Camino de Santiago. Holy Year 2021
The Way of St. James is a Christian penitential pilgrimage to the tomb of the Apostle St. James (Sant Iago in old Spanish). It began with the discovery of the tomb around the year 820 by Teodomiro, bishop of Iria Flavia. The area, in the North West of Spain, Galicia, was later called "compostella"; at present it is the city of Santiago de Compostela.
The Archbishop of Santiago considers pilgrims, those who make the Camino for religious or spiritual reasons, or at least with an attitude of search and who complete the last 100km on foot or horseback, or the last 200 km by bicycle, whatever the starting point. The Feast of St. James began to be celebrated in Germany on the 25th of July. Since 1122, when it falls on a Sunday, pilgrims to Santiago get plenary indulgence. The last Holy Year was in 2010 and the next will be in 2021.
The number of pilgrims is small compared to foreign tourists visiting Spain, but is increasing every year. In 2010 there were more than 272,000 pilgrims, out of almost 53 million foreign tourists; in 2019 there were more than 347,000, out of almost 84 million foreign tourists. Since the establishment of the Confraternity of St. James of South Africa in 2006, the number of South African pilgrims is increasing even faster than the overall trend: in 2010 they were 300, 0,11% of the total; in 2019 there were almost 1800, an increase to 0,51% of the total.
According to tradition, St. James evangelised Spain up to Finisterre, the end of the world known to the Romans. He is said to have received in Saragossa, then called Cesaraugusta, the first ever apparition of the Virgin Mary; she was standing over a pillar, thus the Virgen del Pilar (pillar in Spanish). During the Medieval Ages Spanish kings would enter battle with the cry “Sant Iago, Cierra Hispania”, which means: “For Saint James! Spain: charge!”. The oldest Spanish military Order was the Order of St. James; its coat of arms was a red cross with the shape of a sword to remember the martyrdom of the apostle. In 1630, Santiago was declared the Patron Saint of Spain and since 1640, the Virgen del Pilar is celebrated on the 12th of October to coincide with the anniversary of the arrival of Spain to America.
Its importance is due to the significance of St. James: the third to be called by Jesus, one of the three apostles to accompany the Lord at both the Transfiguration and Gethsemane, the first bishop of Jerusalem and the first apostle to be martyr. In addition, Compostela is one of the two places in the world where the whole corpse of one apostle lays according both to tradition and archaeological evidence; the other place is Rome, where the remains of St. Peter and St. Paul lie. It is one of the three traditional Christian pilgrimages; the other two are the ones to Jerusalem and Rome. In fact, according to Dante, pilgrims are the persons who go to Santiago, while "romeros" are the ones who go to Rome, and "palmieri" the ones who go to Jerusalem.
Since the start it has been a link among peoples. As Saint John Paul II said in Compostela in 1982: The pilgrimage to Santiago was one of the strong elements that favoured the mutual understanding of European peoples as different as Latinos, Germans, Celts, Anglo-Saxons, and Slavs. It is attributed to Goethe the idea: “Europe is born out of pilgrimages and Christendom is her mother tongue”. The Council of Europe declared The Way the first European Cultural Route and UNESCO declared the historic centre of Santiago and two of the Camino historic routes, the Camino Francés and the Camino del Norte, as World Heritage sites. Nowadays it is a universal meeting point for peoples all around the globe.


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