The “Way of St. James”

Conques Tympanum
Conques Abbey Tympanum

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.
Saint Marie Cathedral of Auch
Saint Marie Cathedral of Auch a stopover on Via Arletensis

Inside Auch Cathedral
Inside Auch Cathedral

Auch Cathedral
Beautiful decoration inside Auch Cathedral

Saint Sernin Basilica of Toulouse
Saint Sernin Basilica of Toulouse on Via Arletensis

Saint Sernin Basilica of Toulouse
Saint Sernin Basilica of Toulouse
Conques Abbey
Conques Abbey

Village of Conques
Village of Conques on Via Podiensis

Rocamadour
The village of Rocamadour, was an important stop on Via Podiensis

Chapel used also as hospital by the medieval pilgrims
Chapel in Rocamadour used also as hospital by the medieval pilgrims

Saint Pierre Abbey of Moissac
Saint Pierre Abbey of Moissac

The shell symbol of the pilgrims to Saintiago de Compostela
The shell symbol of the pilgrims to Saintiago de Compostela

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.

Man pilgrim - display in Pilgrim's museum of Saint Jean Pied de Port
Man pilgrim – display in Pilgrim’s museum of Saint Jean Pied de Port

Woman pilgrim - display in Pilgrim's museum of Saint Jean Pied de Port
Woman pilgrim – display in Pilgrim’s museum of Saint Jean Pied de Port

Pilgrim's bed
Pilgrim’s bed

Modern Pilgrim's Shop in Saint Jean Pied de Port
Modern Pilgrim’s Shop in Saint Jean Pied de Port
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