Five facts about the Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Santiago. Photo by Jon Alkain/Shutterstock

St. James the Greater, an apostle of Jesus, is entombed in northwestern Spain. The numerous routes leading to his tomb are collectively known as the Camino de Santiago. Hundreds of thousands of people take pilgrimages along these routes each year, with travel times easily taking upwards of 10 days by foot because some of the routes exceed 500 miles in length.

Here are five facts about the Camino de Santiago:

1. The Camino de Santiago can refer to any of a number of routes to the shrine of St. James the Greater

The shrine of St. James the Greater is located at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain.

2. The Camino de Santiago is often referred to by its English names

Camino is a Spanish word that translates to “path.” The phrase Camino de Santiago then means “path to Santiago.” However, these routes are also known as “The Way of St. James” or by a number of similar variations.

3. The scallop shell is a symbol of the Camino de Santiago

There are many stories to explain why the scallop shell is a symbol of the Camino de Santiago. One such story likens the lines of the shell to the many roads that pilgrims can take to arrive at Santiago. Medieval pilgrims used to wear a scallop shell for the duration of their journey to Santiago. Since scallops are native to the coast of Galicia, many people take one as a souvenir for having completed the pilgrimage. Scallops can be found on the various paths serving as way markers next to yellow arrows to point pilgrims in the correct direction.

4. There is a huge connection between scallops and St. James the Greater

There are several stories associating St. James with scallop shells. Some say the apostle saved a knight wearing scallop-shell armor. Other versions of the story say that the knight’s horse fell into water and transformed into a pile of shells. What is clear is that the connection runs so deep that various languages have linked scallops with St. James. For example, the French dish Coquille Saint Jacques is a scallop dish named after St. James.

5. St. James the Greater’s feast day is July 25.

Whenever St. James’ feast day falls on a Sunday, the Cathedral of Santiago declares a holy year. This last occurred in 2010 and is set to happen again in 2021.

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