In Portugal two teams are active in the CULTOUR+ project, one in Viseu and another in Vila Real. So when they had to choose a pilgrim road to work on, the choice was made very easily: the Portuguese Pilgrimage Inside Way to Santiago de Compostela, a relatively new tourist route.
Brief History of the Ancient Routes to Santiago
Santiago or Saint James was the apostle Jacobus of Jesus Christ who went to the most north-western part of Spain, called by the Romans “Finis Terrae”/”end of the world”, to preach and convert people to Christianity. When he returned to Palestine, he was martyred in 43 AC. Jacob’s disciples stole his corpse and put it on a small boat. The sea current drove the boat to the Spanish coast and the Apostle was buried at a secret open place in a wood. Centuries later, around 815, a hermit saw a shining on that spot. That is why they called the place, in Latin, “Campus Stellae”, field of the star, a name that was later on transformed into Compostela. First a small church was built here and later on, a cathedral. The success of this miraculous Saint influenced the creation of Ways to Santiago de Compostela/Ways of Saint James and served as one of the techniques to create catholic cohesion against the invasive Muslims (Brochado de Almeida, 2011: 5).
As more and more pilgrims started to visit Santiago de Compostela, secure lodging facilities were needed and thus, in 1161 the Order of Santiago was created to guaranty hospitality along the Ways to Santiago and during the Middle Ages Santiago de Compostela was transformed into a “Gateway to the Heaven” for the Catholics.
After having fallen into oblivion, at the end of the XIXth Century, Cardinal Miguel Payá and the historian Emilio López Ferreiro rediscovered and reinvented the tomb of Saint James and in 1879 Pope Lion XIII even recommended to pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela with the Bula Deus Onminpotens. Making a leap forward, we can mention that Pope John Paul II did part of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in 1982.
The French Way to Santiago was declared the first European Cultural Route in 1987 and
a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Meanwhile the Ways to Santiago have grown into a flag of European identity.
While in 1986 2,491 pilgrims were counted at arrival, numbers constantly increased to 25,179 pilgrims in 1997. The most recent data at hand even mention 262,459 pilgrims in 2015. This means that during some periods of the year some ways are overcrowded and lose part of their attractiveness.
Characterization of the Portuguese inside way to Santiago de Compostela
The Portuguese Inland Way of Santiago stretches over 205 km from Viseu to Chaves, in
Portuguese territory. Adding another 180 km, from the border of Chaves (Vilarelho da Raia), you reach Santiago de Compostela (in Galician country), using the “Via da Prata”/”Silver Way”.
We know that ancient roman ways were used by pilgrims in Middle and Modern Ages and the Portuguese inside Saint James’ way is believed to follow these tracks partially. It is believed to be very old and today’s track is a careful historical reconstruction of the way.
Another particularity of the Portuguese stretch is Its a double sense, allowing pilgrims to walk north to Santiago (Galiza) or south to Fátima (Portugal).
It is also very interesting to know that this way regained life thanks to a local cooperation and development initiative of the municipality Vila Pouca de Aguiar, especially of their tourism and culture technicians (i.e. Catalina Chaves). They succeeded to join the representatives of the eight councils through which the way runs – Viseu, Castro Daire, Lamego, Peso da Régua, Santa Marta de Penaguião, Vila Real, Vila Pouca de Aguiar and Chaves – in order to promote this track.
The first step to “certification” was a low budget and creative signage of the route and on the 24th of April 2012 the first official hike along this stretch started.
Meanwhile different hostels for pilgrims (“albergues”), almost every 30-35 kilometres, have been opened. All have a book where the pilgrims who stay there can register themselves.
Right now there are not so many pilgrims on this Route; even less in winter time, and more in the spring and summer. According to the Oficina do Peregrino da Catedral de Santiago 378 pilgrims, starting somewhere along the Portuguese Inside Way, arrived in 2015. From 2012 to 2016 only 245 pilgrims have slept in the Almargem hostel for pilgrims in Viseu.
Nevertheless International Cooperation with the European Network of the Ways to
Santiago (www.saintjamesway.eu) has already been established.
As a conclusion we would like to state that the Portuguese Inside Way to Santiago de Compostela is a reinvention of a tradition with many tourist potential as an alternative route to the massive routes of the coast line of Portugal and the North of Spain.
“The inland Portuguese Way is a recent Way… and the aim is not to create a massive product… that would be dangerous…” (Catarina Chaves, 2016-04-06, Conference in UTAD – Vila Real).
For more information, you can always consult www.cpisantiago.pt and even http://www.caminhosantiagoviana.pt/caminhointerior.html.
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