El Camino de Santiago de Compostela (‘The Camino or The Way’) is a thousand year old spiritual-religious pilgrimage. In the Middle Ages, an average of 500,000 pilgrims trekked from all over Europe to Santiago de Compostela in Northwest Spain. Legend holds that Jesus’ close disciple, James the Greater, is buried in the great Gothic Cathedral there. The majority of medieval pilgrims were indigent and illiterate; this was the one great journey of their life and many perished along the way.
The Camino fell out of favor after the Protestant Reformation and did not regain popularity for 500 years. In the late 20th century, the European Union began to promote The Camino as part of its European Union project. The number of pilgrims began to increase rapidly from 3,501 in 1988, to 30,000 in 1998, to 70,000 in 2002, to 200,000 in the Holy Year of 2010 (Whenever St. James’s day (25th July) falls on a Sunday, the cathedral declares a Holy or Jubilee Year. Holy Years fall every 6, 5, 6, and 11 years: the most recent ones were 1982, 1993, 1999, 2004 and 2010. The next Holy Years will be 2021, 2027 and 2032.). The French, Germans, Spanish, and Italians are the nationalities most represented. Modern pilgrims are very ecumenical and walk The Camino for a variety of reasons ranging from seeking a spiritual connection, to religious pursuits, to historical interest, and socializing. The Camino is far and away the most popular footpath in Europe.
(Source: Bill Walker, The Best Way – El Camino de Santiago)