Pilgrimage & Pedagogy | Camino Downunder

Camino de Santiago: el Camino Francés

In 1987 the Council of Europe declared the Camino the first European Cultural Route and in 1993 the Camino de Santiago (el Camino Francés) was placed on the World Heritage List because it demonstrated “having outstanding universal value”.

  • Photo: Cathedral spire in Santiago de CompostelaCamino is a Spanish word meaning: route, way, track
  • Santiago is the Spanish name for Saint James

In 1998, France had all its four original medieval pilgrimage routes also placed on the World Heritage List under the title of: “Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France“. In Latin and French they are called:

  • Via Turonensis … la voie de Tours
  • Via Lemovicensis … la voie de Vézelay
  • Via Podiensis … le chemin du Puy-en-Velay (le GR 65)
  • Via Tolosana … le chemin d’Arles (le GR 653).

The 21st century pilgrim walking these routes will also experience and discover that along the Camino Francés in Spain, are four other World Heritage Listed sites:

  • The city of Santiago de Compostela (Old Town) listed in 1985 “one of the world’s most beautiful urban areas
  • The Burgos Cathedral listed in 1984
  • The architectural works of Antoni Gaudí (in León & Astorga) 1984
  • The Archaeological Site of Atapuerca (near Burgos), listed in 2000

In 2004 the prestigious Prince of Asturias Foundation from Spain – La Fundación Príncipe de Asturias bestowed an award on the Camino de Santiago:

“From these beginnings, the pilgrimage to Santiago became a driving force for extraordinary spiritual, social, cultural and economic vitality. In the course of its 1,200 years of history, it also became a symbol of fraternity amongst different peoples and the corner stone and focal point for an incipient, generalised awareness of Europe. The Council of Europe confirmed its backing in 2004 by naming it a Primary European Cultural Itinerary, stating that it demonstrated “the importance of man in society and the ideas of freedom and justice (it is) a niche for tolerance, learning and solidarity, for dialogue and coming together.

No where in the world do you have such a concentration of World Heritage sites as you have on or near the Camino Francés. This is both unique and exciting for any person/pilgrim walking the Camino. Do allocate time for these most worthwhile detours. Australians and New Zealanders live so far away, so when you are there, take advantage of this embarrassment of past riches.

In Rioja between Nájera and Santo Domingo de la Calzada, approximately 15 km from the Camino de Santiago route you have the 1997 World Heritage listing of the Yuso and Suso Monasteries at San Millán.

  • The monastic community founded by St Millán in the mid-6th century became a place of pilgrimage (well before the Camino de Santiago). It was here that the first written piece of literature was produced in the Spanish language (Castilian). Yuso and Suso witnessed the birth of the Spanish language. Suso is the older of the two monasteries and it is the site where various texts in the Spanish and Basque languages were written for the first time.

At Ponferrada (location of the fabulously impressive Knights Templar castle), 20 kilometres west is another World Heritage Listed site:

  • Las Médulas (also listed in 1997) – the Roman Empire gold mines of the first century – listed because it is an outstanding example of innovative Roman technology amongst a devastated natural environment that is nonetheless stunningly beautiful (colour, size, weird shapes) due to its environmental destruction nearly 2,000 years ago.

And in Galicia, approximately 33 km from the Camino Francés at Lestedo (near Palas de Rei) in a northerly direction is the city of:

  • Lugo (90,000 inhabitants) – dating back to pre-Roman times, with evidence of more than 2,000 years of continual settlement. The Camino del Norte passes through this city. It is famous for its intact Roman wall completely encircling the inner town and for that reason in 2000 UNESCO World Heritage listed “The Roman walls of Lugo as the finest surviving example of late Roman military fortifications in the 3rd century”.

The art and architecture from the 10th century onwards along the 800 kilometres Camino Francés from Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees to the main entrance of the Cathedral in the Praza de Obradoiro in Santiago de Compostela is so culturally rich and resplendent that no one is left unmoved by past human endeavour and creativity.

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Sólo hay un Camino There is only a path
Que te lleva a otra forma de vivir Which allows you to live another way
A otra forma de sentir Another way of feeling
Es un camino guiado por el sol It’s a track guided by the sun
Y las estrellas And by the stars at night
Y cuando lo sigues encuentras un país mágico And when you follow it, you find a magical country
Donde todo es posible Where everything is possible
Paisajes de leyenda With legendary locations
Mares de intensidad Powerful seas
Ciudades de piedra Cities of stones
Y gente que regala amistad And people who delight in friendships
Sólo, si haces el Camino Only if you undertake the Camino de Santiago
Al final, siempre encuentras lo que buscas In the end, you will always find what you’re looking for
El camino – Galicia – la sientes. The Camino de Santiago – Galicia – you’ll feel it.


The Camino de Santiago made Europe

The Camino de Santiago de Compostela was one of the main manifestations of European culture in the Middle Ages which was founded on Catholic/Christian traditions from the earliest times when most of Western, Central and Eastern Europe had been Christianised towards the end of Roman power and domination circa. 4th Century Common Era.

Saint James Way or now more commonly known as the Camino de Santiago had a major influence on the form of art and civilization in the various countries of Western Europe.

France during the Middle Ages developed four main pilgrimage routes and once over the Pyrenees (the natural, geographical barrier between France and Spain) converged into one route and called the French Route and now universally called el Camino Francés. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) through its vehicle the World Heritage Committee with their World Heritage Listing identified a massive number of built structures directly attributed to the Pilgrimage route from the Pyrenees all the way to Santiago de Compostela. The report stated that there are one thousand eight hundred (1,800) buildings along the route both religious and secular which have been identified as being associated with the Camino and pilgrimage.

Photo: These boots are made for walking the CaminoThis built environment is so culturally rich for modern day pilgrims that one could view the pilgrimage as simply the longest and most continuous museum crawl on earth!

The Camino de Santiago represents the birth and manifestation of Romanesque art and architecture. From the second half of the 12th century, came the Gothic cathedrals. There developed different chains of monasteries and castles. The Knights Templar castle in Ponferrada is an awe inspiring sight to behold. The expansion of existing cities, towns and villages whilst establishing newly built environments for just one purpose: supporting and assisting the pilgrim on his way to and from Santiago de Compostela. And not forgetting public works initiated by the various northern Spanish kingdoms and other entities created expressly for the Camino such as bridges, inns, hospitals and chapels.

The World Heritage Committee when it listed the Camino de Santiago (el Camino Francés) openly acknowledged that it is little changed from the Middle Ages. The report stated:

“The actual Route itself is well established and much of it survives the 20th century. About 10% of the original Route has been destroyed, and a further 10% lies beneath modern roads, but in many cases the modern road runs parallel to the ancient route.”

Quintessentially and most importantly, the Camino is a living pilgrimage route used by modern day pilgrims.

In a report/evaluation from the Advisory Body to the World Heritage Committee in 1993 it stated that: The Route of Saint James is a unique example of its type which had a significant, even fundamental, influence on the consolidation of Western Europe.”