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Walking the Camino de Santiago in the Middle Ages

Was it difficult to walk the Camino in the Middle Ages? Discover all the secrets of medieval pilgrims

Would you like to know more about the attire of medieval pilgrimage? Did you know that the scallop shell is one of the elements that is still in use today?

Keep reading to get into one of the most popular routes during the Middle Ages.

Introduction and context

The Camino de Santiago is the denomination applied to the various Christian pilgrimage routes, leading to the grave of St. James the Greater. His remains are kept inside the Cathedral.

St. James was one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ. According to the he Christia, after dying in agony, his remains were moved to Hispania. And then, buried in Gallaecia (the region known, nowadays, as Galicia).

The 9th century, is characterized by the political union of Christianism in Europe. And the architect of this union, was a very well-known person: Charlemagne. The Iberian Peninsula was in the middle of a war between the Christian kingdoms of the North, and the Muslim kingdoms in the South.

This Christian kingdoms, progressively, start to conquer Al-Ándalus. This historic process is known as Reconquest or Reconquista.

In this context, on the year 820, was discovered the grave of St. James. It was buried among the ruins of an ancient roman settlement. A temple was built on the top of his grave and, after many remodeling, restoration and ampliation. This temple, is the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Although the most popular Camino de Santiago route is the French Way, it is not the original path. The first and King Alfonso IIprimitive route is a route called the Primitive Way or Camino Primitivo. This path starts in Oviedo, capital city of Asturias region. The route was founded by the King Alfonso II of Asturias, who was considered to be the first pilgrim.


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    Beginnings of the Camino de Santiago

    The Primitive Way passes through the Asturian mountains, and is a shorth route compared with the French Way. The French Way is a very long walk: from the western Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. It is a very long journey, that can take more than 1 month. This Camino de Santiago walk is more popular and busier than any other route.

    In its early days, the path was poorly signed and there were no indications along the way. Also, it was very dangerous, as there were many bandits that could attack pilgrims.Códice Calixtino

    One of the first guidebooks about the Camino de Santiago and the journey, was the “Códice Calixtino”.

    Being a pilgrim in the early days of the Camino: origins, social status and motivations

    The testimonies from pilgrims who came to Santiago de Compostela can be very diverse depending on the period they travel, their country of origin and their social status.

    In this post, we are going to focus on the early days of the Camino de Santiago: the 9th and 10th centuries.

    During the early years of the Camino de Santiago, it was only walked by Iberian Christians, mainly from the Northern and Northwestern areas.

    Time goes by, and the number of pilgrims started to increase. And this growth and development brought to Santiago pilgrims many Christian countries. In fact, the first proof of an “international” pilgrim dates back from the year 950 ac.

    Regarding social stratus, pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago had different status, with no distinction.

    But the testimonies we have about them are usually different, depending on their social condition. This is due to the fact that, to awake the interested of a historian to write a chronicle of the journey, the pilgrim had to have a high socials status.Camino Santiago Middle Ages

    That’s the reason why we don’t know about many other pilgrims who walked the Camino in the Middle Ages. Pilgrims who did not have a high social status and, for this reason, were not “appealing” enough to write about them.

    Nowadays the motivations to walk the Camino de Santiago are very diverse. But back in the Middle Ages, devotion and Christian faith were the reasons. In this period, religion was very present and close to all the aspects of human life.

    Clothing in the early days of the Camino de Santiago

    Pilgrim’s clothing nowadays is very different compared to the items used by medieval walkers. Let’s find out some of the most popular garments:Camino Santiago Middle Ages

    • Walking stick: this accessory was very important for pilgrims. It used to be a long stick, longer than the pilgrim who was carrying it. The main purpose was to assist him during the walk.
    • Leather bag: little travel bag. This little bag was used to carry in food, documents or money. Sometimes, we can find it decorated with scallop shells.
    • Cape: Very important accessory for medieval pilgrims. It shouldn’t be too long, to make the walk easier The main function was protect the pilgrim of the cold, the rain and the low temperatures.
    • Short cloak: a very short cloak to protect the neck and the shoulders of the cold and the rain.
    • Hat: a wide-brimmed hat. The main function was to protect the pilgrim of the rain and even the sun.
    • Footwear: sandals used to be the most popular footwear for pilgrims. But often, many pilgrims used to walk the Camino with no footwear, discalced.
    • Scallop Shell: Distinctive complement of the pilgrims. Jacobean emblem. It used to be carried on the hat. Also, many pilgrims take it on the short cloak, the cape or in the leather bag. The Scallop Shell is a symbol for those pilgrims who had finished the Camino de Santiago. A sign of accomplishment.

    And here you have the basics of  a millenary route, which survives nowadays, without losing its mystic touch. If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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