Der Spiegel article on the Camino

I’m not in the habit of re-printing newspaper article on this blog, but this feature piece in Der Spiegel, reprinted in the NY Times, is worth a read.

I’ve cut and pasted the intro – with a link to the rest of the article, which is quite long. Interestingly it raises a number of questions that Julian Lord is currently facing on his Camino, and discussing through his posts on this blog.

Here is the article:

Soul Searching and Commerce on the Way of St. James

Not long ago, only a few people would make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Now, over 200,000 people a year spend several grueling weeks along the route. Traditionalists turn up their noses at the crowds, but the rewards are still vast.

In the Middle Ages, pilgrimages were neither a quest for meaning, nor an opportunity for contemplation, nor an event. People had real worries and pilgrimages were part of a deal. On the one hand was the willingness of the faithful to suffer, on the other was God’s capacity for deliverance. The one walks, the other heals — a transaction based on reciprocity.

Similar to mendicants, pilgrims had no possessions beyond what they carried with them: a walking stick, a small sack of belongings, a gourd full of drinking water and the clothes on their back. They were filled with reverence and, not uncommonly, a thirst for adventure.

The grave of St. James in Santiago de Compostela has been a pilgrimage site for over 1,000 years. When times were quiet, only a dozen people would make the effort. At other times, it would be a couple of thousand.

But the quiet years are over. More than 200,000 people followed the Way of St. James last year. And this year, those who make money from the steady stream of wayfarers are in a particularly celebratory mood. Four million copies of the book “I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago” by German TV celebrity Hape Kerkeling have been sold in Germany, and its impact has been huge: Since its publication in German nine years ago, Germans have made up the largest share of foreigners making the pilgrimage. Last year, according to church statistics, 16,000 of them turned up in Santiago, a new record. And now, German public television station ARD is making the movie.

But will that mean that even more people will come? If so, it raises questions about the meaning of the trek — and fears that it could become little more than a traveling circus. There is no doubting the potential economic benefits for one of Spain’s poorest regions, but there are also 1,000 years of tradition to consider.

This is an attempt to find answers to such questions. A search among soul-searchers.


Camino de Santiago, Jakobsweg


11 thoughts on “Der Spiegel article on the Camino

    • It’s an interesting perspective, isn’t it Britta. There is a huge groundswell of interest in the Camino, and I’m sure for some – even tourigrinos – it will be a humbling experience.


  1. It’s a well-written and well presented article, but it’s at least partially based on a fallacy — the Camino in the Middle Ages was just as full of Tourigrinos as it is today, and only the VERY poorest or most penitentially occupied Pilgrims would travel with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

    Heck, not even I am doing so, and the only time I’ve ever been in that state while on Pilgrimage is the time all of my money got stolen.

    Going on Pilgrimage in the Middle Ages was an expensive affair, and Pilgrims would encounter exactly the same sort of financially interested parties and hard-faced greed as the Pilgrims of today.

    The ONE major difference between the Camino both in the Middle Ages and pre-1995 is that the Catholicity of the Way of Saint James is now being almost systematically shoved out of sight, except as what most simply see as some quaint old customs here or there, or as some sort of background colour.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for posting this Bill, I enjoyed the article immensely. It brought back lots of memories. I’m surprised though that Hape Kerkeling’s book encouraged so many people to walk. Although it was entertaining, the picture he painted of the Camino was just awful. It was the only Camino book I read before I walked and it almost made me change my mind.



    • Hi Debbie – I haven’t read the book but I know it’s been enormously popular. Particularly in Europe. I think the movie THE WAY has been a huge influence on a lot of people, particularly from the US, walking the Camino. Aren’t you glad though that you went through with the walk?! 🙂



      • Oh my goodness yes. Deciding to do the walk despite all the grumbling and whining of Hape was a very good choice. I’m looking forward to seeing the new Canadian documentary on the Camino which will be out in a few months. I think it also will inspire many to walk. Which is both good and bad ……



  3. Hmm, I look at this all very simply…. to me the Camino is timeless and a pilgrim anyone that leads with the heart, trusts and accepts the Camino magic. Light and Love Ingrid

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.