Following the religious routes of Europe is a very special travel theme.
Not only will you explore religious sites and new territory, you will consider faith, an intangible aspect of human experience, and its effect on history, trade, and culture. Pilgrimage routes exist all over Europe, from ancient and modern times, and they are fascinating roads to follow.
The Route of Saint James
One of the most famous religious routes is the Way of St. James, or in Spanish, el Camino de Santiago. This is more accurately a collection of routes leading from numerous destinations in Europe to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. The cathedral is the focus of this important pilgrimage because it is believed that the remains of the apostle St James are buried there.
Over 800 years old and still in use, these walking routes have fostered cultural exchange of incalculable importance and provide a unifying perspective for all of Europe; the Camino de Santiago is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a European Cultural Route because of its great historical and cultural value.
In neighboring Portugal, for a time there was a rivalry between the town of Braga and Compostela for the position of most important pilgrimage site. Today you can still follow the route between these two cities.
A large proportion of the pilgrims en route to Compostela came through France, which has an enormous network of routes studded with hundreds of religious sites, many of them on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Shrine Towns of France, if not on The Way of St. James, were often reason for a detour, being important pilgrimage sites in their own rite.
Hiking the routes of St James through Switzerland will take you to breathtaking scenery in Lucerne, among other places. Consider taking a side trip to visit some of Switzerland’s own pilgrimage spots, such as the majestic church of Madonna del Sasso in the Ticino or the Maria Heimsuchung chapel, nestled in the forest of the Valais.
Pilgrimage Routes Throughout Europe
In the eastern Mediterranean, you can follow the footsteps of Paul the Apostle: Beginning in Antioch, (now Antakya, Turkey), sail to Cyprus, venturing next to modern-day Turkey and further westward to Greece. Here, following his route will bring you to Kavala, Filippi, Thessalonica, Veria, Athens-Piraeus, Corinth, and to the isle of Kefalonia before you conclude in Rome (Italy), where St. Paul brought the gospel to Europe. Going West, make sure you don't miss the several pilgrimage routes Portugal has to offer, as well as one the world's most important religious sites, the Sanctuary of Fatima.
The Via Francigena is another important pilgrimage route, first made by the Bishop of Canterbury from England (United Kingdom) to Rome (Italy) over 1,000 years ago! Along with the Route of St James and the journey to Jerusalem, this was one of the three most important religious routes and is still traveled by pilgrims in the 21st century.
As the center of the Roman Catholic Church, Italy is rich in religious routes. The way of St Francis of Assisi connects the Via Francigena and the less-explored Via Slavica, which fed the Via Francigena from Brno (Czech Republic) and Vienna (Austria). Catholic Pilgrimages in Germany are plentiful as well, especially in Bavaria.
EuroVia is an informative site for modern-day pilgrims, including maps and information about making journeys of faith in Europe.
Jewish Heritage Routes
Jewish heritage sites in Europe compose religious routes of history and remembrance. The early history of the Jewish people in Europe makes for fascinating travel on the Caminos de Sefarad of Spain. The Alsace region (France) has teamed up with Spain and other organizations to develop the European Jewish Heritage Cultural Route. Belgium received waves of Jewish immigration for centuries, from Roman times through the Ottoman Empire and into the 20th century. Germany for the Jewish Traveler guides visitors to museums and remembrance sites in Munich, Berlin, and elsewhere.