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History of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago

Today we will be talking about the history of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago, the second most popular route in number of pilgrims. Keep reading, and discover the origins of this Jacobean route.

The Portuguese Camino de Santiago: short introduction

The traditional Portuguese Camino de Santiago departs from Lisbon, and follows Northern Portugal until reaching Galicia region, in Spain. The entrance in Galicia is done through the medieval village of Tui. Even if it’s an inland route, some of the walking days follow the coast line (particularly, from Redondela to Pontevedra). There is another route called the Portuguse Coastal Camino, even if  both of them pass through Port, and follow parallel paths until reaching Redondela, we are talking about two different routes.

The full Portuguese Camino de Santiago, from Lisbon, can be completed in 25 stages on foot (1 month approx.). Doing the whole route would take a lot of time, that is why most of the pilgrims decide to start in Porto, or just do the last 100 km from Tui to Santiago de Compostela.

History of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago

But, who did this pilgrimage route start? What are the origins of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago?

Origins of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago

We can find the origins of the Portuguese Camino Santiago on the XII century, after the independence of Portugal. The remains of the old roman roads were used as a path, as it also happens with other Camino de Santiago routes. In fact, it is still possible to see  some of these Roman remains nowadays (some sections close to Porto or Ponte de Lima). According to historians, the Portuguese Camino de Santiago is as old as the French Camino.

With the raise of the pilgrimage towards Santiago de Compostela on the XII century, this experience became quite popular in Portugal. The most usual starting points were the main cities at the time: Lisbon, Porto, Braga, Coimbra… In fact, there are a lot of churches devoted to Saint James de Apostle along the way. A lot of pilgrims started their pilgrimage in Portugal at that time.

Portugal had a huge importance on the development of the Camino de Santiago, and the Jacobean culture. This route contributed to reinforce the economic and cultural links between Galicia region and Portugal. Many pilgrims decided to walk the Camino in the Middle Ages for many reasons, other than religion. This way, many facilities were developed on the way from Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela, such as guesthouses, hospitals for pilgrims, etc. Also, legends and traditions linked to the Jacobean culture.

The Camino also contributed to develop the inland paths, beyond the maritime routes. The Queen Elizabeth of Portugal (known as the Rainha Santa, or the Saint Queen) had a lot to do with that, as we will discover after.

Origins of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago

Development and history of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago

As we were mentioning before, the Camino de Santiago had a great impact in Portugal during the first years of Jacobean tradition. This is also due to the Order of Santiago (a military-religious order of knights) and its influence in Portugal. Its aim was to protect the borders with Extremadura (Spain) and watch over the pilgrims doing the Camino.

More and more nobles decided to walk the Portuguese Camino de Santiago. Even if most of them only did some stretches (mainly by horse) it contributed to spread the word about this pilgrimage route. Most of the pilgrims doing this path at the time, were Portuguese, which is why they chose the Portuguese Camino. But there were also pilgrims coming from other European countries, mostly royalty and clergy.

The popularity of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago started to decline on the XVIII century. After the French Revolution and the liberal confiscations, the Camino de Santiago was forgotten for many centuries (not just the Portuguese Camino, but all the Jacobean routes).

On the XX century, with the Marian apparitions in Fátima, in 1917, the religious interest was focused on this Portuguese regio (but the worship to Saint James was always present in Northern Portugal).

Origins of the portuguese way

The Portuguese Camino de Santiago in the XXth century

The last few years of the XXth century meant the resurgence, not just the Portuguese Way, but all the Camino de Santiago routes.

After so many years in oblivion, the Portuguese Camino de Santiago reappears thanks to the effort made by the Public Administrations, aiming to promote the Holy Year Xacobeo 1993. A lot of promotional content was distributed, the route was signposted, tourism offices were created…. Also, the Associations of Friends of the Camino de Santiago (both in Northern Portugal and Galicia region) contributed to spread the word about the route.

All these efforts produced results, and the number of pilgrims doing the Portuguese Camino de Santiago has been growing since then. There are more and more signs along the way, more accommodations, guidebooks, itineraries… It meant that many pilgrims from all over the world decided to take on this route, which was a big surprise for the Public Administrations. The route is still growing and now, in the XXIst century it is the second one in number of pilgrims (only beaten by the French Way).

During the XXth century, the presence of pilgrims on the Portuguese Camino de Santiago was just symbolic, while last year (2019) it was over 30.000 people (20% of the total).

Historical characters on the Portuguese Camino de Santiago 

As we were mentioning before, one of the factors that contributed to increase the popularity of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago (among others) is the fact that many historical characters decided to take on this route. Let’s discover some of them:

Isabel of Aragón, Rainha Santa of Portugal 

She was the most popular pilgrim of the Portuguese Camino de Santiago, who made it a well-known route (XIV century). Queen Elizabeth of Aragon was a very religious and charitable person.

In the year 1325 she started her pilgrimage towards Santiago de Compostela, and her presence is still noticeable nowadays. Besides the legends and traditions she left after her journey, the route also improved the route from a practical point of  view, as she left on her will an amount of money to develop accommodations, etc.

She was so attached to the Portuguese Camino de Santiago, that her tomb in Coimbra has the pilgrim staff she was given by the Church of Compostela. Also, one of the main streets of the historical quarter of Santiago de Compostela is called “A Raíña” (“the Queen”, in Galician), to honor her.

Sancho II of Portugal

He was also known as The Merciful, the king reigned Portugal between 1223 and 1248. During his reign (particularly in 1244) we did the Camino de Santiago.

Manuel I

In the XVIth century, more precisely in 1502, King Manul I (the Fortunate) walked the Portuguese Camino de Santiago.

Nicola Albani

Nicola Albani was an Italian related to the noble houses, working as a secretary for the royalty. He did the Camino de Santiago many times, between the 1743 and the 1745, and wrote one of the most complete guidebooks about the path. He walked through Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, both because of his faith, and looking for adventures.

Leo de Rosmithal

He was the brother in law of King George of Bohemia (Czech Republic). Between 1465 and 1467 he did many journeys throughout Europe and, of course, the Portuguese Camino de Santiago. It was very usual at the time, that the young European nobles took in this kind of journeys, both because of an adventurous spirit, but also to perform diplomatic or commercial activities.

Camino Portugues Galiwonders

These are just some of the personalities who contributed to promote the Portuguese Camino de Santiago as a Jacobean pilgrimage route at the the time. But there are many others, like Leo de Rosmithal, Cosme III de Médicis, Jerónimo Münzer, Claude Bronseval, Giovanni Bautista Confalonieri, or the pilgrimages made by the Jesuit Fathers.

For more information about the Portuguese Camino de Santiago, or other Jacobean routes, please do not hesitate to contact us. We will send you a tailor-made itinerary

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