The Camino de Santiago may be considered in seven phases, each of which has its own inner coherence. The geographical location, the nature of the topography, the sacred spaces, the signs and symbols of the masons, as well as local myth and legend all contribute to make the experience of each of these phases or sections of the Camino unique in nature. In this sense, to travel the Camino is to have an experience of applied alchemy, with its different stages or gates in an effort to perform the Great Work.
To get a good impression, check out the following video of how Hank Leukart experiences the 540-mile (865 kilometers) Camino de Santiago across Northern Spain with his spiring group of dear friends. This is truly a one-of-a-kind documentary:
While these “stages” could surely be disputed or considered differently, they continue to be helpful to us as a general guideline for the interpretation of this journey and the message of the masons. Above all, it can be said that the actual experience of the Camino will be unique for each person.
1. From Jaca to Puente la Reina
There are at least three different routes through the Pyrenees that pilgrims to Santiago have used throughout history. The one we describe here enters Spain via Somport in France and follows the valley of Astun. We begin our journey in the city of Jaca, in Aragon. Built in the XIth century, the Cathedral of Jaca is the first significant monument on this route into Spain from France. Visit also the extraordinary Xth century Benedictine Monastery of San Juan de la Pena and consider the legend of the Holy Grail that links the two. Next, in the nearby village of Santa Cruz de la Seros, check out unusual sister convent of San Juan de la Pena before making your way to Leyre.
Leyre is an XIth century Benedictine monastery situated at the base of the rugged sierra of the same name. A night here is an unforgettable experience, offering the opportunity to hear superb Gregorian chant in the Romanesque church both in the evening after dinner as well as the following morning. Then, travel to Pamplona the next day via Roncesvalles, after a morning stop in Sanguesa where you have the chance to enjoy a medieval lunch. Roncesvalles is on another widely used route through the Pyrenees from France. Known for the large number of megalithic monuments that can be found here, it is also the site of an important battle in which Charlemagne was defeated by the Navarrese.
2. Puente la Reina to Santo Domingo de la Calzada
You can visit Olcoz, the dolmens of Artajona, Puente la Reina, and the church of Eunate, built by the Knights Templar. This church and the church at Olcoz are mirror images of each other, meaning that the symbolic themes of both are extremely similar, though presented in the opposite order. All routes through the Pyrenees from France come together in Puente la Reina, where they form the Calle Mayor (meaning “Main Street”) located in the heart of the town. Puente la Reina is a town whose life and livelihood has, since the Middle Ages, depended upon the Camino de Santiago. Here, you will likely see many present-day pilgrims along this stretch of the Camino exhibiting a scallop shell, the pre-Christian symbol of the Camino. You may also visit the Templar Church of the Crucifix, so named for the unusual Tau cross it houses, sculpted in the form of the branches of a tree, and don’t forget to marvel at Puente la Reina and linger on the famous medieval bridge that leads out of town.
Then, you may continue to the beautiful town of Cirauqui before arriving in Estella in the heart of the Basque country. You then may visit the monastery of Irache and continue to Torres del Rio, a village of about two hundred and twenty-five people, located in a distinctly unusual valley that is steeped in the magic of its past. Here, visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which was also amongst the possessions of the Knights Templar. Then, continue to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. See also: Alhambra, Gaudi, and the Camino de Santiago.
3. From Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Burgos
Santo Domingo de la Calzada is in the province of La Rioja, producer of some of the finest wines in Spain. The town’s history and development are tied closely to the Camino de Santiago. Santo Domingo dedicated his life to the Camino and its pilgrims, building hospitals, bridges, and sanctuaries and clearing the way for it through mountains and valleys. An independent mason, Santo Domingo bore the title of “pontifice”, meaning “builder of bridges”. “Pontifice” was also the highest title bestowed by the medieval masonic lodges. The work of Santo Domingo is closely related to that of San Juan de Ortega, whose monastery and sepulcher you may visit later on as well. A nice place to spend the night in Santo Domingo is the Parador Nacional. This beautiful hotel is housed in the XIIIth century hospital for pilgrims, and stands next to the Cathedral. This will give you time to explore this powerful area and to sink deeply into its mysteries, as well as to visit the Cathedral and tomb of Santo Domingo.
Continuing along the Camino through Redecilla (XIth century baptismal font) and the Montes de Oca which means “Mountains of the Goose”. Pay attention to how recurrent the themes of the “goose” and the “goosefoot” are along this stretch of the Camino). Visit the Ermita de la Virgen de Oca, the monastery of San Juan de Ortega, and the Cuevas de Atapuerca (“Caves of Atapuerca”), declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco for their contribution to our understanding of human evolution and continue direction Burgos with its famous Cathedral.
4. From Burgos to Leon
Burgos is located in the province of Castille. Home to El Cid and the famous Cathedral of the same name, Burgos is today a thriving provincial capital. The journey from Burgos to Leon is across the harsh central plateau whose climatic extremes and long, desertic stretches made it one of the most feared and difficult parts of the Camino for the pilgrims of old.
You may visit the towns of Castrojeriz, Boadilla del Camino and Fromista. The church of San Miguel in Fromista is of exceptional interest. It is “One of the keys to the occult message of the Camino, written in stone in the language of the Qabala”. Check out also the beautiful city of Leon and will visit the Cathedral, one of the finest in Spain, and the historically important Xth-XIth century Basilica of San Isidoro. See also: Stunningly beautiful and interesting places to visit in Spain.
5. From Leon to O Cebreiro
From Leon, set out for the area known as “La Marageteria”, or “land of the Maragatos”, a people that until recent times were treated as outcasts by their neighbors for “having a tail”, or because “the lobes of their ears attached to the skin over their skull”. It is great to explore this wild and rugged region and visit the remote villages of Castrillo de Los Polvazares and Rabanal del Camino. Just past Foncebadon, at one of the highest points of the Sierra del Teleno, you can find the Cross of Iron, where pilgrims have, since the remotest of times, left a stone at its base in testimony of their passing. You may also want to visit the town of Acebo -virtually unchanged since the medieval period- before making a sharp descent to the (still-functioning) VIIth century ironworks at Compludo.
The landscape is powerful and foreboding and we once again contemplate the presence here of very early hermits as you may have also done in the area of San Juan de la Pena and Najera, in La Rioja. Worth visiting is also the city of Ponferrada, a name meaning “bridge of iron”, the Xth century Mozarabic church of Santiago de Penalba situated in the Sierra del Bierzo, and the Roman gold mine of Las Medulas. On your way to O Cebreiro, you may visit the sanctuary at Cacabelos and the monastery of Carracedo. Visit also Villafranca, yet another town that flourished because of its position along the Camino. Before the Puerta del Perdon of the Church of Santiago, those pilgrims who were physically unable to continue their journey to Santiago were conceded rights of absolution and plenary indulgence for their journey.
6. O Cebreiro to Santiago de Compostela
O Cebreiero sits at 1,293 meters in the Sierra del Bierzo. It is famous for its “pallozas” -straw-roofed dwellings of prehistoric origin- and the (pre-Romanesque) Church of Santa Maria la Real, which houses a XIIth century statue of Santa Maria as well as a chalice of the same period that has been linked to the legend of the Holy Grail. Here, you can enjoy the deep peace of this small village, as well as the magnificent sunset. Now, you will enter the Province of Galicia and the tour to Santiago de Compostela is a fascinating one with the monastery of Samos, the Church of Santiago in Barbadelos, the Church of Villar de Donas in Palas de Rei, and the village of Lobreiro before you’ll make it into Santiago de Compostela.
7. Santiago de Compostela.
In Santiago de Compostalle, you may attend the Mass of the Pilgram at the famous cathedral of Santiago and you can also explore different points along the stunning coastline of Galicia as you seek to understand the nature of the pre-Christian “Route of the Stars”. You also may want to visit Noya and Padron, Finisterra, and the area near Pontevedra.