Routes of the St. James Way in Galicia

Discover the ten official routes of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela as they are today.

Pilgrims (2013)Original Source: Axencia Turismo de Galicia

The early 21st century is a special time in the history of the St. James Way as pilgrimages have become a universal activity. People hailing from nearly every corner of the world, from different societies, cultures, and religions, now make their way towards Santiago de Compostela.

Pilgrims observing Cape Fisterra from Punta de Sardiñeiro (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

They feel united by the overall sense of being part of a popular, unified, peaceful, and profoundly human movement. This has led to the creation of the 10 official pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Let's check them out!

Way of St. James as it passes through O Cebreiro (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

The ten routes of the St. James Way in Galicia

Whether you start from the north, south, east, or west, all roads lead to Compostela de Santiago, or the historical world's end.

Medieval bridge of Ribadiso (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

1. The French Way

Most pilgrims consider this the best route of the Way. It's the most famous route internationally and has major historical significance as one of the routes of the St. James Way. The French Way is made up of four specific main routes originating in France, which were first mapped out in the Codex Calixtinus in the 12th century.

Or Cebreiro (2013)Original Source: Axencia Turismo de Galicia

These routes become two as they enter Spain, with one going through Roncesvalles and the other through Somport. They merge into one from Puente la Reina (Queen's Bridge) onwards. The route then goes through important towns such as Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Burgos y León before entering Galicia via the traditional mountain village of O Cebreiro.

Monumental ensemble of Soutomerille (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

2. The Primitive Way

This is probably the oldest pilgrimage route as it was taken by the King of Asturias, who was holding court in Oviedo, in the 9th century. The first pilgrims set out from Oviedo, the capital of the Asturian Kingdom. This route also attracted pilgrims from other parts of northern Spain and Europe.

Period latticework of the Asturian king Alfonso III (866-910), in the church of Soutomerille (866-910)Original Source: S.A. de Xestión do Plan Xacobeo

The artefacts from many pilgrim hospitals show how important this route was. In San Salvador de Soutomerille, Castroverde, there is a stone artefact dating back to the late 9th-to-early 10th century, during Alfonso III's reign: it is a stone lattice window from the town's original church.

The Way as it passes through San Breixo de Parga (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

3. The Northern Way

This route mainly runs parallel to the coast of Cantabria. It has been known to exist since the 12th century and became quite a busy route from the mid-12th century onwards. Pilgrims from all over the north of the Iberian Peninsula and other regions such as England, Flanders, Germany, and Scandinavia traveled this way, and many of them arrived at the ports dotted along the route.

Monastery of Santa María de Sobrado dos Monxes (12th-17th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

The Northern Way enters Galicia through Ribadeo and descends in a diagonal direction to Santiago de Compostela, though it is now possible to switch over to the French Way in Arzúa. The route crosses landmarks such as the city of Mondoñedo and the Cistercian Monastery of our Lady of Sobrado, which has welcomed pilgrims traveling the Northern Way since the Middle Ages.

Pontevedra and the Pontevedra estuary, aerial view (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

4. The Portuguese Way

Since the 12th century, nobles, clergymen, and monarchs such as Isabel of Portugal and Manuel I have made pilgrimages from Portugal to Santiago de Compostela to show their devotion to Saint James the Greater. When the routes of the St. James Way had few pilgrims, as happened in the 19th century, this route was the most populated.

Cathedral of Santa Maria de Tui (11th-18th Centuries)Regional Government of Galicia

It is now the second busiest in terms of the number of pilgrims. After passing through Lisbon, Coimbra, and Oporto, the Portuguese Way enters Galicia through Tui. The rich cultural patrimony of this way can be seen in the pioneering gothic-style cathedral found in this border town.

Castro de Santa Trega and A Guarda (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

5. The Coastal Portuguese Way

This alternative version of the Portuguese Way stretches along the Atlantic coast from Porto to Redondela. From the Portuguese town of Caminha, it crosses the mouth of the Miño river up to Guarda, then runs through Baiona and Vigo before rejoining the Central Portuguese Way.

Ferrol estuary (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

6. The English Way

In the 14th and 15 centuries, the English Way saw a great influx of maritime pilgrimages. Pilgrims from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and of course England, Scotland, Ireland, and Flanders, came to the ports in the north of Galicia.

Rúa do Cristo, Betanzos (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

The mainland part of this route now starts from two ports: A Coruña 45 miles (73 km) and Ferrol 70 miles (112.5 km). The trail from the second port brings travelers through the historic town of Betanzos before both routes merge in the town of Bruma, 25 miles (40 km) from Santiago de Compostela.

View of Val de Lemos from outside the monastery of San Vicente do Pino (15th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

7. The Mozarabic Way

The Mozarabic Way follows a Roman road called the Silver Way (Vía de la Plata), which links the settlements of Augusta Emerita, in Mérida, and Asturica Augusta, in Astorga. From the mid-13th century, pilgrims from the south of the peninsula started using this route.

Allariz, aerial view (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Some travelers followed the route to Astorga, joining the French Way, while others diverged to the town of Puebla de Sanabria or the northwest of Portugal towards Verín. Following either route, travelers cross the province of Ourense, from where pilgrims now travel through the towns of Deza and Ullà on their way to Santiago de Compostela.

The Sil river as it passes through A RúaRegional Government of Galicia

8. The Winter Way

Today, the Winter Way is an alternative route into Galicia which runs through the Valley of the river Sil. It deviates south from the French Way at Ponferrada. When temperatures drop at certain times of the year, this natural entryway, which always remains at a low altitude, is a better option compared to the high altitude of O Cebreiro.

Vineyards in the Valdeorras region (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Today, the first stage of the route starts from Las Médulas, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. It then passes through magnificent landscapes interspersed with remnants of the Roman Empire as well as vineyards, such as Valdeorras, Terra de Lemos, and a part of Ribeira Sacra. Ribeira Sacra wine is currently a candidate for UNESCO's Intangible World Heritage list.

Bateas in the Arousa estuary (2020)Original Source: Axencia Turismo de Galicia

9. The Sea Route of Arousa and the Ulla river

This modern route commemorates the arrival of the apostle Saint James the Greater's corpse by sea. This was the final stretch of the journey that set off from the port of Jaffa, in Palestine, and went on to Iria Flavia, which was the episcopal see (bishop's ecclesiastical jurisdiction) when the apostle's tomb was discovered.

West Towers (12th Century)Original Source: S.A. de Xestión do Plan Xacobeo

Since 1965, a marvellous maritime river procession has taken place every summer, with 17 cruiseships taking part from the shores and islets of the river. It is the only maritime Stations of the Cross in the world. The Torres de Oeste (West Towers) is another landmark on this route. This fortress is of Roman origin and the bishops of Compostela fortified it in the 11th and 12th centuries to defend Santiago de Compostela against attacks from the sea.

Cape Fisterra, aerial view (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

10. The Finisterre–Muxía Way

This final route is different in that it doesn't lead to Santiago de Compostela, but rather away from it. The Finisterre–Muxía Way brings pilgrims to world's end—the symbolic and physical border between this world and the beyond.

The pilgrim's boot. Cape Fisterra (2013)Original Source: Axencia Turismo de Galicia

Since the Middle Ages, after ending their pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, many pilgrims have extended their journey to the churches of Santo Cristo de Finisterre and Our Lady of Barca, in Muxía. Medieval christians believed the cliffs in Finisterre were the western edge of the world.

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