Portuguese Coastal Camino History
Although the pilgrimage from Portugal to Santiago is assumed to have already been in existence in the Late Middle Ages, it became even more popular after the country gained its independence in the mid-12th century. From that time on, the veneration of Saint James and the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, considered to be one of the hallmarks of the identity of European culture, had gained great popularity in Lusitanian lands.
For centuries, the Portuguese participated enthusiastically in this collective Camino experience, with the support of monarchs, nobility, and high clergy. From the 12th century up until the present day, much of Portugal’s road network has seen the comings and goings of pilgrims heading from towns and cities all over the country – Lisbon, Santarém, Coimbra, Porto, Braga, Chaves… to Santiago de Compostela.
This route is the direct descendent of the major Roman roads that formed the backbone of the Roman Gallaecia and continued to be in use for many centuries, such as Via XIX. Built-in the 1st century AD under Emperor Augustus, it was known in classical works as the Itinerary of Antonino, established at the beginning of the 3rd century AD. This is proof of the vitality of this route from very early times.
Today’s modern road network has affected the Portuguese Camino. At times, pilgrims must forget the dirt paths and stone-paved ways to walk along the verge of the N-550 road between Vigo and A Coruña. However, new alternative routes are being created by devoted pilgrim associations and local community groups. Despite this drawback, the Portuguese Camino offers an undisputed wealth of monumental and natural heritage.
One of the hallmarks of the pilgrimage to Santiago is the warm reception given to pilgrims along the way and the Portuguese Camino is no exception. This practice was started in the Middle Ages by monks and clergymen serving the hospitals founded by monarchs and the nobility. This welcoming lay tradition is kept alive today by the locals along the way. Bon Caminho! is often heard and wished to Camino pilgrims across Portugal.