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Camino de Santiago - What is Pilgrimage?
"Once in my life, I want to walk the Way of St. James." Each of you probably knows at least one person who thinks about going to the famous "Camino". Pilgrimage is modern and has the finger on the pulse! The longing for the distance, deceleration and unique moments are all there, on the way.
What is the Way of St. James anyway?
The Way of St. James or Camino (Meaning: Spanish for way) is not just a route, but a whole system of routes: Several paths and routes lead through Europe like branches and unite in France and Spain to some well-known main routes, among them the Camino Francés. Hape Kerkeling's bestseller "I'm Off Then" or the movie "The Way" made the Camino Francés, starting in France, probably the most famous of all St. James' ways. Until they arrive at their destination, Santiago de Compostela, the destination of every pilgrim, the Camino Francés takes pilgrims through nature and the most beautiful cities of France and Spain for about 5 weeks.
But why do all people want to go to the same place?
In Santiago de Compostela lies the tomb of Saint James the Elder, one of the twelve apostles. Legend has it that he was a missionary in Spain and was buried in Santiago de Compostela after his death. In the cathedral of Santiago, his tomb is venerated and draws people from near and far to the same destination. The mood and atmosphere when you enter Santiago is indescribable. A special experience I will never forget! :)
The goal is the same, the beginning is not. There are well-known starting points like St. Jean-Pied-de-Port (Camino Francés) or Irún (Camino del Norte), but in the end, every pilgrim decides where to start and how long he wants to pilgrim for. During my two pilgrimages, I met people who walked the entire way at once. Some go for 2 weeks, others just for a weekend. On my way, I met a woman who treats herself to two weeks of hiking on the Way of St. James for her birthday every year, until she arrives in Santiago.
So everybody has to find his own rhythm on the way to Santiago. You can hardly miss the goal itself. Everywhere along the way, you will find yellow arrows or scallops. They serve as a typical feature and at the same time as a signpost for the route to Santiago. If you follow these signs, you can't really get lost, and even if you do, the helpfulness of the local people on the Camino is hard to believe. They will lead you back to your route using their hands and feed.
Why do people go on pilgrimage and what does a typical pilgrim look like?
The reasons that lead people on the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago are as colorful and varied as the people who travel along the Camino.
Young people. Old people. People from Canada. South America. Australia and even South Korea - the Way of St. James is well known and popular. The outfit consists of hiking clothes - doctors, students, fishermen, unemployed - everyone is the same on the Way of St. James. People are people. How you finance your life doesn't matter - it's about what you get excited about and what puts you in passion. It is about feelings, thoughts and the reasons that led you on the Way of St. James
People go on pilgrimage in order to get away from everyday life - on holiday, basically. Many of the people head out because they have just passed a milestone in life (e.g. studies) or experienced a stroke of fate (unemployment, death of a loved one). For a large part of pilgrims, the Way of St. James is a kind of search for meaning. Where do you want to go? Who do you want to be? What do you want to achieve in real life?
In addition to the search for meaning, faith also plays an important role. A large proportion of pilgrims are religious and therefore embark on a pilgrimage. Furthermore, pilgrimage is a cheap alternative to other journeys, because you hardly need anything. Next to your backpack, the most important thing is your shoes - they carry you all the way. Good footwear is the "be-all and end-all" and a hot topic on the Camino every day ;)
The Way of St. James shows you how little you can actually be satisfied with in life. For me personally, pilgrimage offers the perfect opportunity to clear out one's soul and meet oneself again. Walk. Eat. Sleep. That's all you do. In between, there is enough time for your own thoughts and fulfilling conversations with other pilgrims.
So the Way of St. James isn't just a way. No. On my last pilgrimage, someone called it a "mirror of life". And he was right about that. Because although you do the same things every day, every day is different. There are good days, bad days. Sometimes you could burst with happiness and wish the journey never ends. Then you are homesick and just want to go home. You meet many people and lose sight of them again. You make friends and get to know each other. You walk together for a while and separate again. The Way of St. James is like life itself with the difference that you perceive and learn to appreciate the little things again. It is a path of mindfulness and gratitude.
You want to travel but don't know where or for how long? I can warmly recommend the Way of St. James to you.
Just go as far as your feet carry you :) Buen Camino!