A tourist visiting the southwest of France will certainly fall, at one time or another, upon a monument, church or maybe just a sign referring to “Saint Jacques de Compostella” or the “Way of St. James” or “Camino de Santiago”, the Catholic pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
The town situated in the northwestern Spanish province of Galicia holds by tradition in its Cathedral the remains of Apostle Saint James, saint patron of Spain, whose body came here after his martyrdom in 44AD in Jerusalem on a boat guided by wind and water currents.
It is said that the burial place of the Saint was discovered in the 9th century by a hermit who was guided by a shining light and therefore called the place “Campus Stellae,” which is Latin for “field of the star.” This was later shortened to Compostela.
During medieval times the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela was as important as the ones to Jerusalem or to Rome, but as the Middle Ages were waning so was the number of pilgrims to the holy sites.
Nowadays the pilgrimages are becoming quite popular again with more than 250,000 people going only to Compostela each year (mostly by foot, but also bike, horse or wheel chair).
Traditionally the pilgrimage to Compostela starts in 4 major point of France, forming 4 routes that converge in Spain near the city of Pamplona.
These 4 routes are: the route that starts in the town of Arles called Via Arletensis, the one that starts at Le Puy called Via Posiensis, the one of Paris or Tours called Via Turonensis, and the Vézelay route called Via Lemovicensis.
Since 1998 the monuments, chapels, abbeys and churches that were once sites of stopover for the pilgrims have been included in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
One can recognize the monuments that were on the pilgrimage routes by Saint James’s shell (“la coquille Saint-Jacques”) carved on them, the symbol of the pilgrims that once arrived on the beaches of Galicia were picking up one shell and hanging it on their clothes or walking stick as a sign of a reached goal.
Below are some of the sites that belong to Way of Saint James in southwest of France.
One museum that tries to recreate as close as possible to reality the life of a pilgrim at a stopover is situated IN a town that was – and still is – traditionally a resting place before the difficult part of crossing the Pyrenean Mountains: Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.
The museum is located in a strangely named building, the “Bishop’s Prison”, but this is another Bishop’s Prison.
Hi, I am Carla. I am living and working in the beautiful city of Toulouse, France.
I like history, travel and... the southwest of France and try to share through this blog information about events that might be of interest to the travelers to this part of the world!