One night a monk named Pelagius glimpsed a light in an area of the bishopric of Iria-Flavia (NW Spain). The monk communicated his vision to his superior, Bishop Teodomiro, discovering a cave in the right place inside which came a marble ark where the mortal remains of St. James were found. The Apostle James was the first evangelizer of the Iberian Peninsula. Following his martyrdom and death in Jerusalem, his disciples Athanasius and Theodore moved his remains to the Galician coast, aboard a boat, and there buried the body.
The discovery was made on July 25 of the year 814 and the Asturian monarch, Alfonso II of Asturias, moved on pilgrimage to the place and ordered to build a small basilica and a Benedictine monastery. The little village began to grow into Compostela (whose name derives, according to the medieval tradition, the Latin language "Campus Stellae"). In the year 899 more basilica was consecrated, ordered by King Alfonso III of Asturias.
The discovery of the relics of St. James spread throughout Europe, where the cult of relics was becoming an obsession, like the need to find a binder that served to expel all evil looming over Europe, especially Islam. No wonder the Apostle James "will collaborate" on numerous occasions with the Christian kings in the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula and their armies will fight, courageous, shouting "James and Close Spain".
The first pilgrimages took place between the faithful of the different kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula. During the tenth century, Sancho the Great (King of Navarre), made a number of improvements in the route linking the Kingdom of Navarre with the population of Compostela, in order to provide greater security to the pilgrims. Among these improvements, we find the construction of the first hospices and monasteries. This stage will end up with the dreaded raids of Almansor, who came to attack the city of Compostela and stole the bells of the Cathedral of St. James, to take them to Cordoba, loaded on the shoulders of Christian captives.
Later in the tenth century, they are recorded the first French pilgrims. Then, as you could speak of a real Way of St. James, consisting of the so-called French Way. Two entrances, from Canfranc and Roncesvalles, come together in Puente de la Reina, a town that was named after bridge built for the pilgrims to cross the river Arqa. From this village, one path continues across the north of the Iberian Peninsula to its final stage in Finisterre.
In the year 951, it appears registered the first international pilgrimage, registered by the monk Gomez (Abbey of St Martin of Albelda) and carried out by Gottschalk, bishop of Puy. In the eleventh century, the heyday of the Jacobean pilgrimages from all over the known world occurs. The success of the pilgrimages we look at the numerous hospices, hospitals, monasteries and abbeys that launches the Order of Cluny, providing greater "comfort" to the pilgrim. Other promoters of pilgrimages will be the Bishop Diego Gelmírez who managed, in 1095, Pope Urban II moved the episcopal see from Iria-Flavia to Compostela, with category of "Apostolic See" like Rome. Compostela, Rome and Jerusalem become the three most important places of pilgrimage for all Christendom.
The insecurity remained one of the main problems of the pilgrimage, so the Military Order of St. James was created. The objective of this military order was to defend pilgrims from the many dangers that lurked in the way, especially the bandits.
The pilgrims of the same region, departed in groups to defend themselves from dangers, making the trip in a time when the weather was more favorable. Before starting the pilgrimage, they entrusted their assets to a monastery whose abbot gave the pilgrim, his cane, a pumpkin (to carry water), a rosary and a purse. The trip lasted as long as the peregrine wanted. To encourage pilgrimages, pilgrims were exempted from paying tolls, and protected from the rapacity of mayors, gentlemen, waiters and thieves. The pilgrim was respected and protected both by society and by the authorities.
The role of the Way of St. James, was instrumental in the kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula and Europe, because through it, there was a fluid cultural, spiritual, economic, artistic and political exchange between the different areas passing this way. The Romanesque and Gothic art penetrated in the Iberian Peninsula, through the Way of St. James. Even immigrants from Europe who settled in Spain (called Franks) came through the Way of St. James.