Is the Camino de Santiago a religious walk?
The Camino de Santiago is a modern day long distance trail that has historic origins. It is called The Way of St James as it is believed that the the remains of Saint James, an important Saint in Catholicism, are in Santiago. Therefore many Catholics in the 10th and 11th centuries would walk the Camino to Santiago for the purpose of religious pilgrimage.
In short, the Camino de Santiago is a walk with religious origins and taking a pilgrimage to Santiago is an important Catholic tradition.
Do you have to be religious to walk the Camino?
Whilst the Camino de Santiago is historically a religious pilgrimage it is not exclusively for religious people or Catholics today. Many people walk the Camino (178,912 in 2021). This includes some who self declare as religious and others who do not. There are many people of all faiths who walk the Camino de Santiago, including people with faith other than Catholic or Christian.
According to statistics recorded by the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago, 36.37% of individuals completing the Camino de Santiago in 2021 declared that they did so for solely religious reasons. This compares to 20.45% who sited “non-religious” motivation and a majority of 43.2% who claimed to complete the Camino for “religious and other” reasons.
If you choose to walk the Camino de Santiago and you are not religious, you should be able to respect the fact that many people walking the Camino de Santiago will be religious. The path has a religious history associated with it and many choose to walk the path to this day for religious reasons. You will meet Christian and Catholic people and should expect this and be able to respectfully participate alongside religious people.
As you walk the Camino, you will also have the opportunity to visit many churches and cathedrals. You can also choose to stay in monasteries and convents. When you stay at these places you will be invited to attend mass or other ceremonies. However, these are all optional experiences during the Camino.
Why do people walk the Camino?
Today, people walk the Camino for many different reasons both religious and otherwise. Many people enjoy the religious ceremony of it, without having a religion themselves. Others are fascinated by the history of the path.
Many more choose to do it because it is an adventure or they are looking to try something new. Thru-hiking, such as walking the Camino de Santiago, can be a hugely transformative experience and many are looking for this when they set out. Others may be looking for fun or an opportunity to something unique with friends, family, a partner or solo. Many walking or cycling the Camino may be doing so for health reasons too.
Whatever the reason, we have found that the Camino is a welcoming community and respectful of all people regardless of their motivation.
If you want to read more about reasons to walk the Camino, you can do so here.