Finisterre: Walking to the End of the Earth

You can't walk farther west. This is the Atlantic Ocean which lies between Spain and the countries of the west. Like the  Cruz de Ferro,  Finisterre offers the pilgrim an opportunity to process the trip, lay down burdens, or post prayers at the foot of the cross. 

You can't walk farther west. This is the Atlantic Ocean which lies between Spain and the countries of the west. Like the Cruz de Ferro, Finisterre offers the pilgrim an opportunity to process the trip, lay down burdens, or post prayers at the foot of the cross. 

History nerds on the Camino love to cite this fact: there were pilgrims making their way west through Spain long before the establishment of the Camino de Santiago. In the ancient world, up through Roman times, the Cape of Finisterre, Cabo Fisterra, (literally, “end of the earth”) was considered to be the westernmost point in Europe and therefore the western end of the known world. There is archaeological evidence of sun-worship in the town of Finisterre, which probably drew crowds because, in the eyes of the ancients, it was the closest place they could get to the sunset.

Even after the Camino was established, many pilgrims would continue to the coast in order to see the ocean (hence why many of them had scallop shells on their return journey), and Finisterre was already a landmark. Today, many go by bus in order to dip their toes in the chilly Atlantic and soak their well-worn feet in the salty ocean water. The main attraction, however, is the lighthouse at the very end of the peninsula. At sunset, you will see many pilgrims all over the rocks around the lighthouse and its restaurant, all facing west, some leaving behind gear or some other token from their time on the Camino.

The draw to Finisterre is one manifestation of an interesting phenomenon I encounter a lot on the Camino – even when many folks reach Santiago, they don’t feel that their journey is truly finished. Pilgrims usually anticipate it – their unwillingness to close out such a special experience, their reluctance to return home – before they reach Santiago, but when they arrive in Santiago it hits them in full force. Many pilgrims miss home just as much or more, so going home is bittersweet, but there are plenty who want to cling to the feelings or experiences of the Camino.

I submit to you that if you have the extra time, whether you are excited to return home or dreading it, the trail from Santiago to Finisterre is a good way to process those feelings. Whether your arrival to Santiago leaves you disillusioned, sad, or full of joy, take the three or four days of the Camino Finisterre to process your feelings. Buy a journal if you don’t already have one and try writing out your thoughts if they are scattered.

Use these days to look at your life at home and think through what changes you might make. What are you thankful for, and what do you wish was different? Who are you most excited to see when you return, and with whom do you need to reconcile or work on your relationship? What memories or new relationships from the Camino will inform how you live at work, with your family, in your home community?

If symbols are helpful for you, as they are for me, consider a practice similar to the tradition around the Cruz de Ferro – think of something to leave behind or even burn in an approved area. Better yet, if it’s your boots or some other piece of gear, give it away to someone who needs it. Then, as you walk the streets of Finisterre and stand in the surf on the beach, you can look forward to what comes next.

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Hunter Van Wagenen’s Camino experiences began in 2007 when he was a high school senior. He enjoys sharing humorous and miraculous stories in addition to practical advice he has collected during his walks. He and his wife Stephie's dream is to live in Spain helping pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. They currently live in Greensboro, NC. hunter@CaminoProvisions.com