History of the Camino
The Camino fell out of favor after the Protestant Reformation, and did not regain popularity for 500 years. In the late 20th century, the European Union began to promote the Camino as part of its European Union project. The number of pilgrims began to increase sharply from 3,501 in 1988, to 30,000 in 1998, to 70,000 in 2002, to 200,000 in the so-called ‘Holy Year’ of 2010. The French, Germans, Spanish, and Italians are the nationalities most represented. Modern pilgrims are very ecumenical and walk the Camino for a variety of reasons ranging from religion, to historical interest, to socializing. The Camino is far and away the most popular footpath in Europe.
Most pilgrims do what is known as the ‘Camino Frances’. This route runs for 500 miles from St. Jean Pied de Port in southern France, over the Pyrenees, through the Basque country, the ‘meseta’ (quasi-desert), to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. The 25th of July—the day James was beheaded—is considered the holiest day of the year in Galicia; enormous pilgrim celebrations are held in the main square in Santiago.
Many pilgrims then elect to continue another 61 miles to Finistierre (End of the World) on the Atlantic coast. This region is sometimes referred to as a ‘Spanish Ireland’—it is especially lush, rolling, and beautiful. And Finistierre is an exotic seaport city.