The villages along Spain’s Camino de Santiago have protected travelers for hundreds of years. Now travelers are saving the villages.
Today, the village of Terradillos de los Templarios (say that five times fast!) houses only 50 people. But in summer, it will hold twice as many travelers. Other nearby villages look like ghost towns. Houses have caved in. Waist-high grass sprouts from cracks in sidewalks.
But Terradillos de los Templarios and the other villages along the historic road boast busy streets, bustling restaurants, and full hotels.
Why haven’t these towns disappeared like the rest? It all comes down to pilgrims.
When you hear the term “pilgrim,” you might think of belt-buckle hats, white collars, and Thanksgiving dinner. But a “pilgrim” can be anyone taking a religious journey.
In medieval times, many pilgrims walked long roads to visit historical Christian sites. One of those sites was the traditional site of the tomb of the Apostle James (son of Zebedee) in Santiago de Compostela. And how did pilgrims get there? They walked 500 miles across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. (That literally translates The Walk of Saint James.)
All those pilgrims needed places to stay. Villages like Terradillos de los Templarios popped up to shelter them on their travels. (A whole order of knights existed just to protect the travelers!)
As time went on, the towns shrank. Many of the villagers made a living by farming, but mechanized farm equipment reduced the need for workers. Young people left the villages to find work elsewhere. Cafés and shops closed down. Even churches shut their doors.
But in the 1990s, the travelers returned. The Camino de Santiago became an international destination. Now tens of thousands of visitors arrive to hike and bike the ancient trail. Some still visit for religious reasons. Other just want to travel the historic path.
César Acero started a hostel and a restaurant in 1990. His neighbors called him crazy. Who would start a business in a town that’s disappearing? Today, local farmers sip coffee in his restaurant alongside tourists from the Netherlands.
As a nation, Spain has grown more secular over time. Fewer and fewer Spanish people believe in God. But along the Camino de Santiago, churches are growing. Some of those churches have stood since medieval times. Others are newer. Visiting pilgrims double their Sunday congregations.
In the Bible, God instructed His people to care for sojourners. Villages like Terradillos de los Templarios did just that for hundreds of years. Today, the sojourners are bringing life back to those faithful towns.
Why? God calls us to help others, even strangers. When people (or villages!) follow His instruction, they can see His blessing.