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What is “the Way of St. James”?

And how long is it?

As you drag your feet into the town of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, tired and dirty—with blistered feet—you will be rewarded with two things.

The first is a visit to the town’s majestic Cathedral where, tradition tells us, the body of St. James the Greater is buried.

This sacred place is the focal point of the great pilgrimage you have just made: the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, or the Way of St. James of Compostela. Pilgrims have been traveling some version of this royal road since the 9th century, when it is said the tomb of St. James was discovered in Spain.

Your other reward is a certificate that labels you a real pilgrim of the “Camino,” as it is fondly called. You have to walk at least 100 km (~62 mi) to earn this certificate. (If you do it on a bike, you have to do 200 km.)

Pilgrims on the Way

But 100 km isn’t much compared to what you could possibly walk on the Camino.

Depending on where you start and what route you take, you could hike for hundreds of kilometers. These various routes exist because pilgrims would generally start from their home regions—be that Portugal, France, Great Britain, or somewhere else.

The most popular route, the Camino Frances, goes through France and measures 800 km. More than half of pilgrims choose this route.

The oldest route is the Camino Primitivo, also called the Original Way. This one starts in north-eastern Spain and is 311 km long.

Another popular route is the 280 km Camino Portugues, which runs along the picturesque Portuguese coast.

One of the special symbols of the Camino is a seashell: a universal symbol of St. James with many different origin stories. You’ll often see these shells hanging on the packs of pilgrims or displayed proudly in the home of a returning traveler.

Another symbol is the Santiago Cross, a red cross with a pointed lower end, the insignia of the military Order of Santiago.

Here at The Catholic Company, we offer a special rosary dedicated to the Camino—but it’s not just for those who can physically go to Spain. Made of Czech glass beads and featuring a pilgrim shell centerpiece and the Santiago cross, this rosary can help you join this ancient pilgrimage in spirit even if you can’t make the actual trip. Or, maybe you can! In that case, keep it close as you plan your Camino journey and take it with you when you go. Available today at The Catholic Company!

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