Pilgrim's Way to Santiago
The Way of St. James or St. James' Way (Galician: O Camiño de Santiago; Spanish; French:
Chemin de St-Jacques; German: Jakobsweg) is the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de
Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition says the remains of the apostle Saint
James are buried.
The Way of St James has existed for over a thousand years. It was one of the most important
Christian pilgrimages during medieval times. Tradition holds that St. James's remains were carried
by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where he was buried on the site of what is now the city of
Santiago de Compostela.
The Way can take one of any number of pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Traditionally,
as with most pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James began at one's home and ended at the pilgrimage
site. However a few of the routes are considered main ones. During the Middle Ages, the route was
highly traveled. However, the Black Plague, the Protestant Reformation and political unrest in 16th-
century Europe led to its decline. By the 1980s, only a few pilgrims arrived in Santiago annually.
Since then however the route has
attracted a growing number of
modern-day pilgrims from around
the globe. The route was declared
the first European Cultural Route
by the Council of Europe in
October 1987; it was also named
one of UNESCO's World Heritage
Whenever St James's day (25 July)
falls on a Sunday, the cathedral
declares a Holy or Jubilee Year.
Depending on leap years, Holy
Years occur in cycles of 6, 5, 6 and
11 year intervals. The most recent
have been 1982, 1993, 1999, 2004
and this year, 2010.The next will be 2021, 2027 and 2032.(Taken from Wikipedia:
The Pilgrims' Way in Navarre
Navarre cannot be fully understood without considering the impact of the Pilgrim's Way to
Santiago, which has left innumerable churches, monasteries and hospitals that initially attended to
pilgrims following the route. It was initially promoted by King Sancho III 'el Mayor' in the 11th
century. The official route was later established as the so-called 'French Route'.
Two great routes cross the Kingdom of Navarre: the one that enters at the legendary
Orreaga/Roncesvalles (Roncesvaux) and continues on to Pamplona, and the other from the
Pyrenees of Aragon, which passes through Sangüesa. The two routes come together at Puente la
Reina and continue on towards Estella. The last stop on the Pilgrim's Way in Navarre is Viana, from
where it passes into La Rioja. There are other, less important, routes in the region: the Camino
Baztanés (Baztan route) and the Ruta del Ebro (Ebro route).
Navarre is the entry point of the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago from Europe. One of the best ways to
discover Navarre is by following the French Route through endless natural and monumental
attractions along approximately 200 kilometres of the Way in the region. This route was the most
important of all the routes to Santiago de Compostela; King Sancho III 'el Mayor' helped to
consolidate it as the main route in the 12th century. Of the four routes through France, three of
them join up at St. Jean Pied-of-Port and cross the Pyrenees as a single route at
Orreaga/Roncesvalles in Navarre. The fourth enters Spain via the Somport pass and
continues down to Jaca, then crosses Aragon until it enters Navarre through the city of Sangüesa.
Both branches of the French Route join up at Puente la Reina and continue on as one towards La
Some of the most emblematic places along the French route as it crosses navarre are:
The visitor is greeted by the superb landscape around Orreaga/Roncesvalles, where each piece of
the earth can tell a tale that awakens the senses and one's interest in discovering the entire Pilgrim's
At present, the best-known and most recommended access point of the French Route is the one that
From Saint Jean Pied de Port enters Navarre at Luzaide/Varcarlos, a town rich in history and
legend and surrounded by typical Pyrenean scenery. The town owes its name in Spanish to
Carlomagno (Charlemagne) in memory of the battle of Roncesvalles (Roncesvaux), in which
Roldán (Roland) and the cream of the French nobles were defeated by (?). This event gave rise to
the epic poem 'Chanson de Roland', which was written in the 12th century.
After climbing up to the mountain pass of Ibañeta Orreaga/Roncesvalles emerges from the mists.
It is one of the most important places on the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago in Spain. History tells us that
it has always been a place of transit. Today, however, it invites us to relax a while and let yourself
fall under the spell of the surroundings to discover the buildings created to serve pilgrims centuries
ago, such as the beautiful Collegiate Church, which is one of the best examples of French Gothic
architecture in the Iberian Peninsula.
Following the route, it is worth stopping off in Auritz/Burguete and Aurizberri/Espinal, two
typical villages that grew to provide services to pilgrims. Both villages are located in the some of
the wildest and most unique territory in the Pyrenees. They are also home to excellent cuisine such
as trout or wild mushrooms, particularly the beltza variety, and deep-rooted traditions. A good
example is the Basque sport of pelota.
The Pilgrim's Way goes through a gentle green mountain landscape until it crosses the Mezquiritz
pass and reaches Erro, a small village with an interesting Late Romanesque church. Erro stands at
the bottom of a mountain pass of the same name lined with beech trees, and the road drops down
between umbrella pine woods.
After a winding descent, the road reaches Zubiri, named after its Gothic bridge ('zubia' means
'bridge' in Basque), which is worth a visit. According to popular tradition, the remains of Santa
Quiteria, the curer of rabies, are buried in one of the bridge's pillars.
Then, 13 kms. later, the visitor comes across the Trinidad de
Arre, an ancient pilgrims' hospice located at a spot beside
the rushing water of the river Arga over rocks. The route
continues along the main street of Villava, carries on via
Burlada until it crosses the N-121 and continues along a
tree-lined pathway (initially) and then along the edge of a
narrow road until it reaches the Magdalena Bridge – the
gateway to Pamplona.
This route towards Pamplona goes along a relaxing riverside
walk. A little further on you reach the emblematic Gothic
bridge of La Magdalena, the pilgrim's entry point to the city. Going through the Portal de Francia
(French Gate) and walking up the Calle del Carmen, an ancient Pilgrim's street, Pamplona reveals
its colourful old quarter, inviting you to stroll. You can choose to follow the route of the Encierro
(Bull Run) of the fiesta of San Fermín, or (why not?) sample the pinchos (tapas) in the city's bars to
try this cuisine in miniature, washed down with a good Navarra designation of origin wine. Do not
miss the extraordinary Gothic cloister of the Cathedral, marvel at the fortress-churches of San
Nicolás and San Saturnino, or follow the history of the region in the Museo de Navarra. If you
prefer to relax, take a stroll along the riverside park of the Arga, through the Taconera gardens or
the walled Citadel.
We leave Pamplona and set off towards Puente la Reina. Before arriving there, two places are worth
a stop along the way: Gazólaz and the El Perdón mountain range. The landscape has changed.
The Pamplona basin has a gentle landscape that is full of cereal fields that turn green in spring and
an intense yellow in summer. The church at Gazólaz, dedicated to Our Lady of the Purification, is
one of the best examples of a porched church in Navarre. Its construction dates back to the 13th
The Sierra del Perdón, crowned by imposing wind turbines, provides excellent views over the
Pamplona basin to the north and Tierra Estella to the south and west. At the top of the pass a
monument to the pilgrim stands firm in the strong winds, reminding visitors that thousands of
pilgrims have crossed these lands to reach the hermitage on El Perdón, from where they descend to
Puente la Reina, another of the important enclaves on the Pilgrim's Way in Navarre.
The two branches of the French Route come together in Puente la Reina: the route that comes
down from Orreaga/Roncesvalles and the other from Sangüesa. The town is surrounded by a
landscape of transition, in which the mountains gradually give way to the plains of La Ribera (the
south) of Navarre, where market gardens and vineyards give the land its colour and fill the region's
tables with delicious roast peppers, menestra (a kind of vegetable stew), exquisite beans, and the
excellent wines of Navarre. Puente la Reina has a rich artistic heritage in a beautiful setting. The
highlights are the churches of the Crucifix, of Santiago and San Pedro, and its superb Romanesque
bridge over the river Arga, built in the 11th century to make it easier for pilgrims to leave the town
and continue their journey.
The Pilgrim's Way continues towards Cirauqui, high up on a hill, where the beautiful church of San
Román and its multi-lobed façade anticipate the style of San Pedro de la Rúa in Estella.
Estella captivates the visitor. Its monuments have led to it being called the 'Toledo of the North' and
the beauty of the surrounding countryside make it an ideal starting point for excursions to the
Urbasa-Andía Natural Park with its caves and potholes, beech woods and large meadows where the
local latxa sheep graze. Their milk is used to make Idiazabal designation of origin cheese, an ideal
dessert after eating fresh asparagus or roast suckling pig, both typical dishes from the area.
A little further on we come to Los Arcos, a town that was founded in the Middle Ages. Its gates
reveal its origin, and its most interesting monument is the church of Santa María, originally built in
the 12th century and finished off in the Baroque style.
Half-way between Los Arcos and Viana, Torres del Río is worth a stop to see the church of the
Holy Sepulchre, one of the treasures of Romanesque church architecture in Navarre. It has been
closely linked to the Pilgrim's Way and has a delightful dome of Mozarabic origin.
The next stop on the route is Viana, which stands on a hill surrounded by cereal fields, vineyards
and almond and olive groves. The town has an interesting history as a defensive bastion against
Castile and was a regular seat of the Court of Navarre in the Middle Ages. A stroll through its
streets reveals noble houses and palaces and the spectacular Renaissance façade of the church of
Santa María. Let yourself be seduced here by the history, customs and cuisine of Navarre for the
last time, because Viana is where the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago leaves Navarre and enters La Rioja.
There are good views over the plains, and your view gets lost in the horizon, following the pilgrims
who continue on towards the lands of La Rioja with a firm step.
In the early days, the pilgrims used to wear similar clothes to all other travellers. Their
clothing gradually took the form of a short overcoat that did not interfere with leg movements,
a leather esclavina or pelerina (short cape) that gives protection against the cold and the rain,
a round hat with a wide rim and a bordón (staff) above head height with an iron tip. A
pumpkin that also serves as a water bottle hangs
from the staff. On returning home, the pilgrims
kept their clothes, hats and staffs as a pious
souvenir and an example for their descendants,
or they gave them to a church as a votive
offering and sign of gratitude for having been
able to return unharmed from the hazards of the
Nowadays travellers have changed the bag for a
backpack and the brown tones of the clothing for
multi-coloured combinations of T-shirts and
raincoats, comfortable shorts and sports shoes or
mountain walking boots. They also like to carry,
however, a pilgrim's shell, either sown onto their belongings or hanging on a chain around the
The shell: this is not any old shell but the so-called pecten
jacobeus in Latin. It is commonly found in the seas of Galicia,
and was fastened to the clothing to verify the pilgrim's stay in
Santiago de Compostela for the way home; it soon became the
main insignia of the pilgrims.
La Compostela: a document from the Cabildo Catedralicio
(Chapter) of Santiago that certifies that the pilgrim has
completed the route. It is written in Latin. To get it you have to
present the stamped credential. You should have arrived in
Santiago after 100 kilometres on foot or 200 by bicycle, as a
The credential: a document that provides
evidence that the holder has the status of
pilgrim. You can get in the associations,
guilds and shelters appointed by the church
of Santiago. Its price is symbolic, around 1
euro. It does not give you any rights to
anything, but it does indicate that you are a
pilgrim. It should be stamped twice a day
in the places along the Pilgrim's Way;
indeed, some guesthouses only accept
pilgrims with the credential. If you cannot
get it, you can put the stamps in a diary
alongside the dates you stopped in places
along the way.
Care for the pilgrims
"The door is open to all, the sick and the healthy. To Catholics, pagans, Jews, heretics, idlers
and the vain". This is how 13th-century hospitality was expressed on a sign in Roncesvalles.
Travellers could expect a bed and food for three days, just enough time to get one's strength
back after an exhausting journey. The hospice had different rooms for men and women and
offered foot washing, haircuts and beard trimming, new shoes for those who needed them, and
even a bath if requested. Roncesvalles was the paradigm for the best attention to travellers.
Monasteries were initially the main providers of hospitality, for example Leyre and Irache and
Pamplona Cathedral. Other, more humble, hospitals were the Trinidad de Arre, the Church of
the Crucifix in Puente la Reina and that of Larrasoaña. The food offered usually consisted of
soup or broth, a piece of bread and wine plus a portion of vegetables, pulses, meat or fish.
They also provided a good bed, a fire and spiritual care. The inns along the Way have
inherited that spirit of hospitality and give shelter to pilgrims on their journey which, although
less dangerous now, is still hard.
El año santo (Holy year)
The years in which the Apostle's Day (25th July) coincides with a Sunday are declared Año
Santo Jacobeo (Holy Year of St James). It is a year in which the Church grants special grace
to the faithful. The year (also known as Año Jubilar - Jubilee Year) starts with the opening of
the Puerta Santa (Holy Door) of Santiago Cathedral on December 31st of the preceding year.
The Archbishop of Santiago knocks down a wall that covers the Puerta Santa after knocking
on it three times. This entrance remains open until the next December 31st, when it is walled
The end of the pilgrimage
The Pilgrim's Way ends once the tomb of the Apostle St James (Santiago) is reached. It is
located inside the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.