According to Christian tradition the initial evangelisation of the Iberian peninsula was carried out by St. James, the Apostle. After the initial evangelisation he then returned to Jerusalem. It is stated in the Sacred Scriptures that that he died in Jerusalem when he was beheaded around 44AD by King Herod. According to the tradition his remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where he was buried in a forest now the city of Santiago de Compostela. During a savage persecution of the of the Church in the Iberian peninsula his relics were hidden. His tomb remained hidden for several centuries before being discovered in the 3rd century AD. Thereafter the Way of St. James became one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during medieval times, together with Rome and Jerusalem, and a pilgrimage route on which a plenary indulgence could be earned. Pictured is the The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
The Way can take one of dozens of pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Traditionally, as with most pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James began at one's home and ended at the pilgrimage site. The pilgrimage to Santiago has never ceased from the time of the discovery of St. James's remains, During the Middle Ages, the route was highly travelled. However, the Black Death, the Protestant Reformation and political unrest in 16th-century Europe led to its decline. By the 1980s, only a few pilgrims per year arrived in Santiago. Later, the route attracted a growing number of modern-day pilgrims from around the globe. The route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in October 1987; it was also named one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.
There is an excellent feature film starring Martin Sheen entitled The Way which gives an excellent flavour of the journey.
The scallop shell, often found on the shores in Galicia, has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Its origins are lost in different traditions. One is that off the coast of Spain, a heavy storm hit the ship carrying St. James’ body, the ship was wrecked and the body was lost to the ocean. After some time, however, it washed ashore undamaged, covered in scallops.
Certainly the scallop shell also acts as a metaphor. The grooves in the shell, which meet at a single point, represent the various routes pilgrims travelled, eventually arriving at a single destination: the tomb of James in Santiago de Compostela. It also represents the different reasons that people have for making the Camino and the common gaol that is drawing them.
As the symbol of the Camino de Santiago, the shell is seen very frequently along the trails. The shell is seen on posts and signs along the Camino in order to guide pilgrims along the way. The shell is even more commonly seen on the pilgrims themselves. Wearing a shell denotes that you are a traveller on the Camino de Santiago.
There seem to many groups and individuals from Scotland making the Camino this summer including large groups from St. Augustine’s, Coatbridge and St. John’s, Perth. Fr. Stephen Hannah, parish priest of St. Ninian’s, Kirkintilloch and Fr. Joe Lappin, St. Paul’s, Whiteinch are already ‘in the Way. On Tues, 15th July, along with a friend, John Hunter, a parishioner of St. Augustine’s, Milton, I will be departing from Edinburgh Airport for Santander in Spain, via Oviedo to Ferrol, the birthplace of General Franco! I will be attempting to walk the Camino Ingles (The English Way) from Ferrol in the North Coast of Spain to Santiago de Compostela, a distance of 116km. This was the traditional route for pilgrims from Great Britain who arrived by boat either a La Coruna or El Ferrol.
I have decided to offer up this pilgrimage for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. My own parish of St. Lucy’s, Cumbernauld are supporting this pilgrimage by prayer, fasting and almsgiving. If you want to join in then you are welcome to do so via the parish Web site