The Way of St. James: Spain’s Religious Pilgrimage
Vigo, Spain, the largest city in Galicia and heart of the Rías Baixawas, was a port on our Iberian Peninsula cruise aboard the Grand Princess. The cruise led us to one of the world’s most sacred pilgrimages, Camino de Santiago, orthe Way of St. James in English. The path to the shrine of the Apostle St. James is a pilgrimage many make as a spiritual path or for spiritual growth. Hikers and cyclists enjoy the organized route, too, which brings thousands of people each year.
The Camino de Santiago paths are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was declared the first European Cultural Route in 1987. There are many ways of St. James from Spain or France.
Those completing the pilgrimage, the Way of St. James, are announced daily at the Pilgrim’s Mass in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela each day at noon and 7:30 PM.
Centuries Old Pilgrimage
Over the centuries, countless pilgrims have followed the Way of St. James from the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains to the magnificent cathedral containing the remains of beloved Saint James, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ, found at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
The route consists of a network of several paths along the northern coast of Spain. Brass scalloped shells can be found in the intricate stone walkways leading the way. The two main routes of the Way served as a cultural link in the past to the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe.
Legend recalls that in the 8th century, Christians rescued the bones of Apostle St. James, or Santiago as they refer to him in this region, from a monastery on Mount Sinai. They carried the bones to Galicia, where the remains were buried in a purpose-built church. The town sprung up around this church.
The Way of St. James is thought to be the third most important pilgrimage, directly behind Rome and Jerusalem.
The Shrine to St. James Cathedral
The monumental St. James Cathedral dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries. It is Romanesque in style, but has been altered many times. The cathedral is one of the largest and most admired churches in Europe, with its highlight being the baroque facade.
For me, the greatest thing was seeing all those dedicated and tired travelers meet their long journeys end. Many fell to their knees and cried, many began praying at once. Meanwhile, I sat and wept as a witness.
On the day I visited Vigo, Spain, there was a torrential downpour. That did not dampen the spirits of the people we saw along the path, headed for the end of their long journeys.
The scenes of people genuflecting and praying and waiting in line for the altar boxes was something very special that I got to be part of. Thousands of pilgrims arrive daily. The church felt welcoming and warm, and I wanted to capture every little thing in photograph.
Exploring the Town
Before leaving to go back to our cruise ship, my friends and I had delicious pastries and coffee at the Hotel Paradores across the street. We shopped a few of the little gift shops in the area for souvenirs.
The town is also famous for their wines and seafood. Fishing is the most popular activity and export in Vigo, with tuna and sardines being the most in-demand. Old Town boasts narrow alleyways, small bars, and photogenic plazas. I don’t know the story behind it, but a colorful Ferris wheel sat in the background. I got to visit this unspoiled and historic region.
Visiting the Way of St. James, no matter how you arrive, is a very special opportunity. I am glad to have experienced it.
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