What are the motivations for pilgrimage: the santiago way

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What are the motivations for pilgrimage?

“The Way to Santiago de Compostela”

Concha Domínguez

Theology 306 – B2

Professor Huck

November 3, 2010


“Virgin Time”, Patricia Hampl´s book is a pilgrimage story that inspired me to write this paper about pilgrimage. I have always lived in Spain where the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, El Camino de Santiago, or justonly “El Camino” – The Way-, is widely known and most Spaniards walk “The Way” or part of it at least once in their lives.

I am planning to do so next year and when I thought about writing a paper about the motivations that make people walk 500 miles to reach the Cathedral of Santiago, I realize that I, myself, didn´t really know why do I want to walk part of “The Way” to Santiago . Religion,faith, spirituality? All of them? Or may be only tourism?

This paper is a reflection about the pilgrim´s motivations based on the experience of pilgrims that have waked “El Camino de Santiago” and have written about it.

At the beginning of IX century Pelayo, a hermit, observed a luminous phenomenon, and considering it something miraculous, run to inform Bishop Teodomiro. The Bishop andhis congregation were guided by a star to a cave in which they discovered the bones of St. James (Santiago). Such legend was never proved nor that the reminds belonged to St. James. The King Alfonso II supported the discovery. The Catholic Church declared that those who went on pilgrimage to Santiago would obtain plenary indulgence. No wonder Santiago became in the middle age a very well knownpilgrimage site. It also became a symbol of Christianity that helped to culminate the reorganization of the Christian reign which at that time was fighting the moors.

On those days pilgrims came obviously for a religion reason: to obtain their eternal salvation. In the Middle Age the target was not an easy one. Pilgrims came from all over Europe and after reaching the Pyrenees they stillhad to walk more than 500 miles crossing the North of Spain before arriving to Santiago. Although the Benedictine monks built abbeys along the way, animals, burglars and illness were the most frequent journey companions and those who manage to arrive alive to Santiago really deserved eternal salvation. There is absolutely no question about the authenticity of the faith and religious motivations ofthose pilgrims.

More than ten centuries have passed since the first pilgrims walked to Santiago and still now this pilgrimage remains one of the most popular of Christianity –third after Rome and Jerusalem- not only for Catholics but also for other Christians and non religious people.

According to the Pilgrim Office of the Archdioceses of Santiago 43% of the pilgrims recognize tohave a religious motivation and only 1% of these belong to a religious order. 9% declare to walk for non

religious motivations and the other 48% go on pilgrimage both for religious and other motivations. In 2009, 146,000 pilgrims -2,540 from USA - have obtained their certificate which is given to those pilgrims that have walked at list the 65 last miles or either cycle or horse-back ride thelast 125 miles. If you use a motor vehicle you are not consider a pilgrim. Year 2010 is a jubilee year –a year when St. James day is a Sunday- and therefore the number of pilgrims will increase substantially.

What could be the non religious motivations that move people to turn their holidays into a pilgrimage? And more, what do really mean by religious those who declare have religiousmotivations? This is something that intrigues many people, even Shirley MacLaine (2000) asked herself while walking to Santiago, “Charlemagne and Saint Francis of Assisi went through this with hordes of armies and throngs of followers. What were they thinking? What made them do it?”

Speaking first about religious motivations it is hard to think that actual Christians believe in the...
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