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Holy Year in Santiago

Spain is preparing for thousands of pilgrims along one of the greatest pilgrimage routes of history.

Spain is bracing itself for a surge of interest this summer along one of the three great pilgrimage routes of history, the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. With continuing support from the Council of Europe, the Ministry of Culture is completing Plan Jacobeo 99 to restore scores of national monuments. The Plan was drawn up in recognition that the usual thousands of pilgrims, wearing the traditional scallop shell, will be swollen this Jubileo, or holy year, when the saint’s day, July 25th, falls on a Sunday.

With the millennium also looming, more crowds will be drawn to the shrine, which contains the relics of Spain’s patron saint, the apostle James, whose body was brought by boat from the Holy Land and arrived at Padron on the Galician coast before AD 100. After his grave was discovered some 750 years later, the land route to it became one of the busiest ‘main roads’ in medieval Europe.

By the end of the first millennium, it has been estimated that more than a million pilgrims a year were making the long and difficult journey from far afield. No one is yet prepared to estimate how many will be marking the last year of the second millennium on the Camino frances, the 450-mile final section in Spain that starts in the Pyrenees at Roncesvalles and ends at Santiago de Compostela.

Conservation and restoration of many monuments along the route, both secular and religious, have been under way over the last year. Leon cathedral’s stained glass has been repaired and restored, and a new museum headquarters will be opened this summer. At Burgos, which begins the lovely high and open meseta (moors) stretch and is a favourite starting-point for many, the newly restored façade of the glorious cathedral, heavily scaffolded and shrouded when I walked the route six months ago, will shortly be uncovered.

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