Pilgrim Starting Point Stats

I’ve had a great time poring through the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela’s statistical pages and have come up with some interesting lessons. Fig. 1 shows the large percentages of pilgrims who start at Sarria, the minimum (100 km) distance required to earn a compostela in Santiago.

Fig. 1 - Many starting points for the Camino, but biggest by far is Sarria.

The fact that fully 37% of pilgrims begin in the last 100 km confirms that the Camino Frances gets more crowded the closer a pilgrim gets to Santiago.  It’s also surprising how spread out the starting places are, and how many people begin in places like Leon, Ponferrada and O Cebreiro.

Interestingly, Sarria is the most frequent starting point by far for pilgrims who finish in all but four months — May, June, October and November. This suggests that local, short-walk pilgrims flood the Camino Frances during the high summer months, while long-walk pilgrims make up larger numbers in the shoulder months of spring and autumn.

Fig. 2 - Sarria is by far the largest starting point for pilgrims in all but four months.

A caution with these stats from the Cathedral at Santiago — they reveal only the eight largest starting points each month. The result is that some important starting points like Astorga, for instance, sometimes show significant numbers but sometimes aren’t recorded at all since they don’t make the top eight consistently. Astorga and other, smaller starting points are included in “other” in each chart.

I’ll look in future postings for country of origin among pilgrims to see how or if that has changed over the years.

June 5, 2011 Hospital de Orbigo to Astorga

Woke, had quick breakfast and readied to leave with Bea, Catia, Sebastian and Andreas — our developing camino family. Walked to Santibanez de Valdiglesias, but was feeling very blue because of news from church back home (staff issues). Allowed others to pass, then rejoined them, but was clearly having a bad day, preoccupied with news from home and not interested in much pilgrim company. Stopped at cafe and heard church bells ringing. Decided a mass might help cheer me up, so stayed for 11:00 mass. Nothing unusual here, but after mass heard English from another pilgrim and met Carol Waud of Seattle. We know many people in common, so a taste of home cheered me up. She is leaving the camino in Astorga, so has told people she is “walking home.” This metaphor cheered me as I realized home is getting closer. Recognized too that Jesus is ultimately my home and I too am walking to home in his arms.

Finally caught Andreas and we walked together to Astorga. There we had delicious roasted chicken dinner on recommendation of Joy and Joan. Truly great lunch, split evenly between Andreas and me. Then walked with Andreas to Murias, expecting to see Sebastian, Catia and Bea. Learned instead they had split up, leaving Catia and Bea in Astorga and Sebastian ahead with a Hungarian name Sophie. Slept without the group at the private albergue in Murias and enjoyed company of Nikki and Andreas in early evening. Agreed to walk together in the morning. Our camino family had begun to develop, but now was spread between Astorga and Rabanal.

June 15, 2008 Hospitál de Órbigo to Rabanál del Camino

After Hospital de Orbigo there’s another long and quiet plain that stretches out and finally ends abruptly at the overlook into Astorga. This is the end of the Meseta, clearly, as behind Astorga are the Montañas de Leon. These mountains would be the terrain for the next two days of walking.

Although Astorga was visible ahead, it seemed to take forever to get into town. A long uphill walk finally led to the heart of town which is inhabited with two beautiful and very different buildings — the ornate Spanish Gothic cathedral and the fairy-tale-like Gaudi Bishop’s Palace. The cathedral was closed, offering no quiet and cool nave for rest. I stopped for a credential stamp at the albergue, then headed out of town, looking for an ATM. I realized the upcoming towns were quite small and may not include the chance to get cash, but try as I might I was unable to find an ATM in all of Astorga. I headed up to the hills with less than 5€ to my name.

The trail that met me was not quite wilderness walking, but the villages were quite small. I stopped for a drink at Murias and then climbed up to Rabanal, realizing I now didn’t have enough to stay at the albergue. I apologized to the hospitalero, who forgave me my lack of money, and I vowed to bring him 10€ sometime soon. Fortunately there was a small restaurant/hotel across the street that took a credit card, so I had a good night’s meal after a long day of walking.

One difficulty: I left my hiking poles at a cafe somewhere between Murias and Rabanal. I hadn’t been using them that much, so I decided to leave them for some pilgrim who’d need them.

That evening it was Vespers at the tiny monastery between the hotel and the albergue. The service was in many languages and there was great spiritual comfort in this tiny community of faith. I was thankful for food and a night’s sleep for this nearly penniless pilgrim.