Pilgrimages Of Europe: Santiago De Compostela, Spain (1995)

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Santiago de Compostela was declared a World heritage site in 1993. The area is literally littered with places of historical interest, including the World's oldest hotel - Hostal Tres Reyes Catolicos - now part of the Parador hotel chain. As for Compostela, folk etymology presumes it proceeds from the Latin Campus Stellae (i.e. "Field of Stars"), but it is unlikely that such form could yield the modern Compostela under normal evolution from Latin to Galician-Portuguese. More probable etymologies relate the word with Latin compositum, and local Vulgar Latin Composita Tella meaning "burial ground" as an euphemism, or simply with the hypocoristic compositellam, "the well composed" . Other places in Galicia share this toponym, akin to Compostilla in Leon province.
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Documentary Description

Pilgrimages are as old as mankind. The mystical and spiritual nature of a pilgrimage holds an eternal, mythic appeal to the imagination of many people. Every year millions of pilgrims of all nationalities, young and old, set out on these voyages of the soul. The mystical and spiritual nature of a pilgrimage holds an eternal, mythic appeal to the imagination of many people. Every year millions of pilgrims of all nationalities, young and old, set out on these voyages of the soul. The twelve documentaries in the Pilgrimages of Europe collection are experiential journeys to some of the most sacred routes and holy places throughout Christian Europe. Each half-hour documentary, richly filmed, looks at the spiritual, cultural and historical background of an important pilgrimage sites throughout Europe. However, the people, the pilgrims themselves, are at the heart of these stories – their purposes and desires, their motivations, and the great sense of the holy and the sacred which they find on their journeys of faith.


Santiago de Compostela was one of the three holy cities of the world during the Middle Ages. From far and wide pilgrims made their way on foot to the city in northwestern Spain to visit the shrine of the apostle, St. James. According to the legend, James went to Spain after Christ’s crucifixion to preach the gospel. On his return to Jerusalem he was captured by King Herod and beheaded. The friends and followers of James put the apostle’s body in a boat and pushed it out to sea. After a journey of many months, the body, covered in seashells, washed ashore in Galicia on the western coast of Spain. The shell later became the symbol of St. James Way. James was buried further inland. His tomb was discovered around 850 A.D. and since then pilgrims have visited his shrine in greater or lesser numbers. About 8,000 pilgrims from across Europe still make the journey every year. At the Pyrenees they begin to converge. In Spain only one road, the Camino, leads to Santiago.

The Way of St James has existed for over a thousand years. It was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during medieval times, together with Rome and Jerusalem, and a pilgrimage route on which a plenary indulgence could be earned; other major pilgrimage routes include the Via Francigena to Rome and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Legend holds that St. James's remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where he was buried on the site of what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela. There are some, however, who claim that the bodily remains at Santiago belong to Priscillian, the fourth-century Galician leader of an ascetic Christian sect, Priscillianism, who was one of the first Christians to be executed.

The Way can take one of any number of pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Traditionally, as with most pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James began at one's home and ended at the pilgrimage site. However a few of the routes are considered main ones. During the Middle Ages, the route was highly traveled. However, the Black Plague, the Protestant Reformation and political unrest in 16th-century Europe led to its decline. By the 1980s, only a few pilgrims arrived in Santiago annually. Since then however the route has attracted a growing number of modern-day pilgrims from around the globe. The route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in October 1987; it was also named one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

Whenever St James's day (25 July) falls on a Sunday, the cathedral declares a Holy or Jubilee Year. Depending on leap years, Holy Years occur in 5, 6 and 11 year intervals. The most recent were 1982, 1993, 1999, 2004, and 2010. The next will be 2021, 2027, and 2032.

Sources: Janson Media & Wikipedia


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