Pilgrim traffic has dwindled during the pandemic months, but an extended Holy Year may bring them back.
After15 months of pandemic measures during which pilgrimages have had to be postponed, the Camino de Santiago is welcoming the faithful once more.
The pilgrimage route, which dates back to the 8th century and stretches across some 500 miles of Europe, had a hard year in 2020. The number of pilgrims who walked any stretch of the Camino fell from about 340,000 annually to below 50,000.According to the Associated Press, the few pilgrims who followed the course came in the summer of 2020, when Spain briefly relaxed restrictions.
The Camino de Santiago tracks and monitors how many faithful come through the route by means of the Pilgrims’ Reception Office. The office issues certificates of completion to those who take the Camino pilgrimage. The office, however, has seen only a fraction of the traffic they used to enjoy.
This is a problem that Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela Julián Barrio is confident they can remedy. In an interview with the AP, the archbishop commented that there could be as many as 300,000 on the Camino in 2021. He said:
“The Way of St. James, in this sense, can help us. It is a space that helps us recover our inner peace, our stability, our spirit, which without doubt we all need, given the difficulties that we have in facing the pain and the ravages of the pandemic that sometimes leave us speechless,” he told the AP.
The year 2021 will be a recovery year for the Camino de Santiago, but 2022 may see it flourish once more. Pope Francis has announced that the 2021 St. James Holy Year has been extended to 2022. During a holy year, the Camino has historically seen unparalleled numbers of pilgrims participate.
A Camino Holy Year only occurs in years where the feast of St. James (July 25) falls on a Sunday. During that time, the Doors of Mercy (or Porta Santa) at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral are open. This is the only occasion when the faithful can enter the cathedral through the Holy Doors, which always draws a crowd.