According to tradition, the Apostle James (Santiago in Spanish) evangelized Spain and later was buried in northwestern Spain at what is now Santiago de Compostela. For a thousand years, pilgrims have made their way along various routes from across Europe to venerate the remains of the saint. Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (el Cid) made the journey, as did St. Francis of Assisi, Isabel and Ferdinand, and hundreds of thousands of others throughout the Middle Ages. They shared stories, songs, architectural designs, religious feelings and language, and for many (including the great German writer Goethe) it was on the Camino that the ideal of European identity and unity was created. Over the centuries cities were built on the road, cemeteries filled with pilgrims who died en route, and churches provided spiritual and temporal sustenance. Consequently, the 250,000–300,000 people who now walk the Camino each year experience an unparalleled sequence of historical, architectural, and artistic landmarks that tell the story of Spain and of Europe. At a time when that story is being challenged, the cultural importance of the Camino is more important than ever.
But the Camino was (and is) also a spiritual journey: a journey of self-discovery, of penance, of service, and of brotherhood. Modern-day pilgrims learn about themselves as they enter into the conversation of mankind by learning about those who have for centuries walked the same roads and doing so in company with modern pilgrims from around the world.
Our plan will be to walk most of the 790 kms of the road known as the Camino Francés, and move along other sections more quickly on bike. On rest days, we will bus to locations like the Monasteries of Suso and Yuso (the cradle of the Spanish language), Cantabrian caves decorated with Paleolithic cave art, the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, the famed cloister and chanting monks at Santo Domingo de Silos, and the Roman gold mines at the Médulas—in the process coming to know two millennia of Spanish history and culture. Arriving in Santiago we will present our credentials and receive the compostelana, the certificate awarded to those who complete the pilgrimage.