Signs on the Camino

Discover how the Camino is full of symbols: arrows, milestones, and incredible constructions that guide the pilgrims towards their goal.

By Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Crismón de San Juan de la Peña (12th century)Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Throughout the centuries, the Camino has been covered with symbols. Some of them have been there since the beginning, but others have been added to the pilgrimage over the years. They are identified with the paths that cross Europe and explain the ancient cultures of these routes.

Milky WaySpanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

The Milky Way

The Camino is closely aligned to the most ancient mythologies. In Book IV of the 12th-century Codex Calixtinus, the chronicler states that Charlemagne, "Saw a path of stars in the sky that began at the Wadden Sea … stretching as far as Galicia, where the body of Saint James was hidden."

Medieval bridge of Puente La Reina (11th century)Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Bridges

A bridge is a great work that combines all the virtues of the Camino: it provides security and certainty to the traveler and reorders the traffic in the area. Its builders and the surrounding town or village receive thanks and praise for centuries on end.

Hostal dos Reis Católicos (1501)Regional Government of Galicia

Pilgrim Hospitals

The pilgrim hospitals are another great symbol of Saint James as well as being historic witnesses that mark out the Camino day and night. This is the old pilgrim hospital of Santiago de Compostela, right beside the Cathedral of Santiago.

Santiago church (19th century)Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Church of Santiago

Having a church that has been dedicated to Saint James for a thousand years is a distinguishing feature for the community. The current temple, in Madrid, replaced the Romanesque building in 1813, which replaced a Visigoth temple around 1085. It overlooks the plaza and street of Santiago. The neighborhood is also named after Saint James.

Monastery of Santiago de Uclés (16th century)Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Order of Santiago

Founded in 1170, the Order of Santiago took on the role of protecting the Camino from Muslim forces. Their headquarters were constructed in 1174 in Uclés. As the border moved further south, they ran their vast territory and promoted the worship of Saint James and the production of art in his honor.

Cross of Santiago (2014)Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Saint James' Cross

Saint James' cross is exclusive to the Order of Santiago and can be found in the monasteries, churches, forts, houses, granaries, etc. that historically belonged to the Order. Nowadays, it is also used, incorrectly, to characterize events relating to Saint James.

Scallops and pumpkin to drink water and identify the pilgrim (2008)Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Scallop Shell

The scallop shell is the convex upper shell of a bivalve mollusk that is very abundant in the Galician coast. In addition to its utilitarian function and its use in miracle working (Codex Calixtinus), medieval pilgrims would carry it home as proof that they had reached Santiago de Compostela.

Sign ‘Camino de Santiago’ in Somport. (2013)Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

When the Council of Europe declared the Camino the First Cultural Route of Europe in 1987, this came with a series of measures, such as the official symbol that must be used to represent it: a stylized, yellow scallop shell on a blue background.

Arrow painter in action (2011)Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

The Yellow Arrows ...

The associations of Saint James usually have a team of volunteer arrow painters who are always ready to travel throughout their province to go over the signposts on the Way. They also assess any damage caused by the weather and the passage of time.

Brief "yellow arrow" plant (2008)Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

... and Other Improvised Arrows

It is undeniable that sunflowers have been an important source of artistic inspiration since Van Gogh painted them in 1887. This is an environmentally friendly example, created by a pilgrim before starting the formidable medieval Montes de Oca section.

Ways of signaling in Puerto de Béjar (2010)Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

There is no greater problem in a small town than needing to diversify information, repeat it, and even magnify it all in one place.

Yellow arrow (2019)Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Informal Inscriptions

Seen from outside, the arrow and inscription make up a very humble graphic composition, created fluidly and quickly, but a pilgrim would realize that it has been carefully calculated and that the artist has managed to illustrate their story in half a meter.

In the Alto del Perdón (2018)Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

Recent Sculptures ...

In modern times, groups of sculptures have been created along the Camino, such as this one, built in 1996 in Alto de Perdon out of weathering steel. They represent a unique form of artistic signposting of the pilgrimage route.

Melancholy in the area of ​​Lomo de Plata (2010)Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

... and Ancient Sculptures

The pair of pilgrims at Lomo de Plata silently contemplates a collection of eight or nine Roman milestones and parts of several others. They used to mark out the Roman road along the Vía de Plata (the Silver Way), but over the centuries they have been dragged here by the passage of time.

Proximity of Sansol, Navarra (2010)Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the St. James Way

The Absence of Signs

Although there are no visible signals or signs of any type, pilgrims can be identified from a mile off and they know who their predecessors are and where to direct their steps.

Credits: Story

Federación Española de Amigos del Camino de Santiago
www.caminosantiago.org
Pilar de Luis Domínguez
director@caminosantiago.org
José Antonio Ortiz Baeza

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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