We briefly review the origins of the Camino de Santiago. We are situated in the years 41 and 44 after Christ. After the death of St. James the Apostle, his remains were taken by boat from Jerusalem to Iria Flavia, in Galicia. Much later, in the year 812, a very important discovery was made, the tomb of the Apostle.
The news spread like wildfire throughout Europe, the remains of the Apostle rested in a place called “Field of Stars”, known as Compostela. An event that became a symbol of Christianity in the face of the Muslim occupation of the time.
Throughout the 11th century, the influx of pilgrims intensified and the kings began an important organisational work to facilitate the transit and safety of the pilgrims.
In 1135 it appears in the Codex Calixtinus, an authentic medieval guide of the pilgrimage to Santiago. It describes the French Way through 16 stages, from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela and informs walkers of the services they will find along the route: fountains, food, sanctuaries, hospitals, local customs.
Time of decadence
In the last centuries of the Middle Ages, pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela experienced a great decline. The European wars, the Black Death and the Schism in the Christian world in 1378 caused the number of walkers to decrease considerably.
From the 16th century onwards, the number of pilgrims continued to decrease until it practically disappeared after the disentailment of Mendizábal, which led to the extinction of the hospitality that had been practised until then.
From the middle of the 20th century onwards, different initiatives began to emerge aimed at recovering the Way from oblivion. Thanks to a new interest of the administrations, the Pope’s visits to Santiago in the 80s, the emergence of multiple associations and brotherhoods and the declaration of World Heritage in 1987, the Way of St. James rose from decadence to become the most important pilgrimage in the Western world.
We cannot forget the figure of one of the great promoters of the revival of modern pilgrimages on the French route, the parish priest of O Cebreiro, Elías Valiña.
At the end of the 70s, Elías began to mark the French Way of St. James with yellow arrows, the current symbol of the Jacobean route. An anecdote about the parish priest in the Pyrenees became very famous. After the Guardia Civil stopped him with a pot of yellow paint in his hand drawing the striking arrows, they asked him what he was doing. His answer was “Preparing a great invasion from France”, with which he became a visionary.