The Finisterre Way or Camino de Fisterra (#caminofisterra)
Walk to the Atlantic Coast, along the Finisterre Way, to the ‘End of the World’! This Camino de Santiago route is unique, as it is the only one starting in Santiago de Compostela. There is a good reason for it!
This Camino route pre-dates Christianity, as pagans would head to Fisterra on the Costa da Morte (Coast of Death) where they believed the sun died and the worlds of the dead and the living became closer. Prayers would be said and offerings would be made to please the gods. Fisterra is also believed to be the place of Ara Solis, a magical place and altar dedicated to the dying sun. The Finisterre Way can be continued along the rugged coast to the sanctuary of A Virxe da Barca in Muxía, a traditional pilgrimage destination in a stunning location by the Atlantic Ocean. Read our latest Finisterre Way articles on our blog.
We have the superb Camino dos Faros walking trail, or Lighthouse Way, taking in breathtaking coastal landscapes and fascinating heritage.
If, when arrived in Santiago de Compostela, you would like to continue your adventure, you may like to walk the Finisterre Way.
This route has then been followed by pilgrims who want to extend their trip to the Atlantic coast and Costa da Morte, an area of stunning coastal landscapes. It was believed to be the most Western point in Europe by the Romans and they named it Finis Terrae: land’s end. It was also believed to be the final section of an itinerary marked in the sky by the Milky Way. Fisterra is a magical place and as they arrived, pilgrims used to burn the clothes they had walked in for so many days, as a act of closure and purification. Many also went for a swim in the sea.
This Xacobean route has its departure point in front of the Cathedral of Santiago and its destination in the Cape of Fisterra. However, some pilgrims decided to extend their trip to Muxía and its famous sanctuary A Virxe da Barca, a day’s walk away, along the stunning Costa da Morte shore.
The Jacobean pilgrimage as such comes to an end in the city of Santiago de Compostela. However, dating back almost to the discovery of the tomb of the Apostle Saint James in the 9th century, many pilgrims decided to extend their journey to the Costa da Morte, located in the westernmost part of Galicia, looking out on to the rough waters of the Atlantic ocean. The reasons that have inspired this tradition are many —all different but somehow linked— and they have given rise to the route known as the Fisterra — Muxía Way.
In ancient times — and indeed up until the late Middle Ages— the Costa da Morte was the last redoubt of explored land, the westernmost part of continental Europe, the final stretch of an itinerary traced in the sky by the Milky Way. It was a mythical and symbolic place whose most extreme point was pervaded by the impressive mass of Cabo Fisterra. It was a place rich in pagan rites and rituals, an awe-inspiring site for the Romans (2nd century BC) who were struck with wonder when they saw the mighty sun vanish into the sea.
Nonetheless, the Christianisation of the pagan traditions of Fisterra was a process that had taken root by the middle of the first millennium. From the 12th century onwards, Codex Calixtinus associated these lands with the pilgrimage tradition. This renowned Codex tells the story of how the disciples of Saint James journeyed to the city of Dugium, in present-day Fisterra, seeking authorisation from a Roman legion to bury the apostle at the site where Compostela stands today. The Romans, suspicious of their motives, threw them into prison. However, they eventually managed to escape, and just as the Roman troops were about to catch up with them, they scurried over a bridge that collapsed just as the Romans were attempting to cross in pursuit.
Yet the connections of Galicia’s Lands End (Fisterra comes from Latin ‘Finis Terrae’, end of the world) with Santiago are rooted, above all, in the integration of many ancestral elements prominent in the area. Not only did it offer the ancient pilgrims a view of the end of the known world, but it was also the site of two of the most popular cults in Galicia. The first is the Holy Christ, in Fisterra, which was described by Molina, a 16th century scholar, in the following way: “at this spot gather the most devout of the pilgrims who come to worship the Apostle” drawn by the possibility of being able to prostrate themselves before the son of God in this most remote place, after they had visited Santiago. The other cult is to the Virgin of A Barca, in the nearby coastal town of Muxía. According to a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, the Virgin Mary came to this beautiful spot in a “stone boat” to encourage Saint James in his preaching, in an event linking this sanctuary with that of the Virgen del Pilar in Zaragoza.
The Fisterra — Muxía Way is frequently referred to in odeporic literature, surpassed only by the French Way. The oldest story is that of George Grissaphan, a Magyar knight from the 14th century. The story recounts his adventures as a pilgrim and hermit in Fisterra. In the late 15th century, Polish pilgrim Nicholas von Popplau, journeyed to Muxía after having visited Compostela. He described the remains of the “wrecked ship, made of genuine stone” belonging to the Virgin Mary. On his pilgrimage from Italy, the Venetian traveller Bartolomeo Fontana (16th century), visited Fisterra, and reported that those who were free of mortal sin could move the stones of the ship of Muxía with just one finger. Domenico Laffi (17th century) the clergyman and scholar from Bologna, journeyed to Fisterra as well. He wrote of the lighthouse guiding the sailors to safety through the turbulent waters in the area. Many of these stories mention the Mount of Saint William, who was a legendary hermit in the area. This hermitage, no longer standing, was associated with fertility rites.