People have been walking the Camino for hundreds of years, and it’s a powerful feeling that you’re following in their footsteps, participating in the same tradition. For those of us with European heritage, more than likely some of our ancient ancestors made the same pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela! Many well known figures from history have made the journey too, from powerful kings, to US presidents, Popes and Hollywood movie stars.
Saints and Kings
- Saint Francis of Assisi made the journey to Santiago de Compostela from Italy between 1213 and 1215. It’s easy to forget that ancient pilgrims would have had to walk both to and from the Cathedral, so this partially explains why it took him so long! On his way he founded several monasteries and once in Santiago itself he went on to found the St. Francis Church and Convent.
- King Phillip II of Spain made the Camino at some point during his reign in the 16th Century. A devout Catholic, he was King of Spain at its most powerful. He had colonies on every continent, instigated the Spanish Armada, named the Philippines after himself and was even King of England at one point through his marriage to Bloody Mary. A plaque marks the location he is said to have stopped off on his way to Santiago in Ligonde.
- In 1140 the French Monk Aymeric Picaud walked the route whilst documenting the pilgrimage in an illustrated manuscript, called the Codex Calixtinus. Also called the Liber Sancti Jacobi (the Book of Saint James), the work is made up of five books. These document the route, the customs of local people, miracles attributed to Saint James and other texts. His travel guide was not for the light-hearted walker, with daily walks averaging 35km!
- Other famous pilgrims from history include Lorenzo de Medici and Charlemagne. The former US president John Adams followed the path in reverse in 1779 from Finisterre to Paris on a mission to obtain funds from Paris to help fight the American war of independence.
- The leaders of Spain and Germany, Mariano Rajoy and Angela Merkel, walked some of the route in 2014. However, it was more of a photo opportunity than a real pilgrimage as they just walked 5km in total!
- Martin Sheen walked part of the Camino with his son Emilio Estévez whilst filming ‘The Way’ in 2009. It was not the first time he went to Santiago, in fact the full story is truly inspiring:
My father was born just outside of Santiago, so I grew up knowing about it. I always had that fantasy that I would walk the Camino de Santiago. In the summer of ’03 when we were on a break from ‘The West Wing,’ and Emilio’s son Taylor was working for me as a young assistant. We were [driving] on the Camino and we stopped at a little restaurant along the way, and Taylor met his future wife — they’re married now. Her mother’s name is Miracle (in Spanish), and I thought “Hmm … there’s something going on here.” I came home and had some explaining to do about why his son wasn’t with me. Emilio picked it up from there and had his own journey with it.
- In 2008 the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking made a small part of the Camino in his wheelchair.
- Pope John Paul II made two visits to Santiago de Compostela. The later of the two trips, in 1989, was for the Catholic event World Youth Day. 400,000 young people attended. The Pope said the final Mass on the hill ‘Monte do Gozo’ which is the last stop on the Camino before the Cathedral.
- Oscar winning actress Shirley MacLaine made the pilgrimage on foot from France in 1994. The star whose movies include Sweet Charity and Terms of Endearment wrote a spiritual book about her experience of the way, which you can pick up a used copy on Amazon for as little as $0.01!