Cultural exchange and creating a "common European consciousness” The current success of the Way of St James has little to do with the crisis experienced during the nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries. A good part of the routes to Santiago were forgotten and were paved for vehicles. It was not until the second half of the 20th century that the original route of the pilgrimage and the towns it passed through began to raise interest, so that in 1965 the first guide was published to make the journey by car from the Pyrenees. From 1980 onwards, it was adapted to be done on foot and the infrastructure of the hostels was gradually adapted to provide accommodation for the pilgrims.
It was in the
1990s that the Way of St James experienced a real revival, together with the recovery of a large number of historical routes from different national and international points, thanks to volunteer associations. Today, the Way has some 290 catalogued routes that cover a total of 80,000 kilometres in 28 countries.
An international link that, since its emergence in the Middle Ages, has served as a cultural exchange between the different European populations, and has helped to generate an "extraordinary spiritual, social, cultural and economic vitality" that "has become, in its 1,200 years of history, a
symbol of unity between different cultures and the backbone of the first
common consciousness of Europe. These words were used to award the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord in 2004.
Santiago in the international cultural arenaThe inscription of the Way of St James (more specifically, the French route and the routes in northern Spain), in 1993, on the
UNESCO World Heritage list, served to revive interest in this tradition, which has not stopped growing since then. Nor has it ceased to be reflected in film productions, publishing houses and attract the interest of celebrities worldwide.
Among the most well-known are films such as, 'The Way', released in 2010, the premiere was attended by
Martin Sheen -whose origin is Galician- and his son Emilio Estévez, actor and director of the film. Since the release of the film, which is about a Californian ophthalmologist who completes the Way of St James as a last tribute to his deceased son, the number of Americans who have embarked on the pilgrimage has increased.
Martin Sheen (d) and his son Emilio Estévez. Photo: EFE/Lavandeira jr
A decade ago, in 1999, the mini-series 'Camino de Santiago' brought together international stars such as
Anthony Quinn, Charlton Heston, Anne Archer, Massimo Guini, Maria Schrader and
Joaquim de Almeida, as well as Spanish actors such as
Imanol Arias, Juan Echanove, José Sancho and
Pepón Nieto in the Spanish production directed by Robert Young and inspired by a story by Arturo Pérez-Reverte.
In Germany, the route has gained popularity thanks to the book 'Ich bin dann mal weg' ('Well, I'm off') by comedian Hape Kerkeling, in which he recounts his experiences as a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago. The visit of the German Chancellor,
Angela Merkel, to Santiago in 2014, during which she walked a section of the Way, has also added to its popularity.
In addition to the international projection of the Way, the influence of internationally famous pilgrims such as
Shirley MacLaine, whose experience inspired her to write 'The Way: a Spiritual Journey';
Paulo Coelho, who wrote his first novel, 'The Pilgrim of Compostela' after his pilgrimage; the South Korean writer
Kim Nam Hee, largely responsible for the boom of the Way in her country; and
Stephen Hawking, who took advantage of the prize from the University of Santiago to travel around the city and to complete sections of the Way