Apr 25, 2012

Book Review: Pilgrimage to the End of the World by Conrad Rudolph

Title: Pilgrimage to the End of the World: The Road to Santiago de Compostela
Author: Conrad Rudolph
University of Chicago Press, May 19, 2004
Genre: travel, culture, memoir
Source: free ecopy from publisher

"Traveling one thousand miles through southern France and northern Spain, Conrad Rudolph made the passage to the holy site of Santiago de Compostela, a popular and important pilgrimage destination for Westerners today. In this chronicle of his travels, Rudolph writes a book that is at once travel guide, literary work, historical study, and memoir." (book description)
"The pilgrimage to Santiago can begin from anywhere. But...there are said to be four classic starting points....By far the most beautiful is the one from Le Puy, in the heart of the Massif Central....  (Doing the Pilgrimage, pp. 95-100)
Comments: I've fascinated by this pilgrimage that many people take, walking to the holy site of Santiago de Compostela, the Spanish city where the remains of the apostle Saint James the Greater is said to reside in a large and impressive cathedral. The walking trip from Le Puy, France, through the Pyrenees mountains, and through northern Spain is about a thousand miles and took the author two and a half months to complete.

I first heard about the pilgrimage from  two people I once worked with, who resigned their jobs, walked the pilgrimage and then decided to stay in Spain and run one of the refugios or pilgrim's hostels that line the long route along the way to Santiago de Compostela.

It was interesting to learn from the book that pilgrims from all over the world, mostly Europeans, range in age from their twenties through late sixties, some even in their seventies. I imagine the older pilgrims take one of the shorter routes that start closer to or in Spain and skip going through the Pyrenees in France.

About the book: The book was a free download from the University of Chicago Press, which offers readers a free digital book each month. Their recent offer, Pilgrimage to the End of the World, came out in print in 2004.

The title shows that the author took the pilgrimage route beyond Santiago de Compostela, a hike of three days more to Finisterre, where land ends at the Atlantic Ocean and the "End of the World." This book has maps and photographs of the pilgrimage route, of monuments and churches and some of the small villages along the way. It suggests a detailed and specific list of items pilgrims should take with them, plus a warning to pack light. The author suggests vigorous hiking training for several months to prepare for the long and challenging walk along the pilgrimage route to the holy site.

I recommend the book to anyone wishing they could make the trip and of course, to those who are thinking about doing it and need background information as well as helpful tips and other recommended reading. The author made the trip in the mid 1990s and published the book in 2004. I did find that a couple of his links to web cams in Santiago de Compostela and along the route no longer work.

Conrad Rudolph is a professor of medieval art and chair of the art history department at the University of California, Riverside. This is his fourth book.


  1. I'm glad you enjoyed this one. I hadn't heard of this pilgrimage route before.

  2. I'm intrigued! I just read another book that had the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage in it (An Uncertain Age by Ulrica Hume).

  3. I also am intrigued, because this sounds like a very different kind of book and one that I would really enjoy. I really liked the detailed coverage that you gave this one, and will be looking for it. Great review today!

  4. This would be a fascinating book! This pilgrimage is featured in the movie, The Way.

  5. Very interesting, I had never heard of this before. This sounds fascinating. I think I have to add this to my list.

  6. How fascinating!! I'm adding it to my list!

  7. I love the whole idea of this pilgrimage!!

  8. I hadn't heard of this route before. Sounds intriguing!


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