Why should you walk the Camino de Compostela?

When we talk to our friends and family about our desire to make the pilgrimage to Compostela, there are generally two reactions: those who envy us and those who ask, but why do you want to walk to Compostela? Contrary to what we might think, making the pilgrimage to Compostela is no longer mainly linked to religious beliefs. In this new article of our blog, we talk about the different motivations that drive tens of thousands of people every year on the routes to Compostela, whether they are spiritual, sporting, cultural, tourist…

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Walking to Compostela for religious reasons

Historically, the Compostela pilgrimage is a Catholic pilgrimage. The aim was to make an initiatory journey to the legendary tomb of Saint-James, one of the apostles of Christ, located in the heart of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia (Spain).

Today, the majority of pilgrims you will meet on the Way no longer have this religious motivation. In France in particular, only 23% of pilgrims make the Way for religious reasons (source: ADT du Lot).

In Spain, it is less clear-cut. 40% of pilgrims (source: Oficina del Peregrino) walk the Camino for religious reasons. Many foreign Catholics come from all over the world to walk the Camino de Santiago.

The Holy Years generate an even greater flow of pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela. The Compostellan Holy Year takes place every time Santiago’s Day (25 July) falls on a Sunday. In view of the current difficult context, the Holy Year 2021 has been extended to 2022 by the Pope.

Walking the Camino de Santiago: a cultural journey?

The Camino is first and foremost an ancient historical route. The first foreign pilgrims we know for sure took their first steps on the route in the year 950. They were followed by countless pilgrims over the centuries.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Santiago de Compostela was the most popular destination for pilgrims from all over Europe. It was therefore logical that many historic monuments with incredible architecture were built in France and Spain.

In 1998, the Pilgrim’s Routes to Santiago experienced a real revival when they were classified for the first time as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. The classification concerns various types of monuments: cathedrals, churches, basilicas, dolmens, old hospitals, bridges, city gates, etc. Among the best known monuments in France: Notre-Dame Cathedral and Hôtel-Dieu Saint-Jacques (Puy-en-Velay), Sainte-Madeleine Basilica (Vézelay), Notre-Dame Cathedral (Amiens), Saint-Jacques Tower (Paris), Saint-Seurin Basilica (Bordeaux), Pont Vieux (Estaing), Pont Valentré (Cahors), Saint-Jacques Gate (Saint Jean Pied de Port), etc.

The classification also concerns several sections of path remarkable for their landscapes and environments in France: the sections from Aroue to Ostabat-Asme (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), from Saint-Côme-d’Olt to Estaing (Aveyron), from Nasbinals to Saint-Chély-d’Aubrac (Lozère – Aveyron), from Lectoure to Condom (Gers), from Montredon to Figeac (Lot), from Faycelles to Cajarc (Lot), from Bach to Cahors (Lot).

It is also a gastronomic journey that you are about to experience: local traditions anchored for centuries according to the regions you cross.

Compostela, a physical challenge?

According to the ADT du Lot study, 26% of the walkers surveyed on the Route of Le Puy were also walking to achieve an individual physical challenge.

Let’s be honest, walking the Camino de Compostela is not the most difficult physical challenge you will face. Some of the longer hikes like the GR20 in Corsica (France) would be a much bigger challenge. This is one of the reasons why the Camino is so popular: it is accessible to all people of all ages.

Nevertheless, walking the Way requires courage: the courage to dare to set off despite your fears, the courage to persist and continue every day, the courage to listen to yourself and your body, the courage to let go. Every day, you will learn to master your body, to save your feet, your knees, your back, your shoulders. In this sense, yes, the road to Compostela will be a challenge: one that will reconnect you to your body and make it your ally.

The quest for meaning: the true motivation of the modern pilgrim

This is the reason that comes up most often in the various studies conducted among pilgrims. More than 60% of pilgrims who do the Route of Le Puy, for example, do so in search of meaning. In a modern world of ever increasing speed, which imposes on us a mental burden and a difficult daily life, the simple idea of leaving with only one backpack as a companion is a breath of fresh air.

Making a pilgrimage on the Camino de Compostela means taking a break, going back to basics, concentrating on oneself, finding a certain freedom away from the daily grind. For some, it is also an opportunity to mourn a painful event, to be alone with their thoughts.

The path is often described as a journey of initiation, an inner adventure, even a rebirth for some.

And what if it was a mixture of all this?

50% of pilgrims who walk the Camino de Santiago say they do so for both cultural and spiritual reasons (source: Oficina del Peregrino). And this is the beauty of the Camino de Santiago. Whatever your motivation, walking the Camino de Compostela will allow you to both :

  • to awaken you to spiritual questions through your exchanges with other pilgrims,
  • discover your physical strength and go beyond your limits,
  • to take stock of your life and reveal a new side of yourself,
  • to discover a rich and unique cultural heritage classified by UNESCO,
  • to experience a unique adventure!

All pilgrims agree on one thing: the Camino de Santiago is not a simple hiking trail. It is not a “classic” walking experience. It is now up to you to live it!

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