Sunday, December 23, 2012


Before the introduction of the World Wide Web in the 1990’s, very few foreign (non-Spanish) pilgrims walked the old pilgrimage trails to Santiago. 
A few English speaking 19th and 20th century academics, interested in medieval art and pilgrimage history, sought out the old roads to document the art, architecture, history, legends and folklore along the Way.  Some wrote about their passion.

 In 1917 American Art Historian Georgiana Goddard King completed her three part study, “The Way of St. James” based on three years wanderings on foot, by cart, mule, and other conveyance on the pilgrimage roads to Santiago.

In 1923 Harvard Professor Arthur Kingsley Porter compiled 10 volumes of the “Romanesque Sculpture of the Pilgrimage Roads”.

In 1957, the Irish Professor of Hispanic studies, Walter Starkie, wrote “The Road to Santiago-Pilgrims of Saint James” which was based on his four journeys on el Camino between 1934 and 1955.

1n 1982 Don Elias Valina Sampedro, the Cebreiro parish priest who reanimated the Camino pilgrimage roads in Spain, published his guide for walking the Camino trails to Santiago.  1,868 pilgrims received the Compostela that year, but this was accredited mainly to the visit of Pope John Paul II.

In 1985, the pilgrim’s office received 690 pilgrims.   As usual, the majority of these were Spanish pilgrims.

In 1987 the Brazilian author Paulo Coelho published his book The Pilgrimage which inspired hundreds of pilgrims from South America to cross the sea to Spain in search of their own [metaphorical] sword.  Once the book was published in different languages, devotees from other parts of the world followed suit.  2905 pilgrims received a Compostela that year

Most modern St James Confraternities were formed in the 1980’s and this helped to boost the numbers of foreign pilgrims to some extent but they were still in the minority. 
It is interesting that there were so few pilgrims from the Americas, Oceania, Asia and Africa that numbers were not recorded until the Holy Year of 1999 when 4160 pilgrims were recorded as being from the ‘Americas’. 
Considering that the numbers of pilgrims rose by almost 1000% in Holy Years, one can presume that in ordinary years, the number of pilgrims from the Americas didn’t exceed double digits. (There is no record of the exact numbers from each country as the pilgrim office clumped all people from South and North America and Canada into one group).  

Although the Compostela certificate was introduced in the 1950’s, early records were lost and the only available records of walking pilgrims arriving in the city date to the 1970’s.  The late Don Jaime of Santiago’s cathedral found an old record book kept by his predecessor which showed that in 1967 37 pilgrims earned the Compostela and in 1971, which was a Holy Year, 491 pilgrims received the certificate.

There was a sharp rise in pilgrim numbers in 1989 when the Pope visited Santiago and 5760 Compostelas were issued.  Of these, 3367 were Spanish pilgrims, more than all of the other countries added together. 

World Wide Web

But, the winds of change were blowing across cyber-space and more than books, magazine or newspaper articles, more than confraternities spreading the word or visits by the Pope, the advent of the World Wide Web in 1991 started an exponential explosion of information about the Camino pilgrimage that would accelerate the pilgrimage into almost Haj like status! 

In 1994 Internet ‘blogging’ was introduced and a young American journalist, Justin Hall, was credited with being one of the earliest bloggers. From a few fledging Camino blogs, there are now millions written about every route possible, by people from all over the world. 

The Google search engine was born in 1998 which enabled people interested in the Santiago Pilgrimage to find websites, blogs or books with the click of a mouse!
When Facebook really caught on in 2004, Camino related pages soon became popular and the Camino de Santiago page has over 11 000 members.!/groups/elcaminodesantiago/


Many pilgrim writers found publishers for their books and a slow trickle of new titles started appearing on the bookshelves.

1991:  Spanish Pilgrimage - A Canter to St James - Robin Hanbury-Tenison

1994:  Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk down the Pilgrim’s Route into Spain  - Jack Hitt

1994:  Road of Stars to Santiago: Stanton, Edward

El Camino: Walking to Santiago de Compostela by Lee Hoinacki

1997: Foot by Foot to Santiago de Compostela - Judy Foot

1998:  On Pilgrimage - Lash, Jennifer

In 2000 there was a flurry of new titles:

Actress and author Shirley Maclaine’s book ‘My Camino’ sent New Age pilgrims off to the Camino in search of their personal saints or proof of their previous lives.  

On the Road to Santiago: Tuggle, Bob

One Million Footsteps Across Spain, Walking El Camino De Santiago: Jr. L. Carroll Yingling

Roads to Santiago: Cees Nooteboom

Diary of a Pilgrim - Emma Poë.

Pilgrim's Road: A Journey to Santiago De Compostela by bike: Bettina Selby

Also in 2000, The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago - by David M Gitlitz & Linda K Davidson was released. It is still considered to be the Camino Bible that discusses the history, tradition, folk lore, saint's lives, art, architecture, geology and fauna and flora of the Camino Frances from Somport and from Roncesvalles.
The couple walked to Santiago in 1974, 1979, 1987 and 1993 accompanying groups of student-pilgrims on academic, medieval study programs. In 1974 they did not meet even one other pilgrim on the road to Compostela. In 1979 the met an elderly Frenchman who was fulfilling a vow made in the Second World War.

In 2006 Hape Kerkeling, a German comedian, published a book a book about his experiences on the Camino 5 years earlier.  The following year the number of German speaking pilgrims rose by 25%.

(More books here:

English Forums:

In February 1999 the Saint James Group was formed at (based in the website

The Camino Forum Santiagobis was started on in October 2000.

In 2004 the Santiago-Today forum was started: // 

One of the earliest websites I found on the Internet was The Friends of Santiago based in the US, managed by Linda Davidson.

They also offered the first Forum that I joined – GoCamio - which is now hosted by the American Pilgrims on the Camino. 

Another early excellent website with wonderful photographs and sounds of the Camino was Caroline Mathieson’s site:

And Carl Sesto’s wonderful Blog with photographs at:


2011:  The latest film is a ‘Hollywood’style movie called THE WAY featuring Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez.
Since the release of this film, the number of pilgrims from the US has gone up 80%. Numbers from other English language countries has also risen sharply.
You’ll find a comprehensive list of films, dvds and documentaries here.

In 2012 over 200 000 pilgrims will have received the Compostela.  Close to another 750 000 will have walked parts of the many Camino trails in Europe. 

For a historical timeline of the Camino visit:

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