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July 25 is the Catholic feast day of St. James, the biggest date along the Camino de Santiago(Way of St. James), Europe’s most famous religious pilgrimage route, whose endpoint is the majestic cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, believed by the faithful to hold the relics of Spain’s patron St. James “the Great”, the apostle of Jesus Christ, miraculously beamed to the Iberian Peninsula.
Adapting a previous pagan tradition, the Way became been a popular Catholic pilgrimage route since at least the 9th century AD throughout the Middle Ages, and after several centuries of disfavor has again become popular in the last quarter century or so. It has various permutations in both Europe and across northern Spain from Roncesvalles in the Navarre or Jaca in Aragon across to Santiago (the best known being the French Way, starting in the French cities of Paris, Vézelay, Le Puy, or Arles).
Whatever the particulars, however, the sense of magic and mysticism that impregnate the places created by the Way of St. James since the Middle Ages have exerted a pull not just on Christian believers but any traveller who appreciates beauty and culture; hundreds of thousands make the trek (or some portion thereof) every year.
You may have heard tell or even read about the Camino de Santiago, but there is nothing quite like lacing up your walking boots, hoisting your backpack, and hitting the trail for a couple of weeks or a month (biking is also an accepted way of doing it these days; and quite a few guidebooks exist to guide pilgrims, even more so nowadays than in centuries past; and the route is also extensively signposted along the way). It is sure to be an extraordinary experience – and very possibly even life-changing. Here’s how: