Is this your first time walking the Camino de Santiago or Way of St. James? If so, you might catch yourself wondering about one thing or another.
We have some of the answers for you.
1 Rocks of sorrow
Walking the camino can feel like a fresh new start, leaving old sorrows behind.
These old sorrows are locked inside rocks brought from home and then dropped somewhere along the Camino. Over the years those rocks or pebbles of sorrow became one of the most visible traditions of the Camino. Piles of rocks can be seen nearly everywhere, mainly at way markers and crosses.
Only the owners know the sorrow locked inside which hopefully they are no longer carrying. However, not all of the rocks found on those piles carry a symbolic meaning.
Sometimes pilgrims just collect rocks along the way to add them to the pile for no clear reason. They like the idea of leaving something behind or just think it looks aesthetic. No matter the reasons, all those rocks claim a lot of space and can become a problem after some time. They need to be cleared on a regular basis.
Why not carry and leave imaginary rocks? If that is not enough and it needs to be a real item, place it at least in a place that is less affected by rock piles.
2 Yellow arrows
The camino continued to grow in popularity since its beginning, attracting people from all over the world. Yellow arrows, preferably on a blue background, were introduced to mark the routes. Following them will ensure you are on the right track.
In some places you will encounter the arrows on rock signposts together with an inscription of the mileage left before reaching Santiago de Compostela.
3 Scallop shell
Probably the most infamous symbol of the camino. In the early days, this type of shell was collected by pilgrims on the Galician shores as token of proof that they completed the journey. The pligrims back then also used it to collect drinking water from streams or use it as a plate or spoon.
Legend also has it that Saint James‘ dead body was transported on a ship to Galicia when a storm hit and wrecked the ship. The body was later found well preserved and covered in scallop shells.
Today the scallop shell decorates backpacks of the pilgrims and is the number one souvenir for the camino.
4 Saint James
The camino de Santiago rose to fame after the remains of the disciple Santiago or Saint James were discovered in Galicia. King Alfonso II, king of Asturias, ordered to build a tomb which is located in the Santiago de Compostela cathedral.
According to a legend, the dead body of Saint James was laid on a boat that landed on the coast of Spain. Another legend claims that a farmer found the body centuries later in the area.
The finding of the holy relics literally paved the way for one of the most significant pilgrimages of all times. Today it is not considered a sole Christian pilgrimage any longer but a spiritual or leisure one.
5 Different ways of the camino
Originally, pilgrims started the camino at the door of their homes. Depending in which area they were based, different routes were established.
Today, the network of caminos has expanded all over Europe. However, the classical routes are centered in France, Portugal and Spain. The most famous one starts in St. Jean Pied de Port.
Unlike in the beginnings of pilgrimages, religion is not the only drive to walk the camino anymore. Nowadays people walk the camino for many different reasons. They are seeking for closure, want to free themselves of emotional baggage or need a break from their lives.
Maybe it is none of that and walking the camino is just what they planned to do in their holidays.
While religion may not play a role in their lives, they will be confronted with crosses and other religious symbols along the camino. This is due to the historical heritage.
The crosses and statues of saints shall guard the pilgrims on their way to the holy city of Santiago de Compostela.
It is the certificate granted to you after completing at least the last 100 kilometers of the camino on foot. It is issued by the Pilgrim’s office in Santiago de Compostela.
It took me some googling to find out the name for those raised rectangular stone buildings with crosses on the roofs which I confused as chapels. They originate in the rural parts of Galicia and date back to the 15th century.
Today I know that they were used as granaries to store crops for the winter. In order to keep the storage dry and safe from animals, the horreos stand on rock panels or stilts. You will not miss them once you pass through the Galician part of the camino.
Nowadays, they are no longer in use and some of them look unkept. This is also due to the fact that horreos are considered protected buildings and can only be renovated with a special permit.
9 The end of the world
The Camino Finisterre or Camino de Fisterra is an extension of the camino de Santiago. The Romans believed it to be the most westerly point in Europe, naming it accordingly Finis Terrae, the end of land.
If you decide to continue from Santiago to Finisterre, you need to plan an additional 3 to 5 days. The views over the Atlantic coast from the Finisterre lighthouse are incredible and might feel like an even nicer way to end your camino. You can follow the pilgrim’s tradition and take a bath in the ocean as a symbol of rebirth.
If you intend to walk the camino you should pay extra attention to the environment and sustainability. In fact, it is a well preserved environment which makes the camino a unique experience.
Avoid plastic as much as possible, and if you can’t, dispose of it correctly. If you are in the woods, take your plastic bottle until you reach the city rather than disposing of it in a trash can along the way. Garbage in remote areas is not collected as frequently as in the city. It fills up quicker and can end up in the woods.
Along the camino you will come across many warning signs addressing pollution.
Make the protection of the environment your highest priority on the camino.