Personal pilgrimage points to the Way of St James

November 21, 2013

790 km to Santiago de Compostela. Roncesvalles

FOCAL POINT: The journey starts and it’s a long way ahead.


Having some drinks in Arcos, Navarra

CHILLING OUT: Our intrepid band of pilgrims have some drinks at in Arcos, Navarra. Just another 700 kilometres to go.


Astorga. Episcopal Palace.

GETTING CLOSER: This picture, is, of the Episcopal Palace in Astorga and another 400 kilometres have been covered.


Having Dinner in Rabanal del Camino

SPANISH CUISINE: The group has dinner in Rabanal del Camino. Another 50 kilometres have been clocked on the way to Santiago de Compostela.


The value of family. Near Santiago de Compostela

FAMILY VALUES: The younger pilgrim gets a bird’s eye view on the shoulders of Dad on approaching Santiago.



Santiago de Compostela. The end and the Beginning

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: Pilgrims pose for a group shot outside St James’ Church in Santiago de Compostela.


Ivan Mora Gonzalez

SAINTLY SYMBOL: Ivan Mora holds a key ring with the Shell which is the symbol of the Camino di Santiago. The shells are found on the signs marking the route.


A DORSET-based student   has been telling the story behind one of the well-trodden pilgrimage routes in the world.

Ivan Mora, a student of Bournemouth University, has completed the whole pilgrimage twice in August at one of the hottest and popular times of year.

Thousands of pilgrims – religious, agnostic and atheist alike – from popular starting points all across Europe making their way to the north-eastern Spanish town of Santiago de Compostela on the Atlantic coast. Most travel by foot but a few go by cycle or the traditional method of horseback.

The Way of St James recently caught the public imagination in a film called The Way starring real life father and son Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez.  It tells the story of a father learning that his son has died on the route and his personal journey of taking up the pilgrimage in order to finish it for his son.

Many pilgrims on the Way of St James Walk usually take up to 25 to 30 days to walk the 800 kilometres from St Jean de Pied de Port (on the French side of the Pyrenees) to Santiago de Compostela and it is the start and end of the most travelled and promoted route. Some people start on at Roncesvalles or Jaca on the Spanish side.

There are five other routes that can be used by pilgrims including one via the Bay of Biscay and another via Portugal.

Numbers of pilgrims gradually declined over the years but in 1987 it received a boost when the route was designated the Council of Europe’s first European Cultural Route and a UNESCO World Heritage site in October 1987.

The route is clearly marked up and as it is so well worn, it is quite difficult to get lost. The way-marking signs should have the St James’ shell, which is the symbol of the route.

Pilgrims are issued with a document called a credencial gives access to cheap accommodation and the hostels give a stamp that they have stayed a certain hostel or refugio. It is proof of where the pilgrim ate or slept

The shell has long been the symbol of the Camino di Santiago.

St James is said to have been martyred for his faith by beheading in Jerusalem in 44 CE. According to Spanish legend, St James spent time preaching the gospel in Spain before returning to Judaea after seeing an apparition of the Virgin Mary on the bank of the River Ebro.

After his martyrdom, legend says his body was shipped by his disciples to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in Santiago de Compostela.

Off the coast of Spain, a heavy storm capsized the ship in which James’ remains were being held and the body was lost to the ocean but miraculously the body was washed ashore undamaged and covered in scallops.

The shell is seen on way-marking signs and posts in order to guide pilgrims along the way and also wearing a shell identifies you as a traveller on the Way of St James. The shell originally also had a practical use to it for pilgrims as the right size for gathering water or a makeshift bowl.

Ivan said: “It is something that anyone should do at least once in their life and each individual’s personal experience is completely different.

“You walk for 25 to 30 days in the mountains with your belongings in your back pack. It is a personal trip to discover new things.

“The first pilgrimage took place in the 9th Century and centuries later as Christianity spread, people from France and Germany started to make the pilgrimage from across the Pyrenees. The shell is the symbol of St James.”

To gain a certificate of accomplishment from the pilgrim’s office in Santiago de Compostela, a pilgrim has to walk at least 100 kilometres or 200 kilometres cycling. The certificate given to pilgrims is printed in Latin. The Pilgrimage Office of Santiago awards more than 100,000 compostelas to pilgrims from over 100 countries.



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