Mariazell Basilica Marian Shrine to Austria and Hungary dating back to 1157.



    There are catalysts, ebbs and flows to ancient pilgrimage practice. For Santiago 2 of the earliest dynamos generating momentum for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela were the

    1. The Ummayyed occupation of Andalusia (Arab Spain) as far East as Autun (Roman/Celtic Augustodunum) and Marseilles in France in the 1st millennium. In Spain, the stories of the discovery of the remains of the Apostle and the legends of Saint James as the Matamoros in the early to mid-9th century  helped galvanise support for the Reconquista;
    2. The early Christian reformation period, some 700 years later. This coincided more or less with the end of the Reconquista in Spain.  Unfortunately this period of history is not one which Catholics are generally proud of because it is mired with spiritual hypocrisy, political patronage and brutal suppression of opposition or, arguably reasonable, reform. The pope at the time, Alexander VI (Papa Borgia), was also at the midst or partly the cause of the sad state of affairs eventually culminating in the widespread wars and divisions in Europe. Paradoxically he was also the pope that issued the Papal Bull authorising monarchs to build a Hospital for Pilgrims (Albergue de Peregrinos) and instituted the Arch-confraternity of the St. James the Apostle in 1499 AD.

    Between the middle and the end of the 1st Millennium, i.e. from the collapse of the Roman Empire and to the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire, Europe plummeted into the period known as the dark ages. In the midst of this the Umayyad campaign spread through Visigoth and other fragmented kingdoms on the Iberian Peninsula (Hispania or Andalusia) even reaching the Rhone Valley in France by 725 AD.

    This coincided with the Golden Age of science, architecture and literature for Arabs and their legacy remains until today particularly in southern, eastern and central Spain. Succeeding Spanish kings not only sought to preserve the Arab legacy but also, for example in architecture, they merged it with their own. This is manifested in both larger edifices such as in Toledo as well as in smaller motifs such as some of the décor elements in the Las Huelgas monastery in Burgos.

    The Camino Mozarabe is a Camino that walks through land occupied by the Arabs in the Middle Ages in central Spain. Raymond Aquilina, a veteran Camino aficionado recently walked the Camino Mozarabe. XirCammini interviewed him.

    Raymond, recently retired, has walked a number of Caminos including the Camino Francés, Camino del Norte,  Via De La Plata and the Camino Primitivo.

    His latest Camino was from the Camino Mazarabe.


    1. What motivate you to go on this particular Camino?

    I wanted to try a Camino that is not commonly walked by other pilgrims. The Mosarabic Camino (or Camino Mozarabe), as the name indicates, follows a trail with a Moorish and Arabic influence coming from the times of Arabic occupation of Spain. The Islamic historical and cultural contrast provides a fascinating backdrop to this intrinsically Christian trail.

    2. What time did you start walking in the morning? What was (from where to where) was your longest walk? Which was your shortest? What was the average you covered per day?

    I normally started at 7:30 a.m. In Autumn this is just before sunrise. There were only a couple of times that I started earlier, i.e. at 6:30 a.m. But I soon stopped this practice for fear of getting lost on account of the inconsistent signage (arrows).

    3. How important was it to ‘share your experience with others as you walked’? Did you look forward to meeting others on the Camino; sharing your experience and hearing their story?

    For me it is of utmost importance that I share this experience with others. I consider this an integral part of the Camino experience. I always look forward to meet other fellow pilgrims on the Camino. Every pilgrim has his own special experiences and I show great interest. This being said, on the earlier part of this Camino one encounters less pilgrims.

    4. What do you think makes this Camino different from other Caminos in Spain from your perspective?

    The ‘Mozarabic’ touch to the Camino makes it unique. Cities worth mentioning along the route include Almeria, Granada and Cordoba. One also mustn’t forget the many other small towns with innumerable castles or fortifications enroute.

    5. Is there any accommodation  that stand out in terms of service? Are there others that you would not recommend?

    Since it is one of the lesser walks Camino routes, one of the main drawbacks is that there are relatively less albergues along the way. In some towns or villages accommodation is limited to a municipal albergue if at all. For example, once I tried in vain to reach an albergue by phone and ended up walking an additional 2km on the motorway at the end of a day’s route in order to make it to a little hotel in a patrol station. Quite often I used hostals. I wish to single out for praise one lovely private albergue, Fandalucia, entirely dedicated for pilgrims, at Quentar before reaching Granada.

    6. Along the route which were the towns / villages worth spending some extra time in and why?

    Almeria (Alcahaba), Granada (The Alhambra) and Cordoba (Mesquita) are a must. However there were towns such as Guadix, Quentar, Medellin that also stand out among many other lovely towns and villages.

    7. If you had to sum up the Camino in a few words who would you explain it / sell it others?

    I would tell anyone who plans to walk this Camino that it is a wonderful route which gives one significant fulfilment both from a solitary, spiritual or reflective perspective as well as from a historic and cultural perspective. However one has to be prepared to walk relatively long distances at times and be prepared for hot weather especially between Almeria and Cordoba. Hours of solitary walking are to be expected due to lower number of pilgrims on this Camino. There were times when I was the only perregrino in the albergue!

    But, within this ambit and caveats, I would certainly strongly recommend walking the Camino Mozarabe.

    Czech Republic:


    St. Henry’s or Church Islet, Kirkkokari a pilgrimage site since 1156 following the martyrdom of Henry.



    • The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres is a UNESCO-Heritage site of this ancient once bishopric state in France.,143.html
    • The Abbey Church of St. Foy, dedicated to a 4th century Christian martyr, in the village of Conques (with a coat of arms incorporating the pilgrim shells) served as a conduit for French and other European pilgrims on their way to the Pyrenees connecting to the Camino de Santiago.
    • Trophimus Church in Eschau, housing the relics of the 8th century Sainte Sophie.  
    • Issoudun is a city in the Centre-Val de Loire region where Richard the Lion-heart battled against King Philip II of France. This medieval city is also on the Camino de Santiago route (in France) and fell under the patronage of Cesare Borgia (son of Pope Alexander VI) as Lord of Issoudun. The Cathedral of St. Cyr dates back to the 15th century.

    France also has other, more recent, but very popular pilgrimage sites including the Sanctuary of our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of La Salette,  Saint Catherine Labouré of Paris, Pellevoisin and Taizé



    Weeping Madonna Hodgetria in St. Michael the Archangel (Byzantine rite) Basilica, Máriapócs, a pilgrimage site since the 17th century.   




    Italy also has other, more recent, but very popular pilgrimage sites  as well as old trekking (non-pilgrimage0 routes. The latter include Via degli Dei, Via dei Briganti, Setteponti Road, Via dei Cento Torri and Cammino de San Tommaso.



    • Samogitian Calvary, Plungė district municipality, Lithuania. A town with a Catholic tradition dating back to the 12th century where a pilgrimage developed later in the 18th century because of a Catholic Youth Festival held annually in June.

    Lithuania also has other, more recent, but very popular pilgrimage such as to the Shrine of Divine Mercy


    • Pilgrimage of Saint Gregory the Great. An annual pilgrimage was initiated by Bishop Cubelles in 1543 to pray for the intentions of Pope Paul III who was endeavouring to bring together Christian rulers in Europe for an the Ecumenical Council at a time when the church was undergoing significant division and was in need of reformation. The pilgrimage started at dawn from the Cathedral in Mdina and ended a the church of St. Gregory’s in Zejtun. Others attribute the procession to earlier dates (such as 1120) as thanksgiving following a failed attempt by Arabs to re-capture the island or a failed Turkish attack in 1452, sparing from a devastating plague in 1519. These and other events may all have been reasons for thanksgiving attributed to the pilgrimage which – later in 1543 – was firmly established as an annual event by Bishop Cubelles as an intercessory pilgrimage for Christian Unity.
    • Saint Paul’s Grotto, Rabat. The grotto where Saint Paul is said to have been imprisoned during his 3 months’ stay in Malta. The Spanish hermit Don Juan Benegas de Cordoba acquired the land above the grotto in the 16th century with the intention of attracting pilgrimages to this shrine. Grandmaster Alof de Wignacourt built a chapel dedicated to St. Publius above the crypt and an adjacent college of chaplains to minister to the pilgrims. Visitors to the grotto include Pope Alexander VII, Lord Nelson, Pope Paul John II and Pope Benedict XVI.

    Malta also has other, older or more recent shrines and pilgrimage sites but of a more local nature.


    • Chapel of the Heilige Stede, Amserdam. A pilgrimage to the site of a 1347 miracle. When the chapel became Protestant in the 16th century the pilgrimage was forbidden but this was reinstated in the 19thcentury.


    • Olavsweg (St. Olaf Camino), Nidaros. A pilgrimage from Oslo to Nidaros, the site where in St. Olaf evangelized Vikings.


    • Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa and the monastery founded in 1382 which attracts millions of pilgrims annually.
    • Wambierzyce, Silesian Jerusalem, a pilgrimage destination since the 16th century. 


    Portugal has a number of pilgrimage routes but the most popular, such as Our Lady of
    Fatima and Our Lady of Sameiro are not ancient routes.


    Slovakia has a few other pilgrimage sites of lesser or a later period of both Roman and Greek Catholic rites.


    Spain is, of course, most renowned for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela or the Way of St. James (Via Jacobi or Jakobsweg). Although this is being listed as one pilgrimage, in reality pilgrims from all the ancient Christian kingdoms, princedoms, dukedoms and Bishopric states flocked to Santiago and – as a result – there are several routes of St. James converging on Santiago de Compostela. In addition to the Way of St. James, Spain has other ancient pilgrimage sites.

    • Our Lady of Guadalupe. A 13th century monastery.
    • Santiago de Compostela. The pilgrimage route dates back to the discovery of the remains of St. James in Galicia dating back to the 9th century AD. It grew steadily in importance as the Spanish Reconquista started gaining ground in Spain.

    Spain has many other pilgrimage routes particularly tied to apparitions of Our Lady. But most of these would be more recent than the ones mentioned above.


    St. Meinrad, Einsiedeln is linked to the ancient hermitage of St. Meinrad; now a Benedictine monastery. Einsiedeln is on the Via Jacobi, the route of St. James passing through Switzerland.

    United Kingdom:

    Like Ireland, the United Kingdom has several pilgrimage sites tied to ancient Christianity or Celtic Christianity, predating the arrival of St. Augustine and the founding of Canterbury Cathedral. These include:

    • St. Bertram of Ilam, England 
    • St. Cafdan in Wales;
    • St. Columba in Iona, Scotland

    The ancient ones associated with Roman Christianity include:

    • Abbey of St. Edmund the Martyr.
    • Bromholm Priory, established in 1113 which is said to have a piece of the Holy Cross;
    • Canterbury Cathedral, Kent. This is associated with the birth of English Christianity (although Celtic Christianity existed before the arrival of St. Augustine);
    • Lindisfarne, England. This is where St. Cuthbert was buried before being moved to the Cathedral of Durham. Lindisfarne is also associated with St. Aidan who evangelized the Northumbria;
    • St. Albans Cathedral, England. Although pre-dating Roman Catholicism in the United Kingdom, St. Albans also pre-dates Celtic Christianity in that he was martyred before the retreat of the Romans from the British Isles;
    • St. Andrews, Scotland. The place is associated with the remains of St. Andrew and was a place of pilgrimage and veneration from ancient times;
    • St. David, Wales. The place is associated with pilgrimage since David was made a saint in the 12th century;
    • St. Patrick, Strell Wells, Northern Ireland, a pilgrimage route associated with the evangelization route of St. Patrick in Northern Ireland;
    • St. Winefride’s Well, a 12th century pilgrim site to a well with healing powers dubbed the Lourdes of Wales;
    • Walshingham Abbey, is a 7th century pilgrim site also associated with the Holy Cross;
    • Winchester Cathedral, is a 7th century Cathedral with early Roman Christianity in Britain and with the Anglo-Saxon bishop St Swithun