2021: A Holy Year on el Camino

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Group Walking on el Camino de Santiago path in the rain

2021 Holy Year

Here at Hike the Way, we’re gearing up for the Holy Year 2021 on the Camino de Santiago, and we wanted to give you all the information on what to expect if walking next year.

What is a Holy Year on the Camino?

The Holy Year, also called Jacobean Year (Xacobeo 2021), happens when the feast day of St. James, July 25th, falls on a Sunday. This happens every 5, 6 or 11 years. The last Holy Year was 11 years ago in 2010 and after the 2021 holy year, the next Holy years to follow are: 2027, 2032, 2038, 2049.

What happens during a Holy Year?

To begin the Holy Year, the Archbishop of Santiago opens a special door to the Cathedral on the afternoon of December 31st, 2020. This special Jubilee door is covered with a slab that the archbishop strikes 3 times using a silver hammer.

This symbolizes the difficult journey walking the Camino. Then the Archbishop cleans the door’s perimeters with an olive branch dipped in Holy water and he walks through the passageway. The door will remain open for the rest of the year, closing once again on December 31st. 2021.

2010, the last Holy Year, was a busy and vibrant time on the Camino. The number of pilgrims walking the Camino and receiving a Compostela more than doubled from previous years. Here’s a short video showing some footage from that year. The Pope even visited the Cathedral and gave the pilgrim’s a special blessing.

What do you get for walking during a Holy Year?

The Catholic Church offers a plenary indulgence during this time. Pilgrims who visit the Apostle’s tomb in the Cathedral, participate in the sacrament of reconciliation and say a prayer receive this grace. You can walk anytime during the year 2021, it’s doesn’t have to be on the feast day of St. James.

What to expect when walking during a Holy Year?

Holy Years are typically busier and livelier on the Camino. During the last Holy Year, more than double the average travelers walked the Camino, putting a strain on the limited accommodations. Luckily, the Camino has had 11 years to prepare for this special year, and many more hotels and places have opened to accommodate travelers. With that being said, places are already completely full and booked, and with the coronavirus pandemic, many travelers have pushed their 2020 trip to 2021.

Besides hotels, restaurants will be busy and reservations are probably necessary.

The cathedral in Santiago has been under renovation since late 2018 and is scheduled to be completed in 2020. This updating will allow for more pilgrims to enter the cathedral and better flow of visitors. The Portico de Gloria should be reopened at this time and visits can be made. It will definitely be difficult to get tickets for this spectacular door, but we highly recommend visiting if possible.

Advice when walking in 2021

If you’re planning on walking in 2021, the best advice is to book ASAP. This is NOT the year to just pack a bag and walk from town to town with no accommodations set. Before the coronavirus pandemic, we advised people to book about a year in advance, but with many travelers pushing their trips back a year, reservations are getting tight. Right now it’s unknown if albergues will open up, so the Camino might be limited to hotels and rural houses only. So please book in advance for this year!

Also, it might be a good idea to go during an “off” peak time. May-August it will be especially busy. What about a Camino in March or early April? What about a fall Camino?

The Camino route you choose will also be important. The last 100 km of the French or Portuguese route will be the busiest. If you’re looking for a quieter Camino you could choose the Camino del Norte, the Portuguese Coastal Camino, or the Camino Primitivo. Whichever you choose in the end, make sure to book early as Holy Years tend to be particularly busy.

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