When the relics of the saint were ‘lost’ in 1589 the pilgrims stopped coming in any number and stayed away for almost 400 years. (I doubt pilgrims have ever stopped journeying to Rome or Jerusalem.)
By the Holy Year of 1867 St james' shrine was all but forgotten and only 44 pilgrims attended mass on his feast day. (Cordla Rabe)
Only after the remains were relocated and authenticated in 1884 did the masses start returning to Compostela – this time by boat, bus, train and car. (It would take another hundred years for pilgrims to start walking to the shrine).
The Rise and Fall of the Pilgrimage ... and the Rise of the Camino de Santiago.
814 - The beginning: The story of the discovery of the burial site of Saint James the Greater around 814 is well known. From the time the remains were authenticated by the church, an ever growing stream of pilgrims started trekking to his tomb. In those early days, before the introduction of indulgences for the remission of sins (circa 1095), people travelled by sea and land to visit the tombs and shrines of the saints out of curiosity, respect, and to be in the presence of something holy. No real thought of rewards.
The Rise and Fall - 12th to 14th centuries: Once earning an indulgence for the remission of sins and time spent in purgatory was thrown into the mix, pilgrimage became all the rage which soon led to corruption and fraud with shrines competing to attract pilgrims with false relics and outrageous indulgences of thousands of years. The heydays of the Santiago pilgrimage reached their peak in the 12th and 13th centuries but by the 14th century pilgrimage began to decline all over Europe due to wars, a growing split in the church and the Black Death.
1517: By the beginning of the Reformation, and the spread of Protestantism, pilgrimage and the veneration of relics became unpopular and were banned in many countries. Many churches and cathedrals were destroyed or abandoned.
1589: The relics of Saint James were moved and hidden to prevent a possible attack by Frances Drake – and were forgotten for almost 300 years! It’s not surprising that the number of pilgrims to Santiago dried up almost completely. With no body to venerate it would be almost 400 years before they started to return in any numbers.
1820: “The Spanish Civil war of 1820 – 1823 further prevented pilgrims from visiting Santiago and, in whole of the 19th century less than 20 000 pilgrims visited Santiago - most from the areas around Santiago, and the majority of those arrived in the Holy Years.” Don Jose Ignacio Diaz Perez
1879: Something had to be done. A search for the relics was launched in 1879 and they were eventually found between the walls of the apse.
1884: A papal bull from Pope Leo XIII declared them to be genuine (which silenced the sceptics) and there was a growing revival in the number of visitors.
1886: P. Fidel Fita rediscovered the Codex Calixtinus (a copy of the so-called Pilgrims’ Guide that never was) after it had been lost for centuries. This was fortuitous timing as it spurred historic research into the pilgrimage routes to Santiago just when interest in the shrine was being revived.
The revival of the St James Pilgrimage - 1900: After the re-discovery and authentication of the saint’s relics, pilgrim visitors started flocking to Santiago once again and there was a steady rise in the numbers especially in the Holy Years. But, the old trail routes remained overgrown and forgotten and the number of people walking to Santiago was so insignificant that no records were kept of their arrival. (The following numbers of visitors to Santiago in Holy Years is from de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heiliges_Compostelanisches_Jahr)
1909 - 140 000
1915 - 103 000
1920 - 112 000
1926 - 90 000
1937 - 134 000
1938 – 8 000
1943 - 200 000
(No mention of people having walked there.)
There were always a hardy few, nostalgic Catholics, medievalists and other academics, who tried to find the old pilgrimage trails to Santiago and reach it by means other than by car or bus.