The Historical Background of the Trail
Sacred and cult locations have been visited by pilgrims as far back as antiquity. People were conscious of the significance of those sites. In the Middle Ages, many Europeans visited the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, or the burial site of Saint Peter in Rome. Many went to visit the grave of Saint James the Greater, a site located ‘at world’s end’. At the turn of 30s and 40s AD, Saint James led a mission to the north of the Iberian Peninsula. He was the first Bishop of Jerusalem, and the first of the Twelve Apostles, to suffer martyrdom, around 44 AD. According to tradition, after his death, his disciples took the body in order to bury it in a safe and distant place. That is how they arrived on the Iberian Peninsula, in the area of the place called Finisterre (Latin: finis terrae – the ends of the earth). The body of the apostle was buried several dozen meters from the place where the boat reached shore. This event slipped into oblivion for several centuries. At the turn of the 8th and 9th centuries the remains, which were considered the relics of Saint James, were discovered in the north of the Iberian Peninsula. A chapel was built upon the burial site, replaced in 1078, by a Romanesque church. In 1120, Pope Calixtus II declared Santiago a metropolitan capital, and gave the church the right to hold a Holy Year. This is celebrated each year that 25 July, St. James’ Day, falls on a Sunday. The pilgrims returning from the Way, took with them the shells of the mussels abundant on the shores of northern Spain, later called the mussels of Saint James. The shell became the symbol of the Way of Saint James and the pilgrimage. Many churches, chapels and inns were built by these roads - much frequented by the pilgrims. In the Middle Ages the pilgrimage routes crossed the whole of Europe. Around the 16th and 17th centuries, during Europe’s religious conflicts, the Way lost its old importance.
In 1982, in a sermon in Santiago de Compostela, Pope John Paul II pointed out the significance of the role of old Europe, and of a return to its roots. Four years later, the European Council declared the Way of Saint James, the most important cultural route in Europe, and appealed to countries, institutions, and citizens to actively join in the reconstruction of the pilgrimage route. The renewal of the monuments located by the Way, and the development of accommodation and catering services, were particularly recommended. Several years later routes were recreated in France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal and the Benelux countries. After the death of the Pope, thanks to the efforts of the ‘Association of Saint James’ and the Franciscan Village Foundation, the first part of the Lower Silesia trail was appointed, which initiated the route between Olsztyn and Prague. The appointed Via Regia in Poland starts in Pilzno, near Tarnów, and goes through Kraków, Opole, Brzeg, and Oleśnica Mała -where it enters the lands of Lower Silesia. Later, one can follow the route through Wrocław, Legnica, Zgorzelec and further appointed routes in through the whole of western Europe - to Santiago de Compostela. Moreover, there are other appointed trails in Lower Silesia: the Sudety trail, the Ślęża trail, and the newly appointed Ścinawa- Chocianów trail.