Santiago de Compostela sees record numbers of pilgrims in 2023

They come from France, Portugal and Spain, walking for many days along the ancient Camino de Santiago routes followed by Christian pilgrims for more than a thousand years.

And this year the northwestern Spanish town of Santiago de Compostela - the alleged burial site of St. James - is seeing record numbers of visitors.

With fifty days of the year remaining, pilgrim numbers look set to smash the previous record of 438,300 annual visitors.

Forty-four per cent of pilgrims so far have been Spanish, but more than 200,000 have also arrived this year from France.

The relics of St. James

The history of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela stretches back more than 1000 years to the discovery of the body of St. James during the reign of King Alfonso II (792-842).

St. James was already believed to have been the great evangelist of Spain and for many hundreds of years, there had been a scholarly and literary tradition supporting this belief. The discovery of the relics of St. James then became a focal point for pilgrims.

Though a few pilgrims to Santiago are recorded in the 10th century, and many more in the 11th, the 12th and 13th centuries are considered the golden age of the pilgrimage to Santiago.

It was thought that in the 20th Century, the growth of mechanised transport such as cars and aeroplanes might lead to a reduction in the number of pilgrims travelling to Santiago on foot or horseback. This was not to be the case and in the last 30 years in particular there has been a huge growth in interest and the number of pilgrims travelling on foot, on horseback or by bicycle.

Pilgrims were encouraged by the visits by Pope John Paul II in 1982 and in 1989 when World Youth Day was held in Santiago. The number of pilgrims continues to grow.