Spain, is a country that as has been mentioned on numerous occasions before is more than perhaps the sum of its constituent parts.
Examples of the wide variety of historical influences that go to make up modern day Spain can be found everywhere you look.
Organized faith has played such a dominant part in the history and culture of Spain down through the centuries and as a result there are numerous pilgrimage routes to be found throughout the country.
Of all of the pilgrimage routes possibly the most famous is the Camino de Santiago or Way of St. James. This first became a popular route for pilgrims in the ninth century when apparently the sepulchre of St James was discovered. The alleged last resting place of St. James the Apostle has been such an attraction that in the centuries following its discovery pilgrims from around the world have walked this particular pilgrimage route.
The popularity of this particular route it has to be said has risen and fallen throughout the years. The 16th and 17th centuries probably saw the least interest in this particular route. Apparently was on the orders of one of the Popes of the day that prisoners serving time for petty misdemeanours could actually serve penance by taking part on a pilgrimage on the Way of St. James.
what possibly turned the fortunes of this particular pilgrimage route around was the fact that in the 20th century UNESCO after extensive lobbying finally recognized Santiago de Compostela as a World heritage site of some importance and the knock on benefit of this was increased visitor traffic and more pilgrims.
Nowadays the whole experience of travelling along the Way of St. James toward Santiago is more than just a mere religious pilgrimage though the importance of this has not declined but rather the entire event has become a major tourist attraction.
Many people have asked what are the most common starting off points for the Way of St James and it has to be said that probably the English, the French and the Spanish routes are the most common. That having been said to be honest the most popular of all originates from the north of France right down through northern Spain to Santiago.
Nowadays unless you happen to be a completely devout, fervent and ardent pilgrim it is unlikely that you would travel the entire 760 common to route from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela. Those who do manage the entire route claim that the hardship and suffering that they go through stands him in good stead for being able to appreciate the whole experience once they get to Santiago.
There are numerous markers long the way to help ensure that pilgrims do not deviate more than is necessary from the original route and the most common of these signs and markers are the ubiquitous yellow arrows that are found painted on trees and rocks along the way. It is said that these were by and large painted in the 1970S by Father Elias Valdinha who as well as wanting to improve the way also wanted to avoid more confusion than was necessary and also to ensure that all pilgrims arrived at their destination in good order as well as humour!