Most people have this idea of there being one ‘Camino de Santiago’. You might have read a book, say, the one by Shirley MacLaine, Camino, and hence you assume that the way she walked is the only way to go. Or you might have read the book by Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage, and then again, you might think that is the one. Well, it is not. Many roads lead to Rome, and many ‘Caminos’ lead to Santiago de Compostela. There are more Caminos de Santiago than you can count. In fact, there are hundreds of Routes from all over Europe.
Most people think of Shirley MacLaine’s Camino as the one. It is called the ‘Camino Francés’ and stretches from Saint Jean-Pied de Port and across the Pyrenees through Roncesvalle to Pamplona, Burgos and León to Santiago. This ‘Camino Francés’ seems to be the most frequented camino route of all, in present times. Currently this one is being ‘done’ by perhaps 85,000 pilgrims every year, out of a total of close to 200,000.
An older route is the ‘Camino del Norte’. In the times of the al-Andaluz occupation of Spain by the Moors, the pilgrims in those days tended to be of Christian denomination to whom the ‘Camino Francés’ was off-limits due to it being in Islamic hands, whereas the ‘Camino del Norte’ along the coast was not in the infidels’ hands and thus safe for your average pilgrim.
The oldest ‘Camino’ is said to be the ‘Camino Primitivo’. This one originated in the late Xth century when the bones of the Apostle where said to be first discovered in Santiago. It starts in Oviedo, in Asturias, and descends from there on a mountainous stretch to Santiago via Fonsagrada and Lugo.
There is a ‘Camino Inglés’, a ‘Camino Portugués’, a ‘Camino de Levante’ and a ‘Camino Mozárabe’. And there is the ‘Vía de la Plata’, starting from Sevilla and heading north. There are routes from Paris, from Vézelay, from Le Puy-en-Velay, as there are the Arles route and the Swiss route. I am running out of space here, but there is a ‘Camino’ from Oslo via Trondheim and another one from Rome, not to mention the one from Jerusalem. Have a glimpse at a ‘Camino’ map, and you get some idea.
In fact, what it was all about in the Middle Ages, and what really somehow applies to the contemporary pilgrim as well, is the dictum that the ‘Camino’ starts in the prilgrim’s home.
There are a number of very good books on the subject, as there are useful websites with plenty of information, in case you should be interested. I found the site of ‘The Confraternity of Saint James’ particularly helpful, and it is done in English. My other favourite was ‘Mundicamino’ which is really only good in Spanish. They do versions in English, French, German, Italian and Japanese, too, but you’ll see for yourself. These are not very accurate translations; the information given there is certainly not half as complete as it is on the Spanish main site.
After some deliberation, I opted for the ‘Camino del Norte’ for my own path, starting from the Basque land.
I already posted some information on 11 May, but I will tell you more about my particular ‘Camino’ adventure as time goes on.