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.

2012 Brings Increase in Pilgrims to Santiago

In response to a question on the Camino Forum I help moderate I dug into statistics at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela’s website to see if the Spanish economic crisis is affecting the quantity of pilgrims heading to Santiago. Surprise! The numbers are actually up — and pretty dramatically.

Pilgrim boots at the albergue in Najera

So far this year 5,441 pilgrims have received their compostelas in Santiago, compared to 4,493 in the same months in 2011. This follows the general increase of the last decades in which interest in the Camino de Santiago has grown each year. A 20% increase is a pretty big number.

Still, the numbers are smaller than in the first three months of the Holy Year of 2010, in which 8,691 pilgrims received their compostelas. However, at a 20% annual increase that number will soon be matched. Clearly the Camino de Santiago is on a big upswing as more and more pilgrims find something special in their journeys to the bones of Santiago.

August 27, 2008 Santiago Rest Day

The previous night Gail and I had eaten at a small restaurant near the hotel then headed back to the hotel for an early night in our comfy room. The next morning we enjoyed a Hotel Altair breakfast (croissants, ample fruit, great coffee, exotic jams and jellies) and then went to get Gail’s completion certificate, the compostela. After a little exploring and time taken to greet other pilgrims we’d recognized from our walk, we headed to the cathedral for the noon pilgrim mass. The place was jammed, even though we’d arrived early. At the end of the mass, seeing that the famous botafumeiro (a large censor, lit with fragrant incense and swung on a long rope from transept to transept) was not to be used in the service we went back to the hotel. We heard from people afterward that the botafumeiro had indeed been used, but just at the end of the service. The funnest part was left until the end.

Through the day we enjoyed shopping along the narrow streets of the old city and meeting pilgrim friends over cervesas or red wine. We took the short walk to the bus station and arranged a ride to Finisterre the next day and I arranged a hotel at the tip of Capo Haro, just at the end of the famous cape that earns the nearby town it’s Latin name, “End of the World.”

As Gail took a well-deserved nap that afternoon I returned to the cathedral for some quiet time on my own. I walked down into the crypt to view the small sarcophagus where tradition says Saint James’ (Santiago’s) bones are kept. I prayer to God a prayer of thanksgiving, then headed back up to the nave to think and prayer and remember. I decided to pray for every single pilgrim I’d met during the walk and to give God thanks for the memories of our meetings. So I prayed for them all, and as I prayed tears of relief and joy and loss streamed from my eyes. The camino had reminded me of my love of discovery — discovery of foreign lands and discovery of the joys of friendship. In this church I came to realize that God is indeed present on a pilgrimage — present each step of the way, present in the laughter and embrace of pilgrim friends, and present in the traditions of an ancient Christian community that calls us to live beyond ourselves, stepping from our comfortable lives into God’s joyful embrace.