The history of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela

St. James, Santiago Cathedral

The Way of St. James is the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. It ranks along with Rome and Jerusalem as one of Christendom’s great pilgrim destinations.


By the 12th century, the Camino had become a rather organized affair and what is widely regarded as the world’s first travel guide, the Codex Calixtinus from around 1140, provided the would-be pilgrim with the rudiments of what he or she would need to know while en route; advice for pilgrims, informing them where they should stop, relics and sanctuaries they should visit, bad food they should be wary of and commercial scams, including in the author’s opinion, other churches who claimed to hold relics of St. James. The book provides a valuable insight into the life of the 12th-century pilgrim.

Santa Maria de Real_IMG_2655
Just before Sunrise, Sept 20, 2012, Santa Maria de Real, Najera Spain

By the 12th and 13th centuries, half a million pilgrims made their way to and across northern Spain and back each year. Local kings and clergy built hospitals, hostels, roads and bridges to accommodate them. The Knights Templar patrolled the Camino, providing protection, places of hospitality, healing and worship, as well as a banking system that became one source of their fabled wealth.

There is evidence of a pre-christian route, the celts used this route across northern Spain, to Finisterre, the end of the world. For them, watching the sun set over the endless waters was a spiritual experience.

Castillo de los Templarios_Ponferrada Spain_IMG_3979
Castillo de los Templarios_Ponferrada Spain

Some of it winds its way over the remains of pavement laid down by the Romans two millennia ago, they built infrastructure, including a road from Bordeaux in modern France to Astorga in northwest Spain, to mine the area’s gold and silver. Some of the original road remains on today’s Camino.

A combination of the Protestant Reformation initiated by Martin Luther around 1520, the Enlightenment and European wars gradually suppressed the Camino. In the 17th century Louis XIV of France forbade his subjects from going to Santiago in order to stop trade with Spain. The Camino fell into disfavour but was never abandoned.

The European Union has designated a network of four pilgrimage routes in northern Spain in 1993. The network of routes represent 1500 kilometres, and includes historical sites, cathedrals, churches, monasteries, hostels, bridges and natural landscapes. Pilgrimages were an essential part of European culture and spiritual life during the Middle Ages. Along the route pilgrims were provided with everything they needed to ensure their physical and spiritual well-being. The route contributed to the economic and social development of the towns along the way, and the movement of large numbers of visitors contributed to the two-way exchange of cultural advances between the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe.

Now, after centuries of slumber, the Camino is alive with upward of 250,000 pilgrims—and growing—yearly.



Pilgrimage through Leon Spain to Santiago de Compostela

Pilgrimage through Leon Spain
Pilgrimage through Leon Spain; copyright jmeyersforeman 2015

Bill and I have travelled through Leon Spain a couple of times, first as part of our walk along the Camino to Santiago de Compostella the autumn of 2013 the second visit was the summer of 2014 when we spend about three months visiting the beautiful cities of Spain.

Leon was one city we remembered fondly during the camino, during this visit we only had one day to see the city. During our visit last summer we spent a week wandering the streets, enjoying the festival and seeing the historic sites. It is often difficult when visiting a city to find an image that hasn’t been taken, I want it to have personal meaning, and contect with people.  I think the statue of the pilgrim sitting resting his sore feet in Plaza de San Marcos in front of the Parador “Hostal San Marcos

What is now The Parador had originally been built during the 16 century as the western headquarters for the military Order of Saint James. Built on the site of an old pilgrim’s hospital that had existed to house and help the pilgrims travelling to Santiago de Compostela. So the image of the pilgrim sitting resting his feet and looking at the convent, his resting place for the night reminds me of the first time we were in Leon.


Early Morning on the Old Roman Bridge, Merida

Early morning on the Roman Bridge, Merida Spain
Early morning on the Roman Bridge, Merida Spain 

We have been spending time in Calgary, seeing family and friends, attending to different chores that need to be done before we are off again, this time to Italy.  It seems like a long time ago that Bill and I were visiting the ancient Roman sites in the Spanish city of Merida. While it seems like a long time ago, if was infact only 6 months ago that we visited the city.

The ancient Roman bridge, known as the Puente Romano is the longest surviving bridge from ancient times. It spans 755 meters with 62 spans, over the Guadiana River. Built over 2000 years old, it is a great place to witness the city awake. The street lights reflecting off the wet cobblestones, many pedestrian use this bridge on their way into the city.

Merida is along the ancient pilgrimage route north from Cadiz to Santiago de Compostela, known as the Via la Plata or the Silver Route. The Via la Plata was built by the Romans as a commercial route to transport goods, it became a pilgrimage route used by Mozarabic (Christians) so rich with history Merida was worth the visit, and the time spent there. A city I would happily visit again.

Visit my gallery to see more of images from Merida and the many pilgrimage sites we have photographed.

Pilgrim Mass, Santiago de Compostela

Botafumeiro at the Santiago Cathedral, Santiago de Compostela Spain
Botafumeiro at the Santiago Cathedral, Santiago de Compostela Spain

Pilgrim Mass at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, the Tiraboleiros, members of clergy swing an 80k silver incense burner called a botafermeiro across the transept of the Cathedral. It is a highlight of the service, the moment many pilgrims have been waiting for.

Walking the Meseta, Camino to Santiago de Compostela

Walking the Meseta; cool fall morning on the Camino
Walking the Meseta; cool fall morning on the Camino

I remember this morning very well, the day before had been rainy and wet, so we were happy to see the sun. It was a cool morning, and we had started just before sunrise. From this little creek we climbed to the top of Alto de Mosteleres.

Many of the people we met thought I was a little crazy, because I carried a full size DSRL camera with a couple of lenses. But having the camera with me, meant that as I was looking for images, I was more aware of my surroundings, rather than just walking along, lost in my thoughts.

I found that walking with my camera, thinking about how to show our trip to family, friends and blog readers, I was more aware of how the light changed during the day, as well as how the landscape, and our surroundings changed as we walked. I thought about how best to tell the story of our journey. I also tried to learn more about the places we were visiting, so I could pass along some of the stories.

Since being home I have found a couple of extra benefits to carryin my camera. The first is the friends that I made through the blog.  But the most unexpected benefit is having images for the stock photography. The image above is just one of the many images submitted to Alamy, and one of several images that have sold since adding them to the site. It is always rewarding when someone chooses one of my images to accompany their writing and or publication.

Yes the camera was extra weight, and there were days that were tougher because of that weight, but I am glad I had the camera with me.


Meseta at Dawn; Walking the Camino to Santiago de Compostela

Meseta at Dawn
Meseta at Dawn

Growing up in the Canadian Breadbasket other wise known as Saskatchewan, miles and miles of farmland is not an unfamiliar scene. Walking the Camino to Santiago de Compostela through the meseta was like a trip home.  The fields and  the road went on, seemingly forever. The crops a golden color, the worked ground a beautiful brown, the sky pink as the sun was rising in the east. The scene was as familiar as it was beautiful.

The challenge as a photographer is to see even a seemingly old familiar scene (and to show it to others) in a new way. I saw this scene as blocks of color, and the detail of each cloud, line in the field, the weeds in the ditch and rocks on the road all distracted from the blocks of color I wanted to emphasis. The light was low, so I set the ISO low, the aperture for a high depth of field, and a slow shutter speed, then moved the camera sideways to blur all the detail. The image now emphasises the blocks of color as well as the beautiful pink hue of a new day.

St. Jean Pied de Port, Camino Frances; travel photos

Rue de la Citadelle, St. Jean Pied de Port, France.  Camino Frances
Rue de la Citadelle, St. Jean Pied de Port, France. Camino Frances

St. Jean Pied de Port, France. The beginning of the Camino France for many pilgrims walking to Santiago de Compostella Spain. One of the many images, representing one of the many moments along our journey that is still very important to me. As it is the beginning of the camino for so many pilgrims it is a little town that many remember fondly.

Recently a fellow Calgarian sent an email, interested in learning more about the camino, and our experience, it is wonderful to visit those memories again, and to think that someday Bill and I will go back.

On a complete different note, this is one of the images listed with Alamy, an online stock agency, that has licensed recently.  While I haven’t been notified of the name of the publication, but I have learned from the sales contract that the image will be published as a 2 pages spread, for a travel guide with a print run of up to 100,000.  While this isn’t my first sale through the stock agency, it still feels awesome to have someone buy and use one of my images!

Spiral Staircase, Pamplona Cathedral

Spiral Staircase, Pamplona Cathedral
Spiral Staircase, Pamplona Cathedral 

The Cathedral of Royal Saint Mary (Santa María la Real), a 15th century Gothic Catholic Pilgrimage Church has many beautiful features. We visited the lovely Cathedral in September when walking the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. I could spend hours photographing the details.  Just off the main temple, a beautiful stone carved staircase topped by a magnificent dome.

For more Cathedral and camino images: Cathedral 

Pilgrim’s Mass and the lighting of the Botafumeiro by the Tiroboleiros, Santiago Cathedral

Pilgrim's Mass and the lighting of the Botafumeiro_IMG_4840.tif
Pilgrim’s Mass and the lighting of the Botafumeiro_

We have been home from the Camino to Santiago Spain for quite some time, and it is taking quite a while to sift through all the photos from the trip. I like a lot of people busy with regular work and lifestyle tasks and distractions. Each day when I have a few minutes I work on my photos, and it is wonderful to re-live the memories.

The first things most pilgrims do, and we were no exception, is to visit the Cathedral.  We stopped by, but we were soaked to the bone as it had rained heavily that day.  We saved our visit to the inside for the following day, when we would be dressed in dry cloths, and have time to see, sit and enjoy all the sights. We arrived early enough to get a seat, by the time mass started the Cathedral was full, barely standing room available. They announce the number of pilgrims arriving in the previous 24 hours from each country.

The ceremony culminated in the swinging of the botafumeiro (smoke belcher) a massive silver incense burner.  It takes eight men, a team of clergy called tiraboleiros to get the incense burner swinging across the cathedral.  The botafumeiro, said to be the largest in the Catholic world and dates back to 1851, it is this part of the ceremony that the pilgrims have been waiting for, and it was so thrilling in a way that can’t be described. The energy in the Cathedral amazing. It was such a moving experience we actually attended Mass the next day to see it again.

for more of our camino images click here

Day 38 on our Camino to Santiago

Rock Bridge, Galicia Spain

We left Palas de Rei just after 8 am, it was still dark, but there was enough light to see where we were going. The sky was cloudy, so it stayed darker longer than we anticipated, and there was no beautiful sunrise.  We had a long day planned and wanted to get out the door early

We have see several of these stone bridges, a place for pilgrims to pass when the creeks fills with water, and I am sure it does during the raining season.

We arrived in Melide around noon, this is about ½ way for the day. Bill’s ankle seemed to beholding up quite well. Melide is famous for the pulpa (octopus) dish and one of the pilgrims we know pointed us in the direction of the most famous restaurant so we could give it a try. The restaurant was quiet when we went in, but given it was lunch time it didn’t take long to fill with pilgrims and locals like.  The pulpa was okay, tasty enough, a little chewy, and obviously very popular.

red flower along the camino

Back on the road again, the clouds had cleared and the sun was shining, about 18 C, it was great for walking. The path in residential areas are lined with flowers and in one place a rosemary shrub ran for about 50 feet, about 2 ½ feet high, it was starting to bloom.

One place I noticed an older farming couple unloading the wagon, beside it with huge wheel barrow of Kale.  We have seen it growing very large garden patches, the plants about 6 feet high, with all but the top few leaves picked. I don’t know anyone who would eat that much Kale, so I am wondering what else it is used for…….

farmers with a wheelbarrow of Kale, Galicia Spain

Today we covered about 32 k, 4 big hills to go up and down, all in the last 8 k, so by the time we arrived at the hotel we were exhausted, and after the shower, and daily laundry we had a nap until dinner, which was at 8 pm.

Two more days to reach Santiago, we plan to walk about 36k over the next two days, so we are hopeful that things will be easier, but as I type this it is raining hard, so I am not sure, well at least it isn’t a cold rain! See you tomorrow!