The way of Saint James coastal route (Northern Route)

Irun > Santiago

818 km. approx.

32 stages approx.

Probably one of the most active routes in the first years of the pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela was the one that ran along the Cantabrian coast. Numerous chapels, pilgrims' hospitals, monasteries and place names bear witness to this ancient route. However, the harsh conditions of the coastal route, together with the Christian kings' support for the inland pilgrimage routes, led to the Northern or Coastal Route becoming a secondary path.

In the 9th century the coast of Gipuzkoa, linked to Atlantic Europe by both land and sea since Roman times, started to receive pilgrims who took advantage of the existing commercial routes on their way to Santiago. Many arrived by sea and started on foot from one of the many ports along the Cantabrian coast. Others started their journey from the continent, Aquitaine or even more distant lands, and after stopping at Bayonne, would make it to the Bidasoa River in Hendaye. It was a difficult route, since the terrain was steep and sparsely populated, but the presence of the Muslim armies to the south made it the only possible land route to the desired destination.

A landscape much different from today's surrounded this ancient path. Leafy forests covered the mountains, and vast wetlands stretched across the valleys and river estuaries. The pilgrims had to ford the rivers further inland on foot or by boat, and were generally exempt from payment.

On the eastern bank of the Bidasoa River was the very old Zubernoa Priory, a convent with a pilgrims 'hospital', a place to rest before continuing on the Way of St. James through the territory of Gipuzkoa. The passage was crossed by boat until the 13th century, when a wooden bridge enabled the crossing to Irun. Hondarribia was another port of arrival for the pilgrims coming by sea from far away lands. The large numbers of people along the way led to the construction of many churches, chapels and hospitals, and to the development of burgeoning coastal towns in Gipuzkoa, founded over the course of two hundred years after 1180. Associated with the worship of St. James and marking the holy path, numerous chapels were erected in honour of hospitable saints such as Saint Martin of Tours, Saint Roch, Saint Sebastian, Saint Pelayo, Saint Mary Magdalen and Saint Anthony. The pilgrims' hospitals were located along the route, present in practically every town along the way. Crosses and place names round out the legend of the Pilgrims' way, representing its ancient tradition.


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