and food provided by the religious.

We will have to wait until the 20th century to see a full recovery of the phenomenon of pilgrimages. However, at the end of the 19th century there was an event that was to play an important role in this recovery. Between the years 1878-79 the historian and canon Antonio López Ferreiro, together with the canon José María Labín Cabello carried out excavations in the cathedral to look for the remains of the Apostle Santiago, buried since 1589 for fear of desecration by the British invaders. On January 29, 1879, the sacred relics were found, whose veneration was authorized by Pope Leo XIII through the bull Deus Omnipotens. These relics were then placed in a new crypt built under the main altar, the place they occupy today.



Up to this point the account of a set of facts, sometimes adorned with legendary characters due to the grandiosity of what is narrated, which must be linked to the history of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. A phenomenon that, on the one hand, can be explained by the support it receives from the Catholic Church itself or from the Christian kingdoms, as in the case of the Navarre and Castilian-Leonese monarchies.

A whole group of authors, such as Robert Plötz, have pointed out that "the Cluniac Order contributed very especially to the increase of pilgrimages, by taking charge of those that went to Santiago de Compostela, since by uniting with the secular interests of the house of Burgundy, Cluny discovered very early the political value of the pilgrimage to Compostela "14. Márquez Villanueva pronounces himself in similar terms, for whom "the vast network of monasteries of Cluny, which extends to the depths of Poland, is, at this moment, the circulatory system of western Christianity, which makes possible a vast and efficient system of tributaries to the pilgrimage to Compostela".

The historical opportunity has also been frequently invoked to explain how the discovery of the tomb of the Apostle St. James contributes to strengthening the reconquest of the Christian kingdoms over Islam, coinciding on the one hand with the weakening of the Mozarabic and Isidorian heritage and, on the other, with the collapse of the Caliphate of Cordoba16.

Now, as various authors have pointed out, "the pilgrimage, as with other phenomena of social and collective psychology, was produced and grew insensibly and spontaneously, without conscious direction and propaganda "17. There is always an irreducible background that has to do with the personal faith of the tide of pilgrims who contribute to consolidate a living pilgrimage route from medieval times to the present day. A pilgrimage, moreover, that possesses its own personality that differentiates it from the pilgrimage to Rome to visit the tomb of St. Peter or to Jerusalem to visit the Holy Sepulchre. A differential character that is associated with a phenomenology of the Jacobean pilgrimage that dates back to the late medieval period (12th century and later). I will distinguish the interior phenomenology of the pilgrimage (motives, spiritual reasons, attitude of the believer, spiritual benefits), from the exterior phenomenology of the pilgrimage (rites, customs, clothing, etc.).

a) Interior phenomenology

The motivations for setting out on the road to the tomb of St. James the Apostle have to do, in the first place, with the belief, already attested in archaic cultures, of becoming a partaker of the sacred by going to a place consecrated as containing the relics of a supernatural being or some other trace of the numinous presence of a sacred force. Also for the medieval Christian, making a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James the Apostle meant obtaining protection and help, objectifying his faith through the cult of the blessed body of an apostle of Christ. But in addition to this general motivation, there existed for the medieval pilgrim other reasons or motives of great practical-religious efficacy to be able to explain why a path not exempt of dangers and penalties is undertaken. Among these reasons are:

(a) the ascetic-penitential ones. Embarking on the Camino de Santiago implied leaving behind a life of sin and, through the sacrifices and hardships of the long march, purifying oneself in order to return renewed, after the encounter with Santiago in his sanctuary.

b) Fulfillment of vows of an entirely voluntary and personal character or of penances imposed for the redemption of penalties (murders and other crimes).

c) Obtaining some grace or thanksgiving, very often one's own health or some other personal petition.

d) On behalf of another who for various reasons could not go on pilgrimage.

e) To culminate the three centers of pilgrimage of Christianity: Jerusalem, Rome, Santiago.

f) For adventure, curiosity, amusement.

g) As a modus vivendi, taking advantage of the network of Christian solidarity created around the Camino.

The reader can find further information on this rich phenomenology of the sacred in relation to archaic societies in AGÍS VILLAVERDE, M.: Mircea Eliade. Una filosofía de lo sagrado, Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Santiago, 1991.

A meaning that includes a curious symbolism that we can find in the cathedral of Santiago. Indeed, in the Pórtico de la Glória, which we contemplate as we pass through the main door of the cathedral, we find in the chrismon (monogram of Christ formed by the intertwining of the initials of his name in Greek -Iesus Cristos-) the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, symbolism associated with the eternal character of God, beginning and end of all things, but also the path that has a beginning that corresponds to the place where the pilgrimage begins and an end that is the tomb of St. James the Apostle. On the façade of Platería, one of the two side exit doors, we find the Greek letters inverted in the chrismion, which are now written Omega and Alpha, as a sign that another path begins after the purification or spiritual renewal received after the visit to the tomb of Santiago el Mayor.

In a residual form, it is still in force in the legislation of Belgium and the Netherlands the possibility for young people to redeem minor sentences by making the pilgrimage to Compostela.


All this without taking into account, of course, the delinquents, heretics, women of bad life, fugitives, histrionics, minstrels, false money changers and an endless number of rogues who took advantage of the Camino to carry out their business and misdeeds.

Leaving aside such perversions, we can say that the true pilgrim set out on the Camino pietatis causa, that is, with the primary objective of achieving spiritual renewal, after passing the test of a long journey, full of discomfort and sacrifices, and filled with the thaumaturgical and sacrosanct power of prostrating himself before the tomb of the Apostle St. James.

On the other hand, the pilgrimage is not for the Christian an imposed obligation, unlike what happens in the Islamic religion with the pilgrimage to Mecca, which every believer must make at least once in life if he has the means to do so. In the case of the Christian it is a personal and voluntary decision for pious reasons, whatever they may be. It responds to an interior call and implies a temporary distance from the worldly noise, leaving behind the homeland, family and goods to immerse oneself in an experience close to an eremitical retreat, since it supposes a parenthesis in which the pilgrim offers a tangible sample of his faith.

The hard days, the physical fatigue, contributed to prepare the spirit for the supreme moment of the arrival to the sacred space where the goal of the journey is, the cathedral of Compostela. This kind of mortification and contempt of the body (tired, wounded, poorly fed and poorly slept) was a penance assumed in favor of the spirit, a kind of attenuated martyrdom that brought the believer closer to the sanctified life. It was an ascetic preparation to approach with dignity the sacred presence represented by the remains of St. James the Apostle. Nothing, apparently, has changed regarding the structure and morphology of the sacred and the channels established for the encounter of the sacred and the profane since the most archaic phases of civilization and human culture. There have always existed a series of rites of passage and purification to put the believer in contact with the sacred forces. Also in the case of the Jacobean pilgrimage, the believer had to prepare himself to access the sanctuary that housed the remains of the Apostle, confess his sins, attend the holy mass and receive communion. The pilgrim goes up to the main altar of the cathedral to physically embrace the image of St. James and also descends to the crypt where his mortal remains rest today. There is, therefore, a spiritual and even physical communion with the transcendence through the mediation of the Apostle Santiago. 

The feast of St. James the Apostle falls on Sunday, the pilgrim crosses the Holy Door. After having fulfilled all the rituals, the pilgrim left renewed and a new life began for him, so that the end of the road now became the beginning of that other road of life (Omega and Alpha).

Naturally, the pilgrim visited the sanctuaries as he passed through the different places along the way and participated in worship as well as in penitential and devotional acts, or even in civil or religious works that were built along the way (roads, bridges, churches, etc.). There were also many temptations on the Camino and it was necessary to be on spiritual guard against them, from the pleasures associated with food and drink to carnal pleasures, which are already censured in the sermon "Veneranda dies" of the Codex Calixtinus. The pilgrim, whatever his economic capacity, had to carry a modest sum to meet the expenses of the pilgrimage, not only for an elementary reason of prudence against thieves and robbers but also to comply with the ascetic ideal and Christian modesty inherent in the spirit of the Camino. For this reason, since the twelfth century, it was foreseen to send a provision of funds to the goal of the Camino that the exchanger of Compostela made effective in their tables or "taboas".

But there were also, of course, pleasurable moments for the body and soul that made the Camino more bearable: songs that the pilgrims sang in Latin or in their respective languages25 , moments of distraction or rest enjoying nature and the company of pilgrims, among whom a sincere trust and friendship was inevitably born, etc. Family or guild ties were also strengthened because it was not uncommon for the pilgrimage to be undertaken in groups to avoid the dangers of the Camino.

External phenomenology

There is a whole series of external aspects that have to do with the signs of identity of the medieval pilgrim to Compostela who, in turn, practiced a whole series of rites, customs and behaviors that distinguished him both from the rest of the men he met along the way and from the pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem or Rome. Among these external elements are, among others, the following:

From the 14th century onwards, the changelings are grouped in the confraternity of the Cirial or of San Ildefonso, of which there are numerous documentary references. 

a) Clothing. The clothing fulfilled the function of identifying the pilgrim, who, being stripped of his own attire, also renounced the external signs of greatness, social position, to be equal in accordance with the Christian spirit to the rest of the pilgrim brothers and sisters he met on the road. At the same time, it was an attire conceived with a practical philosophy for the purpose it was meant to serve. This attire is well reflected in the iconography of St. James and in the Codex Calixtinus itself. It consisted of the following seven elements:

1. A wide-brimmed hat to protect the pilgrim from both the sun and the rain.

2. Loose and unbuttoned tunic to be able to walk comfortably, on which rested the slavina that covered the shoulders, back and chest.

3. Strong and resistant footwear to support the long walk.

4. A small, open bag or pouch for food and essential personal items.

5. Gourd for the drink of each stage, water or wine.

6. A ferrado cordon at the tip that served as a support and protection against a possible attack by evildoers or wild animals. The staff, in its condition of third point of support, also symbolized for the allegorizing medieval mentality, the Holy Trinity and therefore protected both from the enemies of the body and the soul.

7. The scallop shell (scallop) on the front of the hat, holding the wide brim, and also frequently on the breastplate of the cape.

b) Viaticum or equipment that the pilgrim received in the temple or in the religious center of his point of departure, with the accrediting documents for the trip, letters of recommendation, etc. to facilitate the passage through the different countries and cities of the Jacobean route.

26 "The backpack," we read in the Codex Calixnito, "is a narrow pouch, made of the skin of a dead beast, always open at the mouth and not tied with ties. The fact that the backpack is a narrow pouch means that the pilgrim, trusting in the Lord, must carry a small and modest larder with him. The fact that it is made of the hide of a dead beast means that the pilgrim must mortify his flesh with vices and lusts, with hunger and thirst, with many fasts, with cold and nakedness, with hardships and labors.

The fact that it has no ties, but is always open at the mouth, means that the pilgrim must first share his property with the poor and therefore must be prepared to receive and to give".

c) Water has been considered since archaic antiquity as a symbol of purification and incorporation into a new life. Also the medieval pilgrim, before entering the temple, had to get rid of his dirty and deteriorated clothes after the long journey in a place known as a cruz dos farrapos (cross of the rags). Then he would go in penitence to one of the fountains to bathe and clean himself properly, symbolizing in this way a second baptism.

d) Now dressed in new clothes, the pilgrim entered the cathedral with dignity and prepared for a new cleansing, this time a spiritual one: Confession. Indeed, although the pilgrim obtained the forgiveness of his sins at the end of his journey, he had to orally manifest his faults to a confessor in the cathedral. This gave rise, from the 12th-13th century onwards, to a corps of interpreters to listen to pilgrims of different nationalities.

e) The visit also very frequently included the offering (oblatio) to the cathedral treasury, as well as charity to the blind, beggars, etc. A candle was also lit and, as we can read in the Codex Calixtinus, during the vigils "the church is illuminated as if in the sun or as if it were daytime "30 .

f) The scallop shell. Judging by the information supplied by the Codex Calixtinus, it probably began as a souvenir that pilgrims wore after their passage through Compostela, but it was soon incorporated into their clothing. "For the same reason the pilgrims who come from Jerusalem bring palms, so those who return from the sanctuary of Santiago bring shells. For the palm signifies triumph, the shell signifies good works." As to the explanation of why a shell and of scallop precisely the following explanation is given: "For there are some shellfish in the sea near Santiago, which the vulgar call scallops, which have two shells, one on each side, between which, as between two shingles, is hidden the mollusk resembling an oyster. Such shells are carved like the fingers of the hand..., and when the pilgrims return from the sanctuary of Santiago they pin them to the cloaks for the glory of the Apostle, and in memory of him and as a sign of such a long journey, they bring them to their abode with great rejoicing. The kind of breastplates

In the case of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem the pilgrim literally bathed in the waters of the Jordan River with the symbolism of a second baptism in the same place where Jesus had been baptized.

According to Mircea Eliade, "this immemorial and ecumenical symbolism of immersion as an instrument of purification and regeneration was adopted by Christianity and enriched with new religious valences. (...) Symbolically, man dies in immersion and is reborn purified, renewed; exactly as Christ rose from the tomb". 

As with water, shells have a wide and rich religious and even philosophical symbolism.

g) The Compostela or Compostelana is the document that certifies having walked the Camino. In the Middle Ages it could be done on foot or on any type of mount (horse, mules or even on a humble donkey), nowadays the bicycle has also been incorporated.

h) In addition to the hospitals and hostels along the route, mention should be made of the important network of hospitals in the city of Santiago, of which the most impressive is undoubtedly the Royal Hospital of Compostela, founded by the Catholic Monarchs in 149934. Pilgrims were opened the doors of the hostels and, in general, were welcomed by the network of solidarity that operated along the Camino. The final chapter of the Codex Calixtinus, entitled "On how pilgrims to Santiago should be received", urges a charitable reception of pilgrims. "Pilgrims, both poor and rich," we read, "are to be charitably received and venerated by all people when they go to or come from Santiago. For whoever receives them and diligently hosts them, will not only have Santiago as a guest, but also the Lord, according to his own words when he says in the Gospel 'Whoever receives you receives me' .

i) Confraternities of ex-pilgrims to which those who had made the pilgrimage to Compostela joined on their return.

Diogenes of Sinope, cynical philosopher of the Hellenistic age, defended that man is freer the more he eliminates superfluous needs. Because of this philosophy, he lived in a barrel and his only property was a shell that he used to drink water from the fountains. Until one day he saw a child bener with his hands and threw the shell away forever.  

Importance especially in France. The reason was to preserve the sacred halo acquired through the pilgrimage. In this sense, Márquez Villanueva tells us, "irradiated and participant, although to a minimal degree, of the inexhaustible thaumaturgy of the Apostle, the pilgrim (...) became another 'Santiago' and henceforth carried an aura of admitted although not declared antechamber of sanctity".


The phenomenon of pilgrimages, in general, and the Jacobean pilgrimage, in particular, must be understood, as we have seen, from the perspective of faith. But this does not prevent us from recognizing other aspects intimately related to the Way. From its beginnings and throughout the medieval and modern period, the Camino de Santiago was not only a pilgrim route, but a road along which cultural fashions, architectural forms, values, political ideas, and a long etcetera traveled.

One of the aspects perhaps less known is the one that has to do with the penetration of philosophical and scientific ideas through the Way of St. James. There are, of course, studies of enormous originality on this subject that demonstrate to what extent the Way of St. James also served for the diffusion and knowledge of philosophy and science37. Nevertheless, much remains to be done in this area.

From the twelfth century onwards, there is talk in Europe of a certain humanism that transforms the spirit of medieval philosophy. It is the time when we begin to know, in a quantitatively very important number, works of classical authors that come to us through translations involving the Greek and Arabic languages on the one hand, and the Latin language on the other. Reason begins the process of autonomy from faith, a paradigm that will lead the modernity of philosophy in Western thought. All this generated an intellectual vitality and curiosity to which the Camino de Santiago and the city of Santiago de Compostela itself were no strangers. There we can detect three centers of scientific-philosophical activity: the Cathedral (or episcopal see), the studia of the Franciscans and those of the Dominicans.

Thus began an intellectual tradition that was to be consolidated in a very similar way in different European cities in the 13th century. An institutionalization of the intellectual life that we discover in the Franciscan studium of Oxford, created five years later than that of Santiago (1224-25); or in the Dominican studium of Saint-Jacques de Paris. While that of Santiago de Compostela stagnated, with a timid resurgence from 1252, coinciding with the beginning of the reign of Alfonso X the Wise, thanks to the intense intellectual activity developed in his court.

Although Santiago de Compostela was not historically a land of great philosophical fecundity, in the 14th century a figure of interest for philosophy flourished who still offers researchers some enigmatic aspects. I am referring to Pedro Compostelano, a medieval philosopher who bequeathed to us a work entitled De consolatione rationis (The Consolation of Reason). A single manuscript copy of this work is preserved in the Monastery of El Escorial, in Madrid, written in Latin. Although there have been doubts as to whether this author belonged to the twelfth or fourteenth century, researchers opt for the latter date because of the references to certain cultural and liturgical facts and events, as well as the appreciable imprint of philosophies and authors of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It is a work written in dialogue form and has three characters: the World, the Flesh and Reason. It is about three beautiful maidens who dialogue with a young man who is disoriented and does not know which path to take in life. The young man must choose between vice and virtue, between good and evil. As you can imagine, Reason and the ideal of a balanced and wise life that it offers him triumphs.

The other great fact, linked to the city and that will mark in a definitive way the cultural and philosophical life of the goal of the Camino, is the creation, towards the end of the 15th century, of the University of Santiago de Compostela. The date taken as a reference for the beginnings of the University is September 4, 1495, the date of the foundation of a College of Grammarians by the Compostela notary Lope Gómez de Marzoa, with the help of two other eminent figures who joined this enterprise: Don Diego de Muros II, bishop of the Canary Islands and Don Diego de Muros III, dean of the Cathedral of Santiago.

 These three figures not only provided the economic means to begin what is known as the Old Studio, but also the spirit, tastes and culture of the Renaissance. An era of profound scientific, artistic, philosophical, economic, political and social transformations. This policy was continued by Archbishop Pedro Muñiz (d. 1224) and especially by Bernardo II (1224-37), a man linked to the intellectual circles of Bologna and Paris, who was dean of the chapter of Compostela from 1214. Both prelates saw in the consolidation of the new mendicant orders an essential element in the double policy of moral and intellectual renewal of the clergy of their extensive diocese".

Both because of its religious origin and its awareness of the transcendence of the Jacobean event, the University of Santiago has been an institution that has paid great attention to the Camino. At present, an important number of instigators deal with it from very diverse scientific fields, among which I will mention, simply as an indication, works of a historical, philological, anthropological or philosophical nature.


The pilgrimage to Compostela is gradually recovering as the 20th century progresses, and is currently experiencing a boom reminiscent of the golden age of the Middle Ages, with all due historical distances. To provide some data that give an idea of the spectacular nature of the phenomenon, suffice it to say that compared to the 2,491 Compostelas (document that certifies having walked at least the last 100 kilometers of the Camino) that were granted in the Holy Year 1985-86, in 1993 99,436 were issued, and in the last Holy Year of 2004, the first of the third millennium, 179,944 Compostelas were issued. These data contradict the thesis of some researchers who state that "the theme of the Way of St. James must always be approached as a specific medieval reality, outside of which it would be anachronistic to judge it". Nowadays, hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and social conditions make the pilgrimage to Santiago. In this year 2007, which is not a holy year, 112,000 pilgrims have already collected their Compostela (the figure is from today). Many centuries have passed since the Middle Ages; historical, social, political and economic circumstances have changed. Nevertheless, the Jacobean pilgrimage has experienced, especially since the last decade of the twentieth century, a spectacular boom in the number of pilgrims.

Two questions loom over this fact. The first is to know what motives encourage today's pilgrims to set out on pilgrimage. The second is to know what factors contributed in the twentieth century to such a spectacular revival of the Camino de Santiago.

It is a Holy Year or Jubilee Year whenever July 25, the feast day of St. James, falls on a Sunday. It has been celebrated regularly since the Middle Ages, in accordance with the bull "Regis Aeterni" promulgated in 1179 by Pope Alexander II, which makes perpetual the "Jubilee Privilege" granted by Pope Callistus II in 1122.

Regarding the first, it is necessary to recognize that the practice of the Way is revitalized in an era of enormous secularization in Western culture. An era in which the religious sense of life has been lost. A process that from the philosophical point of view begins with the Renaissance and has its culmination in the philosophies of the twentieth century. This abandonment of religion and religious values, once the majority in Western societies, has not, however, been clearly replaced by a civic morality or a morality of the earth in the style advocated by Nietzsche. This may partly explain the feeling of emptiness, uneasiness and uncertainty of today's man. A man immersed in a technified universe, with global problems, who lives against the clock, with difficulties to meet the other, despite belonging to the era of information and communications. All this set of factors, universally perceived, can to a certain extent justify the imperious need of man to withdraw partially from the world, entering into communion with nature, and try to live again the value of the sacred, all of them aspects embodied in the Way of St. James. Although religious motivation is not the only one that moves the pilgrim of our days. There are, and probably always have been, travelers who do the Camino for the sake of adventure, tourism or simply to do something different, thus breaking the daily routine.

As for the second question, it should be noted that many people and institutions from very different fields contributed to the reactivation of the Camino. First of all, the Catholic Church, starting with Pope John Paul II himself, who made two pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela, in 1982 and 1989. As well as the work carried out throughout the 20th century by various archbishops of Compostela. A work that gave its most appreciable fruits during the mandate of Archbishop Julián Barrio Barrio, auxiliary bishop of Santiago since 1994 and archbishop from 1996 to the present. Or of courageous priests such as D. Elías Valiña Sampedro (+1989), known as "o cura do Cebreiro", who in 1984 undertook the signposting of the original stretches of the Way from France to Compostela, as well as various cleaning, recovery and kilometric enumeration works, restoring the hostelry, church and village of O Cebreiro, the first Galician point of the French Way. Or institutions linked to the church as the Archconfraternity of the Apostle in Santiago and in various parts of the world, the Associations of Friends of the Camino de Santiago, the Cathedral Chapter, and a long etcetera.

The main institutional support from the civil society is undoubtedly due to the Xunta de Galicia (Autonomous Government of Galicia), which in 1993 created the Xacobeo Plan, dependent on the Department of Culture, and subsequently created the Xacobeo Plan Corporation to publicize and promote the Way of St. James in the world. The successive promotion plans have had their effect and, undoubtedly, the figures mentioned above are a good example of this. It is true that a certain controversy has arisen between the political and religious authorities, due to the insistence of the latter that the Way of St. James should not be lost. The latter insists that the religious significance of the pilgrimage should not be lost or distorted in order to promote the tourist or cultural aspects. The Way of St. James has acquired a universal dimension and, as such, it is not exempt from the negative aspects that massification provokes. This universal dimension is also a challenge to think from philosophy and anthropology about the meaning that the Way of St. James offers to modern man.


The metaphor of the "road" is, of course, one of the most reiterative metaphors of philosophy to express the itinerant condition of man. Philosophers of all times have made use of it, from Plato to Martin Heidegger, including, of course, the very rationalist Descartes who wrote his Discourse on Method to "conduct one's reason well", to find a safe path for philosophy and, in short, to distinguish the true from the false and to "walk safely through life".

This itinerant condition of man, which has led a good number of philosophers to define him as a homo viator, has been reinforced by the Christian vision of the world. "In the midst of the multiplicity of occupations of this world," writes St. Augustine, "there is only one thing to which we must tend. To tend because we are all pilgrims, not residents; we are still on the way, not in a definitive homeland". A homeland to which he will refer with the metaphor that gives its name to one of his most famous works: the City of God, and which he will formulate theologically in The Confessions: "Our heart is restless, until it rests in you".

The Christian vision of the world, introduced by Augustine of Hippo and deepened by a good number of Christian philosophers, has given rise to the fact that "pilgrimage in its different forms is the most appropriate symbol to understand the life of man, which is perceived fundamentally as a path towards eternity, truth and fullness".

The Christian worldview is an indissoluble part of European history and culture, for, as Goethe wrote, "the conscience of Europe was born on pilgrimage". From this perspective, it is necessary to understand the exhortation of John Paul II in his Europeanist speech, pronounced on the occasion of his first trip to Santiago on November 9, 1982 (of which today marks exactly 25 years): "be yourself, return to your roots". Santiago de Compostela, the destination of one of the most important pilgrimage routes of Christianity, preserves the memory of Europe and the roots of its identity.

It is, perhaps, the desire to rediscover its roots, its identity, that has led contemporary man to go on pilgrimage. And not only from a metaphorical point of view, but by walking and revitalizing the Way of St. James, a medieval pilgrimage route full of meaning. A religious sense, first of all, because it has been inspired by faith; but also an anthropological sense, because man has defined himself as a wayfarer; and even a philosophical sense, because philosophy and science is nothing but the path that leads to knowledge. In our case, there are also historical-political reasons because "the conscience of Europe - as Goethe lapidarily wrote - was born on pilgrimage".

The Way of St. James has been, as we have seen, the way of penetration of cultural and philosophical ideas throughout the centuries. Today it brings us together again in Pontevedra, a city that crosses the Portuguese Way to Compostela, allowing us to establish a bridge between two distant and different cultures such as the Japanese and the Galician, but with a vocation to meet.