Every January, the Oficina de Acogida de Peregrinos (Pilgrims’ Welcome Office) in Santiago, Spain and the American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC) publish the pilgrim statistics for the previous year. Among the various data is a chart showing numbers of pilgrims receiving Compostelas for each year dating back to 1986. When I first started to learn about the Camino, I was intrigued by the dramatic spikes for some years.
The Holy Year Factor
I learned that these spikes happen during Holy Years, when more people want to walk through the Puerta Santa (Holy Doors). I was a little surprised when I saw that the 2016 line was not off the charts like the spikes for previous Holy Years. But then again, 2016 was not an average Holy Year. It was an extraordinary announcement (and a surprise to some) that Pope Francis declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016. Instead of a spike, the chart shows the upward trend for 2016 was more typical of the Camino becoming more popular year after year. I suspect that the majority of those who did a Camino in 2016 did not do it because it was a Holy Year, as there are motivations beyond religious. Here’s a closer look at the numbers with the traditional Holy Years highlighted in red.
View Compostelas by Year PDF.
I heard that the Holy Years could be extremely crowded on the Camino for the guarantee of Plenary Indulgence. The threat of crowds did not stop me, for I was determined to walk my first Camino in 2016. In fact, it ended up enhancing my spiritual experience on the Camino. I will talk more about what the Holy Year of Mercy meant to me in a different post. For now, let’s get back to the numbers. I was one of those 277,913 pilgrims who walked at least 100 km to receive a Compostela certificate in 2016. Here is a photo of me in the pilgrim office in Santiago proudly holding my certificate and credential. Oh, how I miss that post-Camino glow!
You can see the dramatic uptick in 2011 thanks to the movie, The Way, starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez.
The personal motivations in 2016 were 44% religious, 48% spiritual/cultural, and 8% cultural.
When I was at the pilgrim office getting my Compostela, the motivation options on the official entry log were Religious / Religious or Spiritual / Tourist or Sport. They also track the age of pilgrims, their professions, and if they completed the Camino on foot, bike or horse.
Average Age of Pilgrims
Nationalities of Pilgrims
In 2016, the majority of pilgrims on the Camino were Spanish, about 124,401 (45% of the total); The greatest number of pilgrims came from the communities of Andalusia with 24,995 (20%); Madrid with 23,068 (19%); Valencian Community with 14,584 (12%); Catalonia with 13,368 (11%); Galicia with 8,425 (7%); Castilla León with 7,269 (6%); Castilla la Mancha with 6,587 (5%); Basque Country with 4,465 (4%).
Countries outside of Spain totaled 153,831 pilgrims (55%). The country with the largest number of pilgrims is Italy, with 23,973 (16%). Following are Germany, with 21,247 (14%); United States, with 15,248 (10%); Portugal, with 13,258 (9%); France, with 8,880 (6%); Ireland, with 6,542 (4%); United Kingdom, with 6,062 (4%); and Korea, with 4,544 (3%).
Compostelas by Month
Below is the chart of Compostelas by month from the Pilgrim Office in Santiago.
Here’s the APOC chart of Credentials issued by month.
I realize this is a chart for Credentials issued by Camino start date, but apparently we Americans like to stay away from the heat and crowds of the Camino in July and August!
Sex of Pilgrims
Let’s talk about sex. Of the pilgrims who received Compostelas in 2016, 48% were women and 52% were men.
I found these stats fascinating and wonder how the numbers will change in the coming years. It just goes to show that the Camino is not just a fad! I can geek out on pilgrim statistics for hours, but for a deeper dive on Camino statistics, visit oficinadelperegrino.com/en/statistics/. You can generate stats for any particular month or the entire year. Take a look at the professions listed and let me know if that gave you a laugh too. View more statistics at www.americanpilgrims.org/statisics.
Peregrinos, did the 2016 stats surprise you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.