Old trails

We limit ourselves briefly here to the Christian tradition. For devout believers there were sites closer to home where they could express their religious customs or have their spiritual needs met. But it was only really significant if you grabbed your rucksack, kissed your loved ones goodbye and started out on the path to Jerusalem, Rome or Santiago. Such a journey resulted in complete abolition of sin. These journeys were dangerous undertakings; many pilgrims never returned home. Travelling to Jerusalem was rather organized but was extremely violent: the infamous Crusades. Following the Jacob’s Path was primarily an individual journey with great hardships. It was more about the purifying effect of the journey than the actual arrival, which nevertheless was experienced as a glorious reward for the drudgery endured.

During the 20th Century, participation in the Camino-pilgrimage was greatly diminished, keeping pace with the secularization and the decrease in church attendance. But something very strange is happening. The last decade of the previous century shows a change in this picture. While the abandonment of the traditional churches has remained unchanged – and in Spain has even increased – the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela has won in popularity. Whereas, by the middle of the previous century only a few hundred travelers per year made the journey, during the high season of the last years hundreds of hikers per day have departed from the starting point at Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees.