Camino Pilgrims Come from Many Nations

Fig. 1 - All nationalities who received compostelas -- the Spaniards are by far the greatest numbers.

Here’s the last of my installments on the Cathedral of Santiago’s pilgrim statistics. As you will recall, the Cathedral publishes online stats about pilgrims who’ve received their compostelas during the prior month. The statistics includes some revealing details. The chart in Fig. 1 shows the percentage of Spanish pilgrims each year since 2005. In most years Spaniards comprise more than 45% of all pilgrims. In the Holy Year of 2010 this number increased to over 60%, while pushing down the percentage of non-Spaniards who walked that year. The next highest group is “Other” (not listed on the legend) which comprises a variety of the less-than 10 ten nationalities. The largest single nationality below that is Germans.

Fig. 2 - Non-Spanish nationalities. "Other" is the largest percentage, with Germans the largest single non-Spanish nationality.

Fig. 2 spells out the non-Spanish numbers a little better. “Other” is still the largest group, meaning these nationalities include too many individual countries to make the top groupings, but countries when combined equal a large percentage. The largest groupings of these nationalities are from Japan, Korea, Australia, Mexico, Poland, and Belgium.

The largest single non-Spanish nationality represented on the camino is German. In fact, the top four non-Spanish nationalities are pretty clear in the stats — Germany, Italy, France and Portugal, in that order. Well below these nationalities are a third tier: USA, UK, Canada, Brazil, Ireland, and Holland. So the profile of the “average” pilgrim is pretty much a Western European, with folk from other continents a much smaller percentage of the total.

Not shown is another interesting stat: Spanish pilgrims flood the camino in July and August, when they comprise roughly 2/3 of all pilgrims. The percentages of non-Spanish pilgrims, particularly German, nearly double in the shoulder months of May/June and September/October.

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.