The discovery of the Tomb of the Apostle Saint James the Greater at the beginning of the 9th century soon brought about a stream of travelers making the pilgrimage to the site, which is today the Galician city of Santiago de Compostela.
This vast influx of pilgrims from all over Europe led to the creation of a network of itineraries, known collectively as the Camino de Santiago or the Pilgrims’ Way to Santiago.The heyday of the pilgrimages took place between the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries with the granting of specific spiritual indulgences.
This trend, however, has endured to a greater or lesser extent over the course of the centuries.
Since the mid 20th century the Pilgrims’ Way to Santiago has been experiencing an international rebirth, which combines its spiritual and socio-cultural tradition with its tourist appeal, and once again it has become a melting pot for all types of peoples and cultures.
In 1987 the Council of Europe declared the Pilgrimage Route as the first European Cultural Route and it was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993. The Way of Saint James is an historic path that extends across Spain and many parts of Europe, joining together to lead the faithful to Santiago de Compostela. The main routes enter Spain via the Pyrenees from France. There are also other major routes that come from Levante and the Mediterranean, seafaring routes from the North of Europe and the routes from the South of the Iberian Peninsula the highlight of which is the one which crosses Portugal from the South to the North.
The living heart of Compostela beats to the rhythm of the Cathedral, resting place of the remains of the Apostle Saint James (Santiago). It is one of the most impressive Romaic cathedrals ever built although the Gothic elements which were a later addition add their own imposing presence to both the interior and exterior of the building. The most famous of all Jacobean customs is to ‘hug’ the Apostle or, at least, to hug the statue of him which presides over the main altar. Of equal importance to those who have made the pilgrimage is the right to enter the cathedral via the Saint’s door during the Año Xacobeo, the only time that this privilege is bestowed. This doorway is located on the Plaza de A Quintana.
Many are the main and important ways leading to Santiago in Portuguese territory. If the ancient Roman roads led origin to the old common saying – all the ways lead to Rome – with the inventio of St. Jacob’s relics in Compostela at the end of the Middle Ages, one may also say that all the ways lead to Santiago.
The dynamisation of the worship to Santiago in catholic west would determine several pilgrimage roads and a movement that led to the institution of legacies, the building of bridges, inns and hospitals, to divulge the worship and the character and virtue of the Apostle, who would took a hand full of churches and chapels under His protection.
The most divulged Portuguese way to Santiago passed through Oporto, climbing up to S. Pedro de Rates, than to Barcelos, crossing the Neiva river, through the Tábuas bridge, until it reached the Lima Valley through Portela da Facha, entering the walled village of Ponte de Lima through the Souto Gate, entrance of the Barcelos road. The village of Ponte de Lima would be completely crossed. The pilgrims had accommodation to sleep, a hospital to treat the injured and the sick, and churches to prey. They crossed the river through the Roman bridge, built in the beginning of the kingdom of Augusto and improved later by King Pedro (some say it happened in D. Dinis’ kingdom). On their way to Tuy the pilgrims would follow the ancient Roman Road. Before climbing the difficult slopes of the Labruja Mountain they passed by the Romanic Church of Santa Marinha de Arcozelo and northern by the Romanic Church of Rubiães. Arriving at the Minho River, Spanish (Galicia) territory could be seen. Than it was just necessary to take the boat at Areinho. And through Tuy, Redondela, Pontevedra, Caldas de Reys and Padrón, in four or five days they would reach Santiago de Compostela.
The original trace of this road was lost a long time ago and it could be only recently identified.
The Portuguese Way is considered at present, as the most important secondary Jacobean route. That is probably one of the reasons of the increase of the number of pilgrims.