The “Whole Thing”

Perceptions of Time, Distance, and Completeness among Pilgrims on The Camino De Santiago

  • Megan Havard
Keywords: Camino de Santiago, pilgrimage, distance, time, pace, embarkation point, completion


When travelers recount their experiences of a route-based pilgrimage such as the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) in Spain, they often field a series of questions regarding the distance traveled and/or the time taken to complete the ritual: “How long did it take?”, “How far did you walk?”, “Where did you start?”, “Did you do the whole thing?”. Aside from the pragmatic curiosities of interlocutors, these questions (particularly the final one) reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of the pilgrimage ritual, presupposing an artificially restricted path travelled by pilgrims. In practice, pilgrimages routes -- their trajectories and distances -- were unique to each traveler, beginning and ending at one’s doorstep. The questions also expose an implicit value judgment in which greater distances traveled as part of the ritual, a faster pace or more time spent, and a sense of the journey’s “wholeness”, make a pilgrimage somehow better and more authentic. As regards the ritual of pilgrimage, how do pilgrims (and others) value dimensions of distance, time, and completeness? How have perceptions of these dimensions shifted over the centuries? To whom are these dimensions of the ritual important, and for what reasons?