Hundreds of thousands of people have made the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage over the years, each one making the long, arduous journey to the shrine dedicated to Saint James the Great. The number of pilgrims has been rising steadily thanks to the Xunta de Galicia, the regional government of Galicia, promoting the Way as a tourist activity. Figures released by the Office of Pilgrims at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela reveal 690 pilgrims made their way to the shrine in 1985. This figure rose to 19,821 in 1995 and further still to 93,924 in 2005. In 2016, some 277,915 pilgrims, the highest-ever total, officially completed the pilgrimage.
Whenever Saint James’ Day, July 25, falls on a Sunday, it is considered a Holy Year and the number of pilgrims increases dramatically. The last Holy Day was in 2010 and saw 272,703 pilgrims complete their journey. 2021 is the next Holy Day and it would not be surprising to see almost 400,000 pilgrims head to Saint James’ shrine. Several famous people have made the pilgrimage, including powerful kings, Hollywood stars, Popes and Presidents of the United States of America.
One of the earliest famous pilgrimages on record took place in 1213 when Saint Francis of Assisi began his journey. It took him two years to complete as the ancient pilgrims had to walk the entire way. Saint Francis founded several monasteries once in Santiago and went on to found the St. Francis Church and Convent. If you ever make the pilgrimage yourself, you will discover a plague along the way that marks the location King Philip II of Spain is said to have stopped off at on his way to Santiago. The king reigned when Spain was at its most powerful; the Philippines were actually named after him.
Pope John Paul II visited Santiago de Compostela on two occasions. In 1989, the second of these trips, was a Catholic event World Youth Day, which was attended by 400,000 young people. “Monte do Gozo,” the final stop before reaching the Cathedral, is where the Pope said the final Mass.
Angela Merkel, leader of Germany, and Mariano Rojay, leader of Spain, walked some of the route in the year 2014. Cynics say the walk was more of a photograph opportunity than an actual pilgrimage because the pair only travelled five kilometres of the Way. Perhaps the most famous Hollywood movie stars to begin the pilgrimage are Martin Sheen and his son Emilo Estevez. The father and son duo were filming “The Way” in 2009 and walked part of the route. Martin Sheen, born Roman Antonio Gerardo Estevez, had been to Santiago previously because his father was born there.
Sheen drove the route with his grandson Taylor in the summer of 2003. They stopped at a small restaurant along the way of the camino and Taylor hit it off with a woman who was also at the restaurant. In a twist of fate, Taylor ended up marrying the woman, whose name in English translates to “Miracle”.