The twelfth century was the heyday of pilgrimage in Europe. The main destination, apart from Rome and Jerusalem, was the tomb of Jesus’ apostle Saint James at Compostela in northern Spain. In English, these pilgrimages are collectively known as the Ways of Saint James, in Spanish the Caminos de Santiago, and in French the Chemins de Saint Jacques.
In France, four principal routes were used, although there were a multitude of variations. Once over the Pyrenees, all four took the same route across northern Spain, known as the Camino Frances.
The Way of St James
Starting in le Puy, it is the traditional route for pilgrims from Switzerland and eastern France, and by far the most popular for modern pilgrims.
This is the one which is normally referred to in English as the Way of St James, although all four are strictly speaking Ways of St James.
The Way of Vézelay
Used by pilgrims coming from north-eastern France, Germany and Belgium. The Latin name refers to Limoges, one of the most important pilgrim sites along the way.
The Way of Arles
The main route for pilgrims coming from the south of France and Italy. The Latin name refers to Toulouse, the biggest town on the route.
The Way of Tours
Used by pilgrims from the Netherlands and the Paris basin. English pilgrims often joined this route via Angers.
In our times, these routes have been replicated as best they can be, by marked tracks called Grandes Randonnées (GRs) managed by the Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre (FFRP).
There is also an alternative network of marked tracks, similar to the GRs but not identical, managed by the Amis de Saint Jacques, a religious organisation.
Our walks on these pilgrimages are shown on the map and there are links to the day-by-day descriptions below :
The Way of St James (red line)
The Way of Vézelay (black)
The Way of Arles (dark blue)
The Way of Tours (brown)
Many pilgrims passed through Geneva on their way to le Puy from the east, and there is now a marked walking track between these two towns – The Way of Geneva (Via Gebennensis) (light blue).
Another famous pilgrimage that we have walked, starting in le Puy, is The Way of St Gilles (The Régordane) (green), whose destination is not Compostela but Saint-Gilles.