Christian history or legend has it that St. James (Santiago in Spanish) headed out to Spain after the death of Jesus to convert the pagans living there. Apparently, it did not go well, so he returned to Jerusalem where he was summarily beheaded by Herod in 42 A.D./BCE. His disciples brought him back to Spain (or by some accounts, he was placed in a boat which just happened to land in Finisterre). For those of you who remembering taking world history, you may recall that during the Middle Ages, Spain was invaded by the Moors from north Africa who were also trying to spread their new religion: Islam. (this has been a long standing quarrel.). Actually, things were going fairly well when the western Islamic empire was situated in Cordoba, Spain and the three big religions were living in relative harmony.
The Santiago story reemerges in the year 813 when a shepherd named Pelayo was drawn by a bright light to what is now Santiago & gave the city it's name of "Compostela" which means "field of stars". Whatever happened, the Bishop of the period took this as the time to "confirm" that the bones of St. James were buried there--just in time for the Saint to spearhead the "reconquista" of Spain by the Catholics & "Santiago Matamoros" (slayer of Moors) was born.
Between the 12th & 14th centuries, Santiago de Compostela became an even more popular pilgrimage site than Jerusalem and Rome. Now the saint becomes Santiago Peregrino with his staff, bible, wide brim hat to keep off the sun, and the scallop shell "concha". All of this led to unknown numbers of people making this pilgrimage when it meant just leaving your home & village (in Italy, Germany, France, etc.) and walking to northwest Spain to seek help from Santiago. Some were sent as part of either religious penance or criminal justice, some on their own, but many never returned or would be gone for years. So, it was no small undertaking. At some point, the "credencial" became important as proof that the person had completed the journey as they would have it stamped by church officials in each village and town they walked thru. It continues to be important for those who wish to receive the "Compostela" at the end of their pilgrimage. In the Middle Ages, there were as many routes as pilgrims walking, but they tended to converge on what is now the most traveled routes: the Camino Frances which starts at the border of France & Spain; the Via de la Plata (beginning in Sevilla);Camino Portugues (starting in Oporto, Portugal); the Camino del Norte (from Irun or Oviedo in Spain) as well as a bunch of other less frequented routes.
None of this says a thing as to why I decided to give it a try. Still not sure, but waiting to see.
I will include a photo of the Palacio de Gaudi--I think it's my favorite after Parque Guell in Barcelona.
Off to search for food.
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Location:Calle de Santiago,Astorga,Spain