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Walking The Virtual Way—El Camino de Santiago

By Simone Delochan

Overseas travel may be out of the question for a while, and many probably had pilgrimages which would have unfortunately had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. El Camino de Santiago is a much-loved reflective journey to the northwest of Spain; the end is in Santiago de Compostela where the remains of St James were found in the ninth century and where they are enshrined. Our own Archbishop Jason Gordon has walked The Way three times, and on his last visit wrote an engrossing daily blog.

You can now walk The Way virtually, from the safety of your own hometown.  When you sign up you begin a challenge of both physical and spiritual proportions as it combines the physicality of The Way and spiritual reflections. This is no sit-in-your-home-quietly-and-observe experience.

The site says: “The Camino de Santiago Virtual Challenge will take you 480 miles (772 km) along the pilgrims’ ways leading to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.” When set distances are completed (through cycling, walking, running), the pilgrim advances along the map from France to Spain. With each milestone reached, you can receive a beautiful virtual postcard of the spots encountered (cathedrals etc). lists the other benefits of doing the virtual way:

  • Street view of your virtual location
  • Finisher’s medal upon completion
  • Personalised digital certificate of completion

History of El Camino (St James’ Way)

In the ninth century, the remains of St James were found in the northwest of Spain. It is believed that after Christ’s death and resurrection, St James preached in both the Holy Land and Spain. He was beheaded on the order of King Herod Agrippa and his body carried by his disciples to Spain. They landed on the coast of Galicia and went further inland to Compostela where he was buried.

In 997, the first shrine to St James was destroyed by the Moors, but by the 12th century it had been rebuilt.  The Codex Calixtinus, the first guidebook of the Camino de Santiago, was published 1140 and throughout the Middle Ages pilgrimages to the shrine were popular. With the Protestant Reformation throughout Northern Europe in the 16th century, its popularity began to wane, and further in the 17th to 19th centuries because of wars and revolutions which made travel a difficult venture.

Parish priest and academic Don Elías Valiña Sanpedro, who dedicated the last 10 years of his life to way marking the Camino Francés, is credited for the rediscovery of devotions to St James, and The Way, in the 1980s. Its popularity has continued well into the 21st century.

Virtual Tours in the Catholic World

If you do want a simple experience from the quiet of your home, there are a few other Catholic sites that have made the jump to the digital world, before and since the pandemic. Prescient it would seem now.

Here are a few (for some of these the latest version of Flash Player is needed):

The Sistine Chapel, Rome

Basilica of St Mary Major, Rome

The Canterbury Cathedral, England

You can also visit this site for several links to virtual tours: