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Compostela pilgrimages signify spiritual revival
Julia Roberts, Website contributor

The Way of St James
The Way of St James passes through some harsh countryside

A sign of an apparent spiritual upsurge in Europe is the revival of pilgrimage says Julia Roberts, an Anglican from west Staffordshire.

Catholics, Protestants and even those uneasy with denominational labels are walking old and new pilgrim routes across the continent.

Julia herself undertook the famous Way of St James route to the church of Saint James of Compostela in Spain.

Another 200,000 devotees will also complete the walk in this year.

Here Julia reflects on the idea of pilgrimage, and the origins of the The Way of St James of Compostela.



It's said that pilgrimage is almost as popular today in Western Christianity as it was in its medieval heyday.

At a time when our churches are emptying and many are feeling disconnected from institutionalised religion, our pilgrimage pathways are again overflowing with those in search of something deeper.

Whether they are seeking God, celebrating a significant event or just enjoying the outdoor adventure with others, there is an increasingly enthusiastic movement of people seeking to express and connect through practical and demonstrable ways.


For over a thousand years pilgrims have been journeying from all over Europe to pay homage at the burial place of St James the Greater, the apostle of Jesus Christ.

Cathedral in Santiago
The magnificent cathedral in Santiago is a welcome sight

And now, once again, the medieval pilgrim route of Camino de Santiago de Compostela (The Way of St James of Compostela) is the most travelled and the most evocative pilgrim route in Europe.

There are various routes to Santiago from Europe but the most popular is the Camino Frances (also a European Cultural Route) which has four branches - connecting other European countries such as Denmark, Germany and Italy.

The route passes through the Pyrenees mountains and continues westwards through northern Spain passing the great cathedrals of Burgos and Leon.

A mark of its popularity can be seen in the statistics. In 1986 just fewer than 2,500 pilgrims received their compostela - the certificate of accomplishment awarded to those who travelled 62 miles (100km) on foot.

In 1996, the number rose to over 23,000, and in 2006 to 100,000!

2010 is a holy year for Compostela (a year when the feast of St James falls on a Sunday) and by the end of it an estimated 200,000 pilgrims are predicted to have arrived in Santiago qualifying for their compostela.

Pilgrims arrive in Santiago
Pilgrims arrive in Santiago weary and footsore - but happy

Saint James

Since the 5th century Christians have told the story of St James's mission to Spain after the death of Christ. After returning to Palestine, James was beheaded on the order of King Herod.

His body was then brought back to the Iberian Peninsula by his disciples; and the story goes that it was a star that later led the shepherd boy Pelayo to the grave of St James in about AD 830.

The magnificent Romanesque Cathedral de Santiago marks the spot where Pelayo found the grave of St James de Compostela (ie "of the starry fields") - and also marks the final destination of the footsore pilgrims.

Julia Roberts (all photos copyright)


To read Julia's account of her own experience of the St James pilgrimage, click here.

Pilgrim walks 500-mile route
28 Sep 10 |  Religion & Ethics



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