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The Camino as a Timeless Theme:

The 'Camino Theme' is as old as recorded human thought and emotion. It symbolizes the search for healing and restoration of body and soul, enlightenment, repose, redemption and salvation, the 'Way' back to purity and innocence, and more, to suit the purpose or needs of each pilgrim. Ancient Sumerians (3200 BCE) wrote of the wanderings and advenures of the hero Gilgamesh with his companion, Enkidu. In ancient Greek literature (650BC), Homer wrote of the 1200 BC wanderings of Odysseus (Ulysses) on his way home after the Trojan War. Around 550 BCE, The Buddha walked and pondered with his desciples seeking his enlightenment.  


Around 30 AD, Jesus of Nazareth walked and prayed with his desciples before the 'ecstacy' and crucifixion; shortly thereafter, the desciple James was killed and by legend was eventually buried in the northwest corner of Iberia, current Gallicia, near the city of modern Santiago.  1200 years ago, in Japan, the 'Kumano Kodo' sacred temple pilgrimae trail was established and in 2004 was declared a World Heritage Site, as are the Camino de Santiago routes.


Pre-History of the Camino de Santiago

There is a Camino mythology that about 30,000 years ago, Neanderthal humans once walked the primitive Compostela to the Atlantic.  There are very old 'Dolmen' stone shelters maybe dating from 4000 bc that still protect to modern pilgrims caught in sudden storms.  The Romans made this ancient trail into a trade route through the Pyrenees to 'lands-end' ('Finistere'). Around 790 AD, Charlemagne dreamed of the burial site of St. James in Galicia (site of the Camino 'scallop shell' emblem). The 'modern' history of the Camino hinting of its growing use began about 1100 AD with the first record of pilgrims from England. By 1,250 AD the Camino was organized and well traveled. in 1879, John Adams, the second American president, became shipwrecked at Finisterre on the way to Paris to ask for French help for the American Revolution. Adams was forced to travel the Camino in reverse from Santiago to St Jean and then to Paris) and recorded how lively the Camino was at that time.


History of the European (Camino) Pilgrimage Routes

The medieval Christian world had three major pilgrimage destinations - Jerusalem, Rome, and Santiago de Compostela. Between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries Santiago de Compostela was the most popular.






















In former times, pilgrimage to Santiago was a once-in-a-lifetime human adventure. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims came year after year through France and across the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela near the Atlantic shores of Galicia at the coastal port of Finistere. In later years the popularity and use of the Camino routes diminished greatly but in recent times interest has resurged owing maybe to the increased global angst about war, the global economy and environment threat, and to the general increase in spiritual awareness.


2010 was a special celebratory year when Saint James Day, July 25, occurred on a Sunday. Almost 300,00 pilgrims walked to Santiago that year - 55,000 in 2000 and 5,000 in 1990. The next Holy Years will be 2021, 2027 and 2032.  In 2013, ten-thousand Americans walked the Camino.Who walks the Camino? In addition to those undertaking a religious pilgrimage, the majority are hikers who walk the route for non-religious reasons: travel, sport, or simply the challenge of weeks of walking in a foreign land. Also, many consider the experience a spiritual adventure to remove themselves from the bustle of modern life. It serves as a retreat for many modern "pilgrims".


In 1993, UNESCO placed the Spanish section of the pilgrimage on the World Heritage List, describing it as "a testimony to the power of the Christian faith among people of all social classes". The French section joined the list in 1998 when UNESCO declared the cultural and historical importance of the World Heritage Sites of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.  The European pilgrimage system and the Japanese pilgrimage, the Kumano Kodo (UNESCO 2004), are cited as major World Heritage sites.



The story of Guides to the Camino routes is an interesting and important one. The first guide, known as the 'Codex Calixtinus' or the 'Liber Sancti Jacobi', was 'assembled' around 1140 AD by the French scholar Aymeric Picaud. Its breadth, details and accuracy are the standard for the Camino guides even today. Historically, the 'Codex' is regarded as the 'first' tourist guide book.  Book Five of this Codex traces the route from southern France to Santiago de Compostela in Northwestern Spain. You can obtain translations of the 'Codex' from several sources.   






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