A brief history of the Way of Saint James

A brief history of the Way of Saint James

Table of Contents

History of the Way of Saint James

As you know, in Galicia Travels, we have made a series on the different routes that can be done when making the Way of St. James.

We then delve into the very history of the Way itself: its origins and other details.

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Origin of the Way of Saint James

To know the origin of the Way of St. James We have to go back to the time of Jesus Christ and, specifically, to the life of one of his disciples: James, known, according to the Bible, as “the son of Thunder” because of his character. He is considered to be one of the people closest to Jesus, present at key moments in his life.

After the death of Jesus, he preached the Gospel throughout the world, reaching as far as Galicia. It is estimated that around 44 A.D. it was King Herod Agrippa I who ordered the death of James, making him the first Apostle to die for his Christian faith.

At a time when the main religious destinations in Europe competed for the best relics, Santiago de Compostela was placed on the map as a center of pilgrimage. He wrote his name next to big cities like Rome or Jerusalem.

The truth is that, in addition to the religious aspect, the history of the Camino de Santiago was also of great importance from a political point of view. It supposed the creation of strong cultural connections between the north of Spain and Europe. This contributed to the creation of a powerful tool in the form of a cultural story, during the Reconquest.

The transfer of the remains

Although the Apostle James was ordered to be buried, it was two of his disciples who decided to flee with the body, reaching the northern coast of Galicia. This is known as Translatio and has a performance every 31 December in the Santiago’s Cathedral.

Thus, Iria Flavia would be their destination and at this point the objective was to bury the body of Santiago. According to legend, the original site was the Rúa do Franco in Santiago, about 100 metres from the Cathedral and the Plaza del Obradoiro.

Alfonso II, the first pilgrim in history

Eight centuries in oblivion

The tomb of St. James the Apostle was forgotten for no less than 8 centuries. The person responsible for the discovery was Pelayo in the 9th century, thanks to a stellar phenomenon that led them to the sarcophagus with three bodies; that of Santiago and that of his two disciples. It was Bishop Teodomiro who realised that they were standing before the tomb of the Apostle St. James.

Alfonso II, the first pilgrim in history

Such was the magnitude of the discovery that the bishop decided to go to see the monarch Alfonso II., el Casto. On learning the details, the king himself was aware of the magnitude of the discovery and travelled to see it, making King Alfonso II the first pilgrim in history.

It was then that the monarch commissioned the construction of a temple to house the remains, giving rise to what is now the Cathedral of Santiago.

This pilgrimage of the monarch also gave rise to what is known as the Primitive Pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostela.. And the truth is that this discovery was the starting signal for the rest of the routes, as news of the discovery of the remains of the apostle spread throughout Europe.

El Camino today

All this, until it became what it really is today. And the fact is that The Way of Saint James is much more than an itinerary that leads pilgrims to the tomb of the Apostle, it is also an example of cultural, artistic and social development that is followed throughout Europe.

It is therefore not surprising that the Way of St. James was declared a World Heritage Site and also became the first European Cultural Itinerary.

For more information you can visit the page of Galicia Travels.