The Reason Why So Many People Walk the Camino de Santiago
Three hundred thousand pilgrims walked the Camino de Santiago in 2017. These ancient pathways in Northern Spain have allured people from all over the world. But why? What is the reason that these trails have drawn so many pilgrims for such a long period?
Camino means ‘Path.’
Just a little introduction to the Camino de Santiago. In 812 AD the bones, supposedly of St. James, were discovered in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. Ever since pilgrims have traveled various routes to visit and pay homage.
There are many routes you can take with the most popular being the French way starting on the French border. To say you have completed the Camino you have to have walked the last 100 km. Along the route, you collect little stamps in a passport so that when you get to Santiago de Compostela you can prove you have been on the trail.
My wife and I began our Camino in Sarria and walked 118km in 8 days.
I had heard about the Camino through various sources and was curious about it. So when the opportunity arose to walk it at the end of another walking adventure, we grabbed it.
Many people do this walk for spiritual reasons, a kind of walking spiritual retreat.
Being the kind of guy I am and interested in Mental Health I was curious as to why so many people would take this pilgrimage. What was it they were hoping to discover?
We had interesting conversations with many other pilgrims, and one of them said this was the third time he was walking. I asked him why and the amused response was that he ‘still hadn’t got it right.’
This repeating the Camino and taking different routes was reasonably common from the many conversations overheard.
One pilgrim said that ‘It got into your blood.’ So what was the pulling power?
Some possible reasons
- Physical Challenge. It was an effort to walk every day for eight days, let alone doing longer versions
- Beautiful scenery. Walking through medieval villages, beautiful farmland and seeing flowers and streams. All was so refreshing to the soul.
- Connection with something from long ago. Just to know that where you walked perhaps, others had walked thousands of years ago.
- Making friends. Just meeting interesting people from different backgrounds was a delight.
All of these are part of the attraction and surprise, but I believe the Camino taps into an even deeper need.
In Jungian psychoanalysis, there is the concept of an archetype which refers to a collectively inherited unconscious idea, a pattern of thought, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches.
I believe we have a deep innate need to be part of a community doing something bigger than ourselves.
Before the Camino, I had read ‘Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression — and the Unexpected Solutions’ by Johann Hari
The author discusses his research into the causes of depression, one of those being loneliness.
Loneliness isn’t the physical absence of other people it’s the sense that you’re not sharing anything that matters with anyone else. Johann Hari
To end loneliness, you need other people — plus something else. You also need, he explained to me, to feel you are sharing something with the other person, or the group, that is meaningful to both of you. You have to be in it together — and “it” can be anything that you both think has meaning and value. Johann Hari
Camino pilgrims were certainly sharing something that was meaningful. As we journeyed we greeted each other ‘Buen Camino’ all knowing we had one common destination. We also had a shared experience of aching muscles and tired feet.
We were in a community with a very tangible goal. The next step, next hill, next town, and then Santiago de Compostela.
I can’t think of many places that can offer this shared tangible purpose.
Perhaps this is why it is so unique and compelling to our modern lives of diverse direction. We hardly know our neighbors, let alone ourselves and our deepest needs.
People … like us on the Camino de Santiago
The Camino was about coming together with people like us. They were all people … like us. All with hurts, hardships, hopes, and dreams.
When you’re traveling in a community, you gain a sense of strength to take that next step. Millions ofpeople … like us have walked over that same gravel so you can too.
The Camino invite.
Find at least one other person and share each other’s journey. Go deep and go long.
Enjoy the scenery along the way. Set your own pace.
Know that an invisible presence will be with you and that perhaps you will discover your hearts burning within you full of Spirit (Holy) Luke 24:13–35.
Quotes to consider
- Loneliness is the first thing which God’s eye named not good. John Milton
- As pilgrims must discover if they are to complete their quest, we are led to truth by our weaknesses as well as our strengths. Parker Palmer
- Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart. Abraham Joshua Heschel
Images from the Camino
I have a slideshow over on the website. Click here to go there!