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.



Ravenna Italy; Art and Architecture

Basilica Di S. Vitale; copyright jmeyersforeman
Basilica Di S. Vitale; copyright jmeyersforeman

We took a short train ride from Bologna to visit Ravenna, during our day we managed to see 4 of the 8 UNESCO designated sites in the city. Pictured above is the Basilica Di S. Vitale, described in our guidebook as “The most glorious example of Byzantine art int he West”  Instead of the traditional three naves of Gothic architecture it is octagonal in shape with a central dome supported by eight columns and arches.

Basilica Di S. Vitale; copyright jmeyersforem
Basilica Di S. Vitale; copyright jmeyersforem
Basilica Di S. Vitale; copyright jmeyersforem
Basilica Di S. Vitale; copyright jmeyersforem

Not far from there the Neonian Baptistery, the oldest of Ravenna’s ancient monuments, while it is a simple octagonal building, built with the short flat brick a traditional feature of the architecture in Northern Italy. The mosaic art were made in mid 5th century.

In the cupola of the Neonian Bapistery, the Mosaic "Crhistening of Jesus
In the cupola of the Neonian Bapistery, the Mosaic “Christening of Jesus

A closer view of the centre art piece

In the cupola of the Neonian Bapistery, the Mosaic "Crhistening of Jesus
In the cupola of the Neonian Bapistery, the Mosaic “Christening of Jesus 

We also went to see the Basilica Saint Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna Italy, first built-in the mid 5th century, the interior has been modified several times. The ceiling was last modified in the 17th century.

Basilica Saint Apollinare Nuovo
Basilica Saint Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna Italy; copyright jmeyersforeman 

some of the detailed mosaic work of the Basilica Saint Apollinaire Nuovo.


The Magi_Basilica of S. Apollinairs Nuovo
The Magi_Basilica of S. Apollinairs Nuovo 

The mosaics are frescos are amazing, the photos hardly do them justice! We only had one day in Ravenna, it would be quite easy to spend 3 or 4 days enjoying the art and architecture, as well as the cafes and street life.

Now we are off to Florence for a few days!


Mezquita de Cordoba, Cordoba Spain

The Mezquita Cordoba, Cordoba Spain
The Mezquita Cordoba, Cordoba Spain  

The Mezuita, Spanish for Mosque, of Cordoba is a building that shows the many religious changes Cordoba and for that matter Spain has undergone over the centuries. The Mezquita is now the Cathedral of Cordoba and officially known as the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, but a majority of the art and architecture is the work of Islamic architects, who built the mosque in the 8th century.  It is quite amazing to walk around the UNESCO world heritage site, and see the different architectural and religious features standing side-by-side in harmony.


From Madrid to Toledo

Toledo Cathedral, Toledo Spain
Toledo Cathedral, Toledo Spain

We have left Madrid and taken a 30 minute train ride to Toledo Spain. Some of you, who have been following the blog for a while might remember that the plan was to walk the Via la Plata, a medieval camino route from Seville to Santiago de Compostela. We had walked the Camino Francis about 18 months ago, and really enjoyed our time in Spain and walking. The Via la Plata is a different route, much further between towns meaning longer walking stages, fewer travellers or pilgrims on the road, and not as well accommodated. We found we were not really enjoying ourselves. We do understand that the idea behind a camino, and we don’t expect to enjoy everyday, but still, this is our journey and so we have left he Via la Plata route, and are no longer walking north towards Santiago de Compostela. We are taking sometime off the camino path, and we are going to get a little rest, travel by train and visit some of the world heritage sites in Spain. That is what brought us to Toledo, and this great Cathedral, more about it tomorrow.


Caceres Spain

Old Town; Caceres Spain
Old Town; Caceres Spain

We have spent a few days visiting the city of Cacres Spain, wandering the streets of the old town. Cáceres was declared a World Heritage City by UNESCO in 1986 because of the city’s blend of Roman, Moorish and  Italian Renaissance Architecture.  Thirty towers from the Islamic period still stand in Cáceres I was standing in the bell tower of the Santa Maria, and was able to get a great view of the streets and of the Church of Francisco Javier and it’s two white towers that is visible from almost anywhere in the city. snail_IMG_6880 We are moving through Spain at a snail’s pace, but enjoying every minute, warm sunshine, great food, and most importantly friendly helpful people. We are amassing a large number of photographs, with no time for processing and that is as Martha Stewart would say “a good thing”

Los Milagros Aqueduct, Merida Spain

Los Miagros Acqueduct, Merida Spain
Los Milagros aqueduct, Merida Spain 

The Los Milagros aqueduct was built between 1 B.C. and 3 A.D., it was 830 meters long and 25 meters high, made of brick and concrete it was faced with granite ashlars. It was used to transport water from the Prosperina lake to the Roman colony of Emerita Augusta know today as Merida Spain. Today about 38 arches still stand.

Los Milagros aqueduct, Merida Spain
Los Milagros aqueduct, Merida Spain  

The Los Milagros aqueduct is one of three aqueducts build in the area, and preserved as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Merida.


The Church of Portal of San Juan Bautista_Obanos Spain, along the Camino to Santiago de Compostella

Church Portal, San Juan Bautista_Obanos Spain

Obanos is about 20 kilometers from Pamplona, along the Camino to Santiago de Compostela, the French Route. I learned recently that the French Route of the Camino to Santiago has the UNESCO World Heritage Designation. Every year thousands of people from all over the world travel the camino.

It was mid afternoon when we arrived in the little town, the streets were quiet and I am sure the local people were all having their siesta. The beautiful old Gothic Church sits in the main square, in front of the Nuestra Señora de Arnotegui Shrine. The sculpted portal depict stories from the Bible to the pilgrims who walked the Camino a thousand years ago, now worn by time and weather speaks to the heritage of the church in these communities.

Another view of Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence Italy

Brunelleschi’s dome a proud centerpiece in the history of Florence, and a place that many study in their art history and architecture classes. A Unesco World Heritage site located in the Piazza del Duomo.

This photo and others like it can be found and purchased at jmeyersforeman.photoshelter

Pisa, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Piazza del Duomo, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa Italy.   We visited Pisa last fall, unfortunately we were only able to spend a couple of hours.  The area doesn’t seem that big when you first arrive on site, but the buildings are huge, and with the crowds of people, even in November when we were there the line-ups to get into the tower, were quite long. The architecture and the history makes this a place I could spend quite a bit of time at, and I realize that there is so much more to see in the city and surrounding area then just the Leaning tower.

Each week I spend some time travelling back in time, reviewing old photos, keywording and cataloguing my work, it is great because I get to revisit so many places, and memories.  I hope someday to return to Pisa, to explore the world heritage site, and really get to know the city.

Bamberg Germany, Medieval city and world heritage city.

We visited Bamberg last April, it is a beautiful city, I couldn’t believe the buildings in the middle of the river……