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The Camino de Santiago is a route travelled by pilgrims from Spain and all over Europe to reach the city of Santiago de Compostela, where they worship the relics of the apostle Santiago el Mayor (James the Greater). Throughout the Middle Ages it was very popular, then it was almost forgotten and nowadays it is again experiencing a great boom in popularity. The Camino de Santiago has been declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco; European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe and has received the honorary title of Main street of Europe.

Historical beginnings of the Camino

The origins of the worship of Santiago in Roman Hispania are unknown, but it seems that in the year 814 the relics attributed to the apostle were found. At the end of the VIII century this spread throughout Christian Europe. In the XI Century the number of pilgrims increased considerably thanks to cultural contacts between the European nations.

Discovery of the sepulchre

Sepulcro SantiagoThe Castillian name "Santiago" comes from the Galician Sant Iago (lat: Sanctus Iacobus). The origins of the worship of Santiago in Galicia were lost in the darkness of the times. At the end of the VIII century, the legend spread through the north-east of the Iberian Peninsula that Santiago el Mayor had been buried in these lands, after evangelizing them. Then, eight centuries after the death of the Apostle Santiago, in the year 813, a hermit called Pelayo or Paio saw a star shining over Libredón forest. He told this to the bishop Teodomiro, bishop of Iria Flavia, (near Padrón). They went there, and in the dense undergrowth discovered the old chapel, with a graveyard from the Roman era. The discovery of the sepulchre coincides with the arrival to the Asturian kingdom of Mozarabs who had fled from the areas dominated by the Muslims, and who seeked somewhere to practice their religious beliefs. It is the general belief amongst some scholars that Prisciliano was buried in these lands when they brought his body from Treveris (Germany). Others say that he was buried near Astorga (León). According to the former, the sepulchre of Santiago could be the tomb of Prisciliano, although the dates when they both lived do not coincide.

The Codex Calixtinus promotes the Pilgrimage to Santiago. Alfonso II el Casto (the Chaste), King of Asturias, travelled to the site with his court, marking the first pilgrimage in history. He decreed that a small church should be built. The news spread quickly. Santiago, which came to the fore so much in the VIII century, finally established itself with the revelation of its sepulchre.

Start of the Pilgrimage

Peregrinos Camino SantigoFrom approximately 813 with the discovery of the apostle's relics and with the approval of Charlemagne, who wanted to defend his borders from Arab invasions, Compostela gradually became a pilgrimage centre that received its definitive boost during the first half of the XII century. Very soon, the news spread throughout Christian Europe and the pilgrims started to arrive at the site of the sepulchre, the so-called Campus Stellae, which degenerated into the term Compostela.

Menéndez Pidal believed that in some sense the Muslim leader Almanzor can be considered the great revitalizer of the Camino and the person who sparked its international fame [quote required]. In fact, the repeated attacks of Almanzor on the Spanish Christian kingdoms worried the monks of the Benedictine abbey of Cluny, which at the time was the most important centre of European Christianity. Members of the religious order linked to Cluny went on to develop the Calixtino Code and history of Compostela, and the Spanish kings would do all they could to encourage the creation and promotion of a network of Cluniac monasteries in the north of Spain and specifically around the Camino. This policy is closely linked with the desire of the Spanish monarchs to bring an end to their isolation with regards to Christianity through dynastic, cultural and religious bonds.

Many of the early pilgrims came from regions of Europe pioneering in bringing new musical influences. Some coming from the north, and others from more central areas of France, they had passed through places of worship, such as Chartres and Tours. There they could hear the melodies that the entire Christian West considered to be the true arrival of Pope Gregory. Little did it matter that those who came from the north of Italy and who had had to cross the Alps and Pyrenees told them that in their place of origin liturgical rite was older and more venerable than what they called Roman.

Nor did it matter much that once inside Hispanic territory, and the pilgrims from different places were united around the one Camino, they would stop in a Riojan monastery where they would nostalgically be told of a liturgy which not long ago was the unifying element against the armies of Allah who for centuries occupied a good part of the Hispanic lands.

In these Riojan and Castillian monasteries they would still look upon those travelling to Campus Stellae with suspicion. The main enemy of the Hispanic rite had entered precisely by following this route. Through the route of St. James the ancient ceremonies and customs were being contaminated so that those who came from remote regions could understand something of the worship to which they were listening. This was so much the case, that to meet the unifying wishes of Alfonso VI the indigenous rite was abolished in favour of the so-called Roman liturgy.

Consolidation of St. James' Route

Sepulcro SantiagoThe number of pilgrims increased dramatically from the X century onwards, when the European peoples managed to put the isolation of previous centuries behind them and started a series of contacts and exchanges which, in the religious field, transformed pilgrimage into the most widespread form of devotion. Rome, Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostela were to become the most important destinations: all roads lead to Rome. The Italian maritime crusaders and cities open the route of Jerusalem. The monarchs of Navarra, Aragón, Castilla and León made the journey to Santiago easier by constructing bridges, repairing roads and building hospitals.

Years later, the apostolic character of its church and the treasures accumulated thanks to the pilgrims would allow an enterprising bishop, Diego Gelmírez, to transform his seat into an archbishipric.

* Information taken from: Wikipedia Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Madrid

From the second half of the XX century there was a resurgence of the Camino de Santiago as a route often frequented by all kinds of travellers. These consisted of journeys which were sometimes for a religious motive like in the middle ages, whilst in other cases they did it for cultural and touristic reasons. In some cases with new routes like the Camino de Madrid. On the page of the Diocesan Delegation for Pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela, more information can be found on the routes that there have been in the Iberian Peninsula. On the page of Philippe de Ngoc you can see how the European routes converged towards Spain.

El Camino de MadridThe Camino de Madrid was presented in the IV International Conference of St. James' Associations in September 1996 and in the III Conference for Studies on St. James in September 1997.

To guide the pilgrims, the Association of Friends of the camino de Santiago in Madrid points out the route every year in spring. In his day the Archpriest of Hita in the XIV century got lost when crossing the Puerto de la Fuenfría (1790m). From Cercedilla as far as Simancas it mainly follows the route of the Roman paved road XXIV of the Route of Antonino (III century AD), which links TITVLCIA (Titulcia) with SEPTIMANCA (Simancas).

It leaves from Madrid and passes through: Fuencarral, Tres Cantos, Colmenar Viejo, Manzanares el Real, Mataelpino, Navacerrada, Cercedilla, Puerto de la Fuenfría, Segovia, Zamarramala, Valseca, Los Huertos, Añe, Pinilla-Ambroz, Santa Mª la Real de Nieva, Nieva, Nava de la Asunción, Coca, Villeguillo, Alcazarén (halfway along the route), Valdestillas, Puente Duero, Valladolid, Simancas, Cigüeñuela, Wamba, Peñaflor de Hornija, Castromonte, Valverde de Campos, Medina de Rioseco, Berrueces, Moral de la Reina, Cuenca de Campos, Villalón de Campos, Fontihoyuelo, Santervás de Campos, Arenillas de Valderaduey, Grajal de Campos (only compulsory stage of this route) and Sahagún. In Sahagún it meets with the French road for the rest of the journey to Santiago de Compostela.


La Credencial del PeregrinoThe revitalization of the Camino, which has occurred in recent years, has brought about the creation of an official model of pilgrim's credential. However, it is worth knowing that you can do the pilgrimage without this official document. A notebook is equally valid, as long as before starting the Camino you have it stamped by a parish, or any other Catholic centre. It must not be forgotten that the credential is a document that is not only used for staying in hostels. Its main purpose is to obtain the Compostela, a religious token.

The official credential, printed on card, consists of 14 pages that are opened in the style of an accordion. It's a form intended for use as a presentation card to be completed by a parish, Christian association, abbey, brotherhood, etc. at the start of the Camino. The pages inside are designed for placing stamps to certify stops in hostels, parishes, brotherhoods, etc. Once the pilgrimage has been completed, in the Santiago Pilgrim Welcome Office (located at 1 Rúa do Vilar Tel: +34 981 562 419) the date and the stamp are marked, at the time when the Compostela is granted.

The credential is provided in Associations, Parishes, Brotherhoods, Bishoprics, Associations of Friends of the Camino, or in the place where the Camino was started. Some RENFE train stations also offer it.

To take into account:

  • The credential is only given to pilgrims on foot, bicycle or horseback, who want to do the pilgrimage with Christian sentiment, although a search for self-fulfilment. The credential has the objective of identifying the pilgrim; therefore the institution that presents it must be a parish, brotherhood, etc. The credential doesn't give the pilgrim any rights. It has two practical purposes: It allows access to hostels that offer Christian hospitality on the Camino, and it is the credential that is used to request the "Compostela" in the cathedral of Santiago, which is the certification of having completed the pilgrimage. The "Compostela" is granted only to those who do the pilgrimage with Christian sentiment: devotionis affectu, voti vel pietatis causa (motivated by devotion, vow or piety). And it is also only granted to those who do the pilgrimage as far as the Tomb of the Apostle, with at least the last 100 kilometres on foot and on horseback, or 200 by bicycle.
  • The pilgrim's credential, therefore, can only be issued by the Church through its institutions (bishopric, Parish, Brotherhood, etc. or, in any case, through institutions that are authorised by the Church, as Associations of the Camino can be). That is the only way that the"Compostela" can be granted in the S. A. M. I. Cathedral of Santiago.
  • The refuges receive no grants and have to support themselves, within their austerity, with the collaboration of the pilgrims (cleaning, upkeep of the facilities, facilitating rest, financial assistance...).
  • Groups that are organised with a support car or by bicycle are requested to seek alternative shelter other than refuges for pilgrims.
  • The bearer of the credential, accepts the conditions.

The Compostela and the Benediction given to the pilgrim

La CompostelaOn handing in the credential, the pilgrim receives a document bordered with oak leaves and St. James' scallop shells on which the name of the pilgrim is stated in Latin, and which is signed at the time by the Chapter Secretary of the Church of Compostela.

The Compostela is testimony of the boom in popularity of the Camino at the start of this millennium. In 1985 2491 people requested it; in 1991 7274 people achieved it. In 1993, Holy Year, the Xunta launched a huge plan to promote tourism and 100,000 people managed to get the Compostela. During the Holy Year, in 1999 there were more than 180,000 pilgrims on foot, horseback or bicycle who stamped their credential in Santiago, although the number of people who visited Santiago in total exceeded nine million. In 2004, the most recent Holy Year the number of credentials handed in reached 200,000. Last year, 2005, close to 100,000 pilgrims collected it.

The Benediction given to the pilgrim

The pilgrim receives this benediction at the start of the Camino in the Colegiata de Roncesvalles. For a few years now, some churches along the Camino have offered it too, when they realised that not all pilgrims leave from Roncesvalles.

* Information taken from: Wikipedia Camino de Santiago

Caminos de Santiago

  • Camino Francés
  • Via de la Plata
  • Camino Aragonés
  • Camino Sanabrés
  • Camino Primitivo
  • Camino Vasco
  • Camino del Norte
  • Camino Portugués

* Information taken from:


Sepulcro SantiagoGet a feel for it by reading about the history of the Camino and the pilgrimage: it will help you to feel more like a link in the huge chain of pilgrims that have gone before you, you will manage focus less on the physical and psychological strength to carry it out (there are few comforts on the journey and the fatigue can significant) and you will prepare yourself mentally to better enjoy the great cultural experience the route has become.

Holy or Jubilee Year is a time when the Church grants special spiritual indulgences to loyal followers of what the Bible says about Jubilee Year of the Israelites: every 7 years was Sabbatical Year.

It was the case that Pope Calixto II, in 1122, who, given the magnitude reached by the pilgrimage to Santiago, decided to distinguish the sanctuary of Compostela with the "Jubilee privilege" or of the "Holy Years", granting of special indulgences. This concession having been ratified by Alejandro III through the Bull of 1179, established that the years when the 25 July, festival of the martyr of Santiago, fell on a Sunday would be known as "Holy Years of Compostela". Up until now there have been 118 jubilee celebrations. It is interesting to note that the year 1993 coincided with the full implementation of the "Single Act" which shaped a new Europe without borders, a concept very closely linked to the European phenomenon of pilgrimage through the centuries.

Jubilee indulgence of Holy Year:

Plenary indulgence (under the following conditions):

  • Visit the cathedral reciting a prayer for example the Lord's Prayer or the Creed, praying for the intentions of the Roman Pontifice.
  • Receive the Sacrament of confession (15 days before or 15 days after the visit).
  • Take communion after confession.

A special chapter house is worthy of the "opening of the Holy Door", with which the Jubilee Year begins. It is opened on the evening of 31 December of the year before.

Then, after hitting it three times, the Archbishop of Santiago knocks down from the outside the wall that surrounds the so-called "Holy Door", located in the cathedral retrochoir.

From this moment this will remain open throughout the whole "Year", until the following 31 December when it will be walled in once again.

* Information taken from: Wikipedia Camino de Santiago