Visit from Spain unveils waymarked St James Way in Reading

As part of the Reading for Modern Pilgrims project which celebrates the shared heritage of Reading and Galicia in northwest Spain, a group of dignitaries from the province of A Coruña have made their first official visit to Reading, organised by Reading UK and Reading Borough Council.

IMG 2145The visit (3 & 4 November) was designed to develop a mutually beneficial relationship between Reading and A Coruña based on 900 years of shared pilgrimage history and to encourage the development of two-way tourism, cultural exchange and economic development.

As part of the visit, the delegation from A Coruña unveiled the first waymarking sign of the St James’ Way long distance walking route, which starts at St James Church in Reading and recreates the medieval walking route of pilgrims heading from Reading to Santiago de Compostela in Spain via 68.5 mile leg in the UK from Reading to Southampton. Within the next few months, the whole St James’ Way of this historic pilgrimage route will be waymarked by the UK Camino organisation, the Confraternity of St James.

Councillor Antonio Leira, Councillor at the A Coruña Province Council, Manuel Mirás, the president of ACCI (Association of Councils of the Camino Ingles) and Jose Manuel Pequeño, Mayor of Dumbría and President of the Association of Councils of the Camino Fisterra-Muxía were among the guests invited to Reading to further develop this partnership.

IMG 2161As part of their visit, they toured sites in Reading linked to our shared heritage including Reading Abbey Ruins and St James’ Church, including the Hand of St James, and were formally welcomed to Reading by the Mayor of Reading, Councillor David Stevens at the Civic Offices.

Reading for Modern Pilgrims aims to develop visits to Reading by promoting Reading’s amazing pilgrimage heritage and its location as the departure point for the modern-day St James’ Way. Through this relationship with A Coruña, Reading is locating itself on the one of the world’s most famous long- distance walking routes, the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. In medieval times pilgrims from Britain would have landed at the ports of A Coruna or Ferrol on the Galician coast before continuing their walk along what is now known as The Camino Ingles (The English Way) to Santiago.

The tradition of pilgrimage in Reading dates back to the gift by King Henry I of the ‘Hand of St James the Apostle’ to Reading Abbey in the 12th century, inspiring a four century-long tradition of pilgrimage to see the relic. Medieval pilgrims often continued their pilgrimage to the place of burial of St James himself, the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, north-west Spain.

In modern times, the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route is one of the most travelled long-distance walking routes in the world with over 350,000 pilgrims a year taking a variety of routes to Santiago from different parts of Europe and beyond.

Reading for Modern Pilgrims leafletThe Reading for Modern Pilgrims map guide was the first outcome of this new partnership established to highlight Reading’s place on medieval and modern pilgrim routes. It has been published by Reading UK with support from A Coruña Province Council, the Association of Councils on the Camino Ingles (ACCI), the Confraternity of St James, Friends of Reading Abbey and Reading Borough Council.

Nigel Horton-Baker, Executive Director, Reading UK, said: “Reading’s medieval pilgrimage heritage and location as the start of the St James’ Way long-distance walking route will be attractive to the growing number of people looking for healthy, active, outdoor holidays or a spiritual experience. We are delighted that colleagues from Spain have visited Reading to see what we have to offer and look forward to working with them for the mutual benefit of our respective tourism businesses.”

Robin Dorkings, Confraternity of St James, said: “To complement the Confraternity’s guidebook to the St James Way, a project is underway to waymark the entire 70 mile route from Reading to Southampton.  This is a joint venture between the Confraternity of St James, the Borough and County Councils along the 70 mile route, and the Provincial Council in Galicia who have provided the funding for the signs.  The Reading and West Berks sections will be completed by end 2021, and the Hants section in early 2022.”  

Cllr Karen Rowland, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Culture, Heritage and Recreation, said: “I’m really pleased we’ve been able to work so closely in partnership with Reading UK and our visiting representatives from A Coruña Province.  I hope this visit has sown the seeds of a friendship between Reading and the province of A Coruna for many years to come.

“I am also delighted Reading has been reinstated on the international pilgrimage map with the creation of Reading for Modern Pilgrims and our inclusion as the start of the St James’ Way long-distance walking route. 2021 is an incredibly auspicious year for Reading - marking 900 years since Reading Abbey, originally one of Europe’s largest royal monasteries, was founded by King Henry I of England. Highlighting the town’s historic and modern place on one of the world’s oldest and best-known international pilgrim routes, the Camino de Santiago, is a fitting part of our celebrations this year and will help enhance Reading’s profile as a destination resplendent in heritage and culture. Furthermore, the reinstatement of this historic pilgrimage route only goes to bolster our bid for City status, by further making the case that Reading has through the centuries always been a site of importance and fame.”


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