Santiago holy year 2021

The 2021 Holy Year in Santiago de Compostela and on the Camino de Santiago will undoubtedly be greatly affected by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. With the situation changing frequently, it’s impossible to predict 2021 pilgrim numbers with certainty or to know which safety and security measures that impact the camino will be in place. This article discusses Holy Year in general and what the pandemic-affected 2021 Holy Year might look like on the camino.

Why is 2021 a Holy Year?

Holy Year in Santiago has occurred since 1122 and takes place when St. James’ feast day, 25 July, falls on a Sunday. Owing to the peculiarities of the Gregorian calendar, this happens in a cycle with 6, 5, 6 and 11 years between Holy Years before this pattern repeats itself. The last Holy Year – aside from 2016, an extraordinary Holy Year declared by Pope Francis – was 2010, so the longest wait in the cycle is about to come to an end.

What Happens During Holy Year?

On 31 December of the previous year, the archbishop of Santiago uses a silver hammer to symbolically strike the Holy Door on the eastern (back) side of the cathedral, facing Praza da Quintana. The door is then opened and during Holy Year, pilgrims enter through the holy door and can earn a plenary indulgence (the remission of sin) by visiting the tomb of St. James inside the cathedral, saying a prayer and going to confession and communion within 15 days either side of the visit to the cathedral.

During the last Holy Year in 2010, there was an 87 per cent increase in the number of pilgrims who received a compostela in Santiago (272,135) compared with the year before (145,877), including a 138 per cent increase in Spanish pilgrims. The following year, there was a 33 per cent decrease in pilgrim traffic, but the 2011 total of 183,366 still represented a 26 per cent increase over 2009, showing that the Holy Year spike can have a flow-on effect in future years.

Holy Year numbers typically peak in July as pilgrims try to reach Santiago in time for the saint’s feast day on the 25th. In 2010, 42,466 pilgrims received compostelas in July, just under 30 per cent of those who did so for the entirety of 2009.

Since the last Holy Year, the Camino de Santiago has become even more popular, with the number of compostelas issued increasing every year from 2012-2019. Additionally, each year from 2016-19 saw more pilgrim traffic than the 2010 Holy Year, culminating in a record 347,578 pilgrims receiving compostelas in 2019.

The above data suggested 2021 would have easily been the biggest year in the history of the Camino de Santiago, until the coronavirus pandemic hit and plunged global travel – among other things – into uncertainty. How the virus will impact pilgrim numbers in 2021 remains to be seen, but the huge disparity in the northern autumn between 2019 and 2020 can serve as some sort of guide. In September 2020, for example – before a second wave of coronavirus-related restrictions were introduced in Spain and Portugal – just 10,441 pilgrims received compostelas in Santiago, a 77 per cent decrease from September 2019.

Based on weblog by Nick Leonard. For tips on the actual routes in the holy year go to Spirit of the Camino.