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POSTED BY August 23, 2021

Want to learn more about the Camino? In this post, we discover interesting facts about the famous pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. So here are 9 Camino facts that you might not know.

Scallop shells, the symbol of the Camino de Santiago

1. A famous logo

The logo of the Camino is a scallop shell. This symbol can be seen in countless places along the pilgrimage to Santiago. For example, the route is indicated by pictures of yellow shells and arrows.

2. More than one route

The Camino de Santiago consists of more than one route – it is a network of trails spread all over Europe. After all, originally people undertook the pilgrimage from their own place of residence. The Camino Frances, which starts in the French Pyrenees, is the most popular route today, but there are Camino routes that start in Spain, Italy, Ireland and the Netherlands, among others.

Official Irish Camino routes include the Kerry Camino and St. Kevin’s Way

Kerry Camino Cross

3. Official pilgrim certificate

Some 2.5 million people visit Santiago da Compostela every year, but that does not mean that they have all completed the Camino. On average, more than 250,000 pilgrims receive a Compostela, the official certificate of the Camino pilgrimage. To obtain this certificate, a pilgrim must have walked at least the last hundred kilometers of the Camino route. In addition, you must collect a stamp in the official pilgrim’s passport every day.

Sarria on the Camino Frances is the most popular Camino start point

4. Inspiration for a popular board game

The popular Game of Goose board game is according to many inspired by the Camino de Santiago. The game, in which the board represents a life path and a die represents fate, is many centuries old. In the 16th century, the Tuscan Grand Duke Francesco de Medici sent a version of the game to Philip II of Spain – goose is still very popular in Spain. There is much speculation about the similarities between the board game and the route of the pilgrimage to Santiago .

First, the goose, the main character in the game, is an animal common along the Camino route. The animal’s footprint is quite similar to a scallop shell, the symbol of the pilgrimage to Santiago. Many place names along the pilgrimage route also have the Spanish word for goose, oca, in their name. The layout of the game board also resembles the route to Santiago and back in many ways, although the exact theories differ.

Walking the Camino Frances
Walking the Camino Frances

5. Increase in younger hikers

In 2017, more than 50 percent of the pilgrims on the Camino fell in the age category 30 to 60 years. About 35 percent of the walkers were under the age of 30 and about 12 percent were over the age of 60. The number of young hikers has risen sharply in recent years.

6. Other modes of transport

Traditionally, a pilgrimage was made on foot, but nowadays there are also other options, such as on horseback or by bicycle. Those who have explored the Camino by bike can also receive a Compostela. The pilgrim must then cycle at least the last two hundred kilometers of the Camino de Santiago – twice as far as walking pilgrims. Haarlem and Maastricht are popular starting points for cycling trips to Santiago.

7. Inspiration for writers

The famous Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho walked the Camino Frances for the first time in 1986 and again in 2006. Much of his earlier work is inspired by experiences along the pilgrimage to Santiago. His first book, released in 1987, was entitled The Pilgrimage to Santiago (Diary of a Magician) and has contributed to the growing popularity of the Camino ever since. The Camino has also inspired many other writers.

Find out more about popular Camino books!

8. Most common nationality

Although the Camino is often associated with foreign walkers, the most common nationality to find on the Camino is Spanish. This is especially true in an holy year when the the feast of St. James falls on a Sunday. In 2016, almost half of all pilgrims on the Camino were of Spanish descent.

Statue facing towards Santiago on the Camino de Santiago
Statue of pilgrim facing towards Santiago on the Camino de Santiago just outside of O Cebreiro

9. The Botafumeiro

Santiago de Compostela is the famous end of the Camino. Anyone who thinks of Santiago immediately sees the imposing cathedral in front of them, where the remains of the apostle James are said to be. Less people know that the cathedral has a special attraction: the Botafumeiro. 

This enormous silver incense vessel weighs over 50 kilos and is 1.50 meters high – making it one of the largest incense vessels in the world. This unique object is only used during special celebrations, so not all pilgrims get the chance to see it.

Photo: Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez / CC BY-SA 3.0

We hope that you enjoyed this guide to Camino facts: 9 facts about the pilgrimage to Santiago. If you’re interesting in walking the Camino yourself, just get in touch.