There is something about pilgrimage that calls to human beings in a special way. We are fundamentally spiritual creatures. We are also nomadic. When you combine these two things, you’re left with a powerful inner drive. There is a part us that is forever seeking freedom.
The lure of the open road, or trail, exemplifies this search.
If you are Catholic, or simply searching for a pilgrimage route to travel, then the seven selections in this post will hopefully act as a source of inspiration. Rather than providing information only about holy sites, which is readily available on the web, I have tried to include information about hiking trails. These are routes that pilgrims would have taken in antiquity, before cars, planes and trains were available.
Of course, if you are planning on using more modern methods, the selections here will still be of interest. I hope you enjoy them…
1. The Pilgrims’ Way (Hiking Trail)
To open the list is a somewhat nondescript entry. If you’ve ever wondered what it might have been like to walk as a pilgrim through medieval England then the Pilgrim’s Way, a relatively light long-distance trail, provides you with the opportunity to taste that experience.
The Pilgrim’s Way is one of England’s oldest pilgrimage routes. The route takes walkers from Winchester, Hampshire to Canterbury, Kent, where homage is traditionally paid at the shrine of Thomas Becket. It follows two modern tracks, St Swithun’s Way, which follows the ancient route from Winchester to Farnham, and the North Downs Way, which goes all the way to Canterbury. Much of the route winds through forests, farmland and orchards.
2. Camino de Santiago (Hiking Trail)
Not list of great Catholic pilgrimages would be complete without mentioning the Camino de Santiago. It’s one of the world’s most famous holy routes and is traversed by thousands every year. There are many cultural references to the Camino, in particular in the film The Way. Paulo Coelho, who wrote the classic novel The Alchemist, also travelled it.
The interesting thing about the Camino de Santiago is that there isn’t one set route. Rather, there are a variety of acknowledged trails. In particular, the “Original Way”, the route first taken in the 9th century, which begins at Oviedo. Many pilgrims simply start from their doorstep and all will end up travelling at least part of the section between Puente la Reina and the final city of Santiago.
There is accommodation along the way and pilgrims are expected to carry a “credencial” which gives them access to this cheap accommodation.
The culmination of the trip for most travellers is mass at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where each pilgrim’s name is read out and the cathedral’s giant thurible is swung from the ceiling. The trails can be particularly busy during holy years.
If you are considering a life-altering trip as a Catholic, then the Camino de Santiago, which can often be arduous and take up to several months to walk, should certainly be considered.