Hikers travel the trail across the Castilian plateau. It’s a long walk to Santiago de Compostela on the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James), but the Christian faithful have made the pilgrimage since the bones of St. James the Apostle were unearthed here in the 9th century, spreading the cultural rebirth of Europe. The apparition of St. James was said to aid Christian armies in battles with the Moors, so Spaniards adopted Santiago Matamoros (aka St. James, the Moor-slayer) as their patron saint. Modern hikers follow in the footsteps of El Cid, Louis VII of France, and St. Francis of Assisi to this pilgrimage destination that’s on a par with Rome and Jerusalem. Whether their motives are spiritual or not, the experience of the walk lingers. Most travelers follow a variant of the French Route, which begins in the Basque village of Roncesvalles, in the Pyrenees at the French-Spanish border, and trek 500 miles through the Rioja wine country (see here) and the former kingdoms of northern Spain. Hostels, inns, and restaurants along the entire stretch cater to the pilgrims. Those who lack time or stamina for the 4-plus-week journey by foot walk only the final 62 miles, through rugged but green inland Galicia. At Monte de Gozo, 2 miles from Santiago de Compostela, tired but elated travelers typically get their first glimpse of the twin towers of Santiago’s cathedral. Construction of the majestic Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela began in 1078, on the site of a 9th-century basilica destroyed by the Moors, and Maestro Mateo’s original designs rank among Europe’s finest Romanesque art. The cathedral’s elaborate, two-towered Baroque façade, added in the 18th century, protects the now restored original Porta de Gloria from weathering. The impact of the cavernous interior—as simple as the façade is ornate—is heightened by the golden-cloaked, bejeweled statue of St. James above the main altar, embraced by arriving pilgrims. The cathedral shares the vast Plaza del Obradoiro (“work of gold”) with the Hotel Reyes Católicos (Catholic Kings), built by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel in 1499 as a hospice for pilgrims. Now one of the most renowned paradors in Spain, it has rooms overlooking the square and the cathedral and many more overlooking four courtyard cloisters. Only a short walk away, the Palacio del Carmen has transformed an 18th-century convent into comfortable if less majestic lodging. Where: Santiago de Compostela is 375 miles/603 km northwest of Madrid. The most popular route of the Camino de Santiago starts in Roncesvalle and runs 500 miles/800 km across the northern regions of Spain, from east to west. How: U.S.-based Saranjan, Inc., offers 1- to 2-week tours by minibus, on foot, or on bicycle. Tel 800-858-9594 or 206-720-0623; www.saranjan.com. Cost: 8-day hiking/biking tours from $3,150; all-inclusive. Originate in León. Hotel Reyes Católicos: Tel 34/981582200; www.parador.es; in the U.S., Palace Tours, 800-724-5120; www.palacetours.com. Cost: from $105 (off-peak), from $225 (peak). Palacio del Carmen: Tel 34/981-552444; www.palaciodelcarmen.com. Cost: from $100 (off-peak), from $115 (peak). Best times: late Feb or early Mar for Antroido (carnival); last 2 weeks of Jul for succession of fiestas; Jul 25 for feast day of Santiago, celebrated with fireworks, music, and processions.
The 12th and 13th centuries are considered to have been the golden age of the pilgrimage to Santiago. Subsequently the years of the Renaissance and Reformation in Europe led to a decrease in the number of pilgrims. However, pilgrims still made their way to Santiago throughout the centuries. In 1884, following academic and medical research, Pope Leon XIII issued the Bull, Deus Omnipotens, which proclaimed that the relics in Santiago were those of St. James. This is recognized as the start of the modern development of the pilgrimage. It was thought that in the 20th Century the growth of mechanized means of transport such as cars and airplanes might lead to a reduction in the number of pilgrims travelling to Santiago on foot or on horseback. This was not to be the case and in the last 30 years in particular there has been a huge growth in interest and in the number of pilgrims travelling on foot, on horseback or by bicycle. Pilgrims were encouraged by the visits by Pope John Paul II in 1982 and in 1989 when World Youth Day was held in Santiago. The number of pilgrims continues to grow. In 1985 1,245 pilgrims arrived in Santiago. In the 2010 Holy Year 272,703 pilgrims qualified for the Compostela.
St. Christopher's feast day is still July 25, and the proper of the Mass in his honor is found in the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal still authorized for the Tridentine Mass. The confusion over whether St. Christopher is still a saint arose when Pope Paul VI revised the Liturgical Calendar, which includes the feast days of saints that are commemorated at Mass. Due to the proliferation of the number of feast days over the centuries, the Second Vatican Council in its "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy" proposed, "Lest the feasts of the saints should take precedence over the feasts which commemorate the very mysteries of salvation, many of them should be left to be celebrated by a particular Church, or nation, or family of religious. Only those should be extended to the universal Church which commemorate saints who are truly of universal importance" (No. 111). With this in mind, a special commission — Consilium — examined the calendar and removed those saints whose historical base was more grounded on tradition than provable fact, changed the feast days to coincide with the anniversary of a saint's death or martyrdom whenever possible, and added saints that were recently canonized and had universal Church appeal. Moreover, local conferences of bishops could add to the universal calendar those saints important to the faithful in their own country. In no way did the Church "de-canonize" St. Christopher or anyone else, despite the lack of historical evidence surrounding their lives. St. Christopher is still worthy of our devotion and prayers, and each of us should be mindful that he too is called to be a "bearer of Christ."
Please recommend it to your daughter, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and place it before the throne of Jesus, so that He may bring it to a happy issue. Continue to intercede for me until my request is granted. But, above all, obtain for me the grace one day to see my God face to face, and with you and Mary and all the saints to praise and bless Him for all eternity. Amen.