Waypoints: Mapping the Camino de Santiago

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The Camino

History of the Camino

Saint James the Greater was one of the Apostles of Christ whose martyrdom at the hands of King Herod is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. According to legend, his remains were placed in a boat and miraculously made their way to Spain and were laid to rest. In 813, a tomb was divinely revealed to contain his bones and they were promptly brought to Santiago de Compostela. In the early twelfth century, Diego Gelmírez, Archbishop of Santiago, promoted Saint James’ relics and transformed Santiago into a major pilgrimage destination. For centuries since, countless people have been walking to Santiago de Compostela to visit the bones of Saint James the Apostle.

The Camino Today

From its heyday in the Middle Ages, the popularity of the Camino waned until the time of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco who attempted to boost its popularity to underscore and reinforce Spanish Catholic history and identity. Despite the questionable motivations behind its initial twentieth century resurgence, the Camino has been booming since the 1990’s and entered the popular consciousness following the release of the 2010 film, The Way, starring Martin Sheen. Of the many routes that make up the Camino, the most prominent is the Camino Frances, which runs from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the southwestern corner of France to Santiago de Compostela near Spain’s northwestern coast. Fordham’s Camino class follows along part of the Camino Frances, beginning setting out from León, Spain.  

The Camino at Fordham

This is the thirteenth Camino at Fordham University. Our class this year was led by Dr. Christina Bruno and Rachel Podd. The course, offered through the History department, focused on the history of the Camino and on the nature of pilgrimage. The emphasis of the course was relating the medieval to the modern Camino and exploring what makes a pilgrim a pilgrim. People journeying along the Camino today go for various different reasons. Some go late in life and some while they are young. Some are searching for clarity on the brink of a life-altering decision while others are simply trying to reconnect with nature. Many are still motivated by religious piety while others treat it as a test of their physical abilities and endurance. Which of these can be properly called pilgrims and which cannot? What is it about the journey that makes it more than merely a very long, often rather dirty walk through northern Spain? Who and what is a pilgrim? These are the questions that dominated the class discussions and that stayed with each Fordham pilgrim on their own journey.  

-Alex Pisano

Further Reading

The Miracles of Saint James. Translated by Linda F. Coffey, Linda Kay Davidson, and Maryjane Dunn. New York: Italica Press, 1996.

Chronicle of Pseudo-Turpin.  Translated by Kevin R. Poole.  New York: Italica Press, 2014.

The Pilgrim’s Guide to Santiago de Compostela. Translated by William Melczer. New York: Italica Press, 1993.  

Frey, Nancy Louise. Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to SantiagoLos Angeles: University of California Press, 1998.  

Gitlitz, David M. and Davidson, Linda Kay.  The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago: The Complete Cultural Handbook.  New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2000.

Fletcher, R.A. St. James’s Catapult: The Life and Times of Diego Gelmirez of Santiago de Compostela. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.

Dintamen, Anna and David Landis. Camino De Santiago: Camino Frances: St. Jean-Santiago-Finisterre. Harrisonburg: Village to Village Press, 2019. 

Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago (2014)