The Way of St James / El Camino / le Chemin St Jacques is the pilgrimage route to the shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostella in northern Spain.

To set out on the Way to Santiago de Compostella / Saint-Jacques de Compostelle is a spiritual adventure – for on the Camino we may draw on the imprinted energy of the countless pilgrims who have passed this way before us over so many centuries. For the Way of St James has existed for more than a thousand years, and in 1993 the Camino de Santiago was declared a world heritage site.

In fact the Way of St James consists of many pilgrim routes which traverse Europe, to converge in the Pyrenées before traversing Spain.

Our ancestors made their way to Santiago using the sun, moon and stars for navigation – indeed the Way is sometimes also referred to as the Via Lactea (the Milky Way). So throughout all of Europe there are many routes and shrines which claim a history of welcoming and caring for pilgrims en route to Santiago, where waymarks of brass or tile scallop shells or distinctive yellow arrows all guide the pilgrim towards Santiago de Compostella.

Perhaps the most famous routes through France are the Chemin du Puy / Via Podiensis and the Chemin de Vézelay / Via Lemovicensis which commence at Le Puy and Vézelay respectively. There is a photograph gallery of this Chemin St Jacques here.

The Chemin du Puy / Via Podiensis is a continuation of the Oberstrasse (the high road) way which crosses central Europe. Many pilgrims come from Poland, Hungary, Germany, Austria and Switzerland via the Oberstrasse way to the shrine of the black madonna at Le Puy. Thus the Chemin du Puy / Via Podiensis is the busiest (and consequently the most developed) of all the routes which cross France. The countryside through which the Chemin du Puy / Via Podiensis passes is exceptionally varied, from the spent volcanoes of the Velay, through the immense wild plateaus of the Aubrac, then to the valleys of the Lot, the Quercy and on to Gascony.

The Chemin de Vézelay / Via Lemovicensis comes from Namur in Belgium, visiting many shrines en route – including those of Sainte-Madeleine at Vézelay, Saint-Martial at Limoges and Saint-Léonard de Noblat. Between Vézelay and Ostabat the way crosses many rivers – the Loire, Vienne, Isle, Dordogne, Garonne – and many, such as the Adour and Gaves were especially perilous for medieval pilgrims.

The Chemin de Tours / Via Turonensis / Voie de Paris brings pilgrims from the northern Europe and France togather in Paris. Tours, a major staging point on the route, has long been a place of pilgrimage to the shrine of the 4th century St Martin. Pilgrims came here from as far as Spain to visit his shrine. Unlike the other Chemins St Jacques which pass through France, the Chemin de Tours is comparatively easy, passing through the valley of the Loire, the Touraine, Poitou, Angoumois, Saintonge, Bordelais, and the Landes.

The chemin du Piémont pyrénéen brings pilgrims from the Mediterranean regions, passing through the Corbières, the Ariégeois, Comminges, Bigorre, and the pays des Gaves. North/South axes through the Pyrénées via the valleys of the Aure, Ossau and Aspe provide links from the col du Somport and Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. This route is little known and may be joined by leaving the Voie d’Arles at Montpellier towards Narbonne via Saint-Thibéry and Béziers (Via Domitia).

The Chemin d’Arles or Via Aegidiana, the route from Saint-Gilles or Via Arletanensis / Via Tolosana takes it’s names from the principal towns and shrines along the way. La Voie du Sud / Camin Romieu is also the route followed by pilgrims (known as Romieux) heading for Rome.


By yanam49

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