Mike Robinson was received by the Presidency and Secretariat of the European Federation of Saint James Way (respectively the Xacobeo Foundation and the Vila Pouca de Aguiar City Council), from 19th to 23rd November.
The classification of the Camino de Santiago as a European Cultural Route, 36 years ago, was the starting point for the creation of the Council of Europe’s Cultural Itineraries Program, which now has more than forty thematic routes throughout Europe. The certification process requires periodic reassessment by the Council of Europe, and it is necessary to present evidence of the dynamism, cooperation and sustainability of each route, in relation to the basic values of the European Community.
The Advisor responsible for evaluating the renewal of the title of European Cultural Route, Professor Mike Robinson, has now come to the field to check the development of the Camino de Santiago in Galicia and Northern Portugal.
“There is an international public perception that the phenomenon of the Camino de Santiago essentially involves Spain and France, a perception that it is urgent to extend to other countries, such as Portugal, where the territories along the pilgrimage routes hide real pearls, whether in the landscape , architectural heritage or traditional gastronomy, and which can only truly be experienced and felt, in «slow tourism» mode, by pilgrims on the way to Santiago de Compostela”, highlighted Mike Robinson.
Two days in Galicia: the “Camino del Norte” and the “Camino Primitivo”
The first day, November 20th, began in Santiago de Compostela. Ildefonso de la Campa, Director of Xacobeo (Galician Government) and President of the EFSJW, hosted Professor Mike Robinson in Galicia. Ildefonso de la Campa highlighted the importance of networking, within the European Federation of the Camino de Santiago, and the responsibility of ensuring, among all network entities, the connection between the various Saint James Ways in Europe, so that pilgrims can find security, support and quality, benefiting from the territories crossed from the point of origin to Santiago de Compostela.
A meeting was held at Monte do Gozo, a symbolic place where public and private pilgrim hostels coexist, followed by a visit to the International Pilgrim Reception Center, run by the Church of Santiago, the iconic place where pilgrims collect the ‘Compostela’ certificate and may enjoy meeting spaces and a chapel.
The group then traveled to the North Way, where meetings were held with technicians in charge of maintaining the pilgrimage route, associations of friends of the Camino and representatives of public entities. There was also the possibility to visit the Mondoñedo Cathedral, a public pilgrim hostel and the Camino del Norte Interpretation Center. The dinner, back to Santiago de Compostela, allowed networking with various authorities and experts from the International Committee of Experts on the Camino de Santiago.
The second day of the visit began at the Primitive Way with several sections of the pilgrimage route, with special interest in the ruins of Soutomerille. Meetings with maintenance technicians and the President of the Association of Friends of Saint james Way in Lugo were also fruitful. The public pilgrim hostel in Lugo and the Camino Primitivo Interpretation Center were also included, before celebrating lunch with local and regional authorities.
The historic pilgrimage routes in Northern Portugal
With a new day came new paths, in a new country. After visiting Galicia, the representative of the Council of Europe for Cultural Itineraries had the opportunity to discover the Portuguese Interior Saint James Way, between Vila Pouca de Aguiar, Santa Marta de Penaguião and Lamego, visiting parts of the route, monuments, viewpoints and pilgrim hostels, mostly in old rehabilitated primary schools – an aspect that was highly valued.
Ana Rita Dias, Vice-President of the Municipal Council of Vila Pouca de Aguiar, currently presides over the Portuguese Federation, with Vila Pouca de Aguiar also serving as Executive Secretary of the European Federation, since 2021. The President of the Portuguese Federation of Saint James Way, therefore, played the role of hostess the visit.
Ana Rita Dias emphasized: “For the Board of Directors of the Portuguese Federation it was very enriching to have the opportunity to meet with Professor Mike Robinson, to personally present the various historical routes in Portugal, the reality of each associated, whether municipality or jacobean voluntary association, the work that is being carried out and planned for the future, as well as the challenges in recognizing and disseminating the Camino de Santiago in Portugal.”
She also highlighted that “the Camino de Santiago is a European Cultural Route of excellence, a reference for all other classified routes, as it directly highlights the values of the Council of Europe, such as the union and exchange of experiences between different cultures, social justice or peace, so fundamental in the current international context”.
The technical visit program also included moments of contact with pilgrim associations at the Vairão Monastery, on the Central Portuguese Saint James Way, and revealed several investments that are being made on the Costal Portuguese Saint James Way, on the route between Porto and Matosinhos.
The Consultant shared, with municipalities, associations and local agents, relevant recommendations on the management of pilgrim flows and the importance of interpreting heritage, be it cultural, natural, scenic or intangible.
The result of the evaluation will be known next year at the European Cultural Routes Forum, which will take place in Hungary.