The Way of St James, or St James' Way, (Spanish: El Camino de Santiago) is one of any number of pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in north-westernmost Spain. It has been one of the most important Christian pilgrimages since medieval times, the others being to Rome and Jerusalem. It has been in existence for about 1000 years. It has attracted a growing number of modern pilgrims from around the globe.
Today, thousands of Christian pilgrims each year still set out on foot from their homes, or from popular starting points from all across Europe, to walk for weeks or months to visit the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela where the apostle Saint James the Great is said to be laid to rest. Some pilgrims also come on horseback or by donkey; they also sometimes come by bicycle. In addition to people on a religious pilgrimage there are many travellers and hikers who walk the route for non-religious reasons.
The most popular of the routes is the Camino Francés which runs from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees through to Santiago de Compostela. Three pilgrimage routes across France met at Saint-Jean or its nearby predecessor. They had points of origin in Paris, Vézelay and Le Puy . Across France and then across Spain the pilgrimage route led from shrine to shrine, as a caravan route leads from oasis to oasis.
The route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in October 1987 and inscribed as one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in 1993.
Development of St James's Way
The earliest records of visits paid to the shrine dedicated to St James at Compostela date from the 8th century. This was the most renowned medieval pilgrimage; and the custom of those who carried back with them from Galicia scallop shells as proofs of their journey gradually extended to other forms of pilgrimage. Once a system of penance had been established by the Church, part of the rituals of confession and absolution, pilgrimages were established as adequate punishments assessed for certain crimes. The Catholic Encyclopedia noted:
"In the registers of the Inquisition at Carcassone… we find the four following places noted as being the centres of the greater pilgrimages to be imposed as penances for the graver crimes, the tomb of the Apostles at Rome, the shrine of St. James at Compostella, St. Thomas's body at Canterbury, and the relics of the Three Kings at Cologne." 
The Way's name in other languages
The Way of St James has an often bewildering variety of different names in various European languages:
- In Spanish it is usually called El Camino de Santiago (a name commonly applied to the Milky Way)
- In German it is called Der Jakobsweg
- In French le chemin de St-Jacques
- In Italian Cammino di Santiago
- In Portuguese Caminho de Santiago