Pilgrims, © Weinviertel Tourismus / Lahofer

The Way of St. James connects Europe

Pilgrimages in Europe

Over the centuries, millions of people have walked all the way across Europe on the extensive network of the Ways of St. James to reach Santiago de Compostela and the tomb of the holy Apostle James.

St. James the Elder, the brother of the evangelist John, went to Spain on a missionary journey. When he returned to Jerusalem around the year 44, he was arrested by Herodes Agrippina and became the first Apostle to die a martyr's death. The Way of St. James was created in the first half of the 11th century. The Golden Legend tells the story of two friends who, after James' execution, took his corpse onto a ship which was then steered all the way to the port of Iria Flavia on the coast of Galicia by invisible angels. There, it was loaded onto an ox cart and buried where the animals stopped to rest. After that, it was forgotten.

Santiago de Compostela

Legend has it that, in the 9th century, bright stars on top of the Apostle's tomb led to its rediscovery. The place also owes its name to the term Compostela (field of stars). Soon, word of the powers of the Apostle's tomb spread through Europe and pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela enjoyed its high time in the 12th and 13th century. Pope Calixtus II. announced that those who would take a pilgrimage to Santiago in a holy year would be absolved of all their sins. Santiago, Rome and Jerusalem were pronounced holy cities by Pope Alexander III. The following centuries saw the creation of a network of Ways of St. James throughout the whole of Europe and Santiago became one of Christianity's most important places of pilgrimage. During the reformation and counter-reformation, pilgrimage lost a little of its appeal, while the regional Marian places of pilgrimage experienced a great rise in popularity.

The renaissance of pilgrimage on the Ways of St. James

During celebrations in Santiago in 1982, Pope John Paul II. encouraged the old continent to resurrect its roots and thus created a surge in popularity for pilgrimages on the Ways of St. James. In 1993, Camino Francès, the Spanish main way which runs from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port in the Pyrenees to Santiago on a length of 780km, was declared a UNESCO world cultural heritage site. Prior to this, the European commission had already declared the Ways of St. James in Europe a cultural route. Hence the fact that the stylised shell, the symbol of the Ways of St. James sports the colours of the European flag, blue and yellow. The Way of St. James and the scallop shell are symbols of Europe's unity.