The Camino de Santiago is a set of routes that depart from different parts of the Iberian Peninsula and head towards the tomb of St. James the Apostle, guarded in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
To understand what the Camino de Santiago is, we must know its history. Its origins date back to the 9th century, after the discovery of the remains of the Apostle in a forest called Campus Stellae (nowadays Compostela). From that moment on, people from all over Europe began to travel great distances to visit the tomb and pay homage to the Saint. Such was its magnitude that the Camino de Santiago became the most important pilgrimage route in the Christian world.
Today, one thousand two hundred years after that discovery, the Camino de Santiago continues to be a world reference in pilgrimages, acquiring a dimension that goes far beyond the Christian faith.
What is the meaning of the Camino de Santiago?
In the In the late Middle Ages, the Camino de Santiago was considered a test of faith for Christians, through which they atoned for their sins and faults. A round trip, extremely long, which entailed great risks for the walkers, exposed to all kinds of dangers: robbers, scammers, wild animals, diseases, inclement weather, lack of food, lack of signaling etc.. Quite a feat that only the most fortunate managed to complete after many years of pilgrimage.
Fortunately, it has a very different meaning today than it did back then. Pilgrimage to Compostela is no longer exclusively an act of religiosity, but has acquired dimensions in accordance with the new times and society in which we live.
The truth is that the meaning of the Camino de Santiago is within each pilgrim, as there are as many answers as there are reasons to do it.
Broadly speaking, it could be defined as a renewing and vital experience, a deeply intimate journey towards the paths of our inner self, so often abandoned. Pilgrims travel long distances with the only company of their thoughts, fears, dreams, frustrations… But as they move forward, they strip themselves of everything unnecessary, find answers and change their vision of the world and of themselves.
Why do people do the Camino de Santiago?
According to data from the Pilgrim’s Welcome Office, every year more than 300,000 people of all nationalities from all over the world make the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago de Compostela. A number that is increasing every year and is expected to reach large numbers on the occasion of the celebration of the Holy Year Xacobeo 2021.
Although it is true that to obtain the Compostela (the certificate that certifies having done the Camino de Santiago) it is necessary to make a pilgrimage for religious or spiritual reasons, the truth is that it is not an essential requirement to be able to live the experience.
There are as many reasons to do the Camino de Santiago as there are pilgrims on its paths, and all of them are valid. Each person starts the journey with a backpack loaded with his or her own history, motivations, concerns, unresolved questions etc.
It is very common to find pilgrims walking to give thanks that a loved one has been cured, to pray for their recovery or to honor their death in some way. It is also common to find people who have suffered a bitter situation in their lives (separation, divorce, loss of a job, etc.) and are looking for a new beginning.
But the Camino de Santiago can also be done for leisure or sport, a different kind of holiday in contact with nature where you can enjoy idyllic landscapes and immerse yourself in the culture of the places you pass through and enjoy the pilgrim atmosphere.
But there is one thing that all pilgrims agree on once they arrive in Santiago de Compostela. And it is an experience that marks you for life. It is a path in search of the intimate that all pilgrims claim to experience as they advance along the paths. A transforming journey, with great learning, that allows you to find yourself again, to know yourself and those around you better, to clarify ideas, to meet wonderful people and to trust again in the goodness of the human being for all the values that it transmits. Something inexplicable that many define as “the magic of the Camino de Santiago”.
Benefits of doing the Camino de Santiago
Surely more than once you’ve heard the phrase of “The Camino de Santiago changes your life”.repeated ad nauseam by thousands of pilgrims who, on arriving in Santiago de Compostela, claim to feel completely renewed. A phrase, at first glance, it may sound like a lot of talk or a claim, but it contains a great truth: walking the Camino de Santiago provides many benefits for psychological well-being and physical and mental health.
Given the countless testimonies about the positive effects of the Camino de Santiago, a group of researchers and health professionals decided to give a scientific response to the psychological benefits of the pilgrimage. This is how the study called Ultreya Project was born. An initiative that aims to assess the effects of the Camino de Santiago on mood, life satisfaction, happiness, the ability to pay attention to the present moment and to live a fuller life.
Although the study is still underway and for the moment no conclusive data have been published, the truth is that it is undeniable that doing the Camino de Santiago will provide you with a great physical and mental well-being.
Improves mood, reduces stress, anxiety, and depression
Many pilgrims decide to do the Camino de Santiago after going through a bitter situation in their lives, break-ups or disappointments in love, loss of a loved one, illness, family problems, work, etc. Situations that make us sad and lead us to suffer from stress, anxiety or even depression. What starts as a holiday or a trip to disconnect, ends up being a therapy that will help us to regain balance in our lives.
It has been proven that walking promotes the release of endorphins, which are the hormones that make us feel happy and relaxed, while reducing the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. That is, physical activity helps to reorganize the brain, eliminates anxiety, stress and improves our mood.
Moreover, all these positive effects are multiplied by the contact with nature and the open air. Walking in the countryside makes the brain disconnect from everyday life, away from all those stimuli that make us stay always alert (crowded places, traffic, noise, mobile phones). Involuntary attention is activated, which makes our mind much calmer, allowing it to wander and reflect in a more relaxed way.
Therefore, it could be said that the Camino de Santiago has all the ingredients to help us overcome difficult moments in our lives and calm our minds.
Helps you to be aware of the present moment
We live in a world of routines. We wake up, take a shower, go to work, come back, have dinner, sleep… It is common to end the day with a feeling of emptiness or dissatisfaction with our life. We give more importance to our past and our future than to the present itself, which passes so fast in front of our eyes that we don’t notice it.
The Camino de Santiago transports you to the here and now in a way that you may not have consciously experienced before. As we go on pilgrimage, all those thoughts and memories that bombard us daily fade into the background.
Throughout the pilgrimage we will have many opportunities to be quiet and observe carefully what is happening in the present moment. Things as simple as drinking water, the rhythmic sound of our steps, the fluttering of birds, the smell of the forest after the rain, the murmur of the wind through the trees, savouring a piece of fruit, taking a shower… become really incredible and make us feel alive. We learn to pay attention to the present moment, to appreciate that the everyday, the simple, the small, can be a true gift.
You learn to do without material things
This is a lesson that all pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago learn and that could be applied to all areas of our lives.
When packing our luggage we tend to fill our backpack with more things than necessary, carrying much more weight than our body can support. The Camino de Santiago teaches you to stop giving importance to material things, you will learn that you need very little to be happy.
The fact of achieving a goal based on effort always generates happiness and satisfaction with ourselves, increasing our self-esteem considerably. Similarly, notachieving our goals or what we long for can cause us to have contrary feelings, such as frustration or failure.
Many pilgrims start their route with many insecurities, saying that they will not be able to walk so many kilometers, with fear of injury, to get lost, to be alone…. But once they start walking all those fears and barriers slowly fade away. The Camino de Santiago teaches you that The important thing is not to get to the end, but the road itself. Throughout the journey you stop obsessing about counting the miles to go and you learn that each step is a small step in the journey. achievement to be celebrated.
They say that the Camino de Santiago makes us all equal, and this is one of the great values that all pilgrims experience. No one is going to judge you or put labels of any kind, but on the contrary, being yourself is the most important thing.
There is a long tradition on the Camino that is still intact, and that is the spirit of the pilgrim. It is a feeling of brotherhood that is born among pilgrims, the ease with which we open ourselves to others as we walk, without hardly knowing each other. Empathy, generosity, hospitality, willingness to help, to listen, to accompany, are values that everyone who walks the Camino de Santiago experiences in one way or another. Even if we start our adventure alone, we will soon realize that we will never walk alone.
The Camino de Santiago favors social relationships, from the first day in the hostel you will feel complicit glances of people who will accompany you throughout your route, as well as others that you will meet along the way. People who start out as strangers and who may possibly become your greatest support or friendship, not only during the Camino but also in life.