How many Protestants are on the Camino de Santiago?

When you start a new ministry, such as our Anglican Camino Chaplaincy here in Santiago, everyone asks the same questions: Is there enough interest in this kind of ministry? Is it worthwhile? Are there enough pilgrims that might be interested in this? Or, better said: ‘How many Protestants are actually on the Camino de Santiago and in Santiago de Compostela itself?

All different, all similar, all pilgrims …

From the very beginning it became clear that the Anglican Camino Chaplaincy is indeed a ‘catch-all’for pilgrims from a variety of different church backgrounds and countries. It is not a ‘The Brits Abroad’ chaplaincy! A typical Sunday congregation can be easily contain people from 6 different countries and 6 different home churches. I remember having worshipped with and led worship for: Lutherans from Sweden, Protestants from Germany, Anglicans from South Africa, United Church of Christ members from the USA and, yes, Church of England members from the UK and many, many more.  We will only see most of these worshippers once, and they will be on their way to their homes in a day or two. Apart of the ones that volunteer here for a longer period of time or live here. We are delighted to see them over and over again!

Over the last two years it became very clear that this is a multi-national and multi-denominational ministry that just happens to be led by the Church of England but unites people from all kind of backgrounds and countries. The chaplaincy is under the auspices of the Church of England, which has managed pastoral services to English-speakers in Spain for almost 200 years and is under the supervision of their Bishop in Europe and its suffragan bishop, +David Hamid, that is directly responsible for this project.  And just for the record, while our main focus is on ministering to pilgrims, visitors to the city and residents of it are just as welcome! The door is open for everyone!

A few bits of clarification:

First, the terms Protestant and Protestant Churches are used in this blog post to encompass everybody, including, but not limited to, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Old Catholics, Baptists, United Church of Christ, basically all Christians that are NOT Roman-Catholic NOR Orthodox.  My heartfelt apologies to those of my fellow Anglicans who don’t like to be called Protestants btw 😉

Also, it is difficult to say which percentage of pilgrims comes from a certain church background AND still practice their faith in that same church environment.

For example, Spain is a predominantly Catholic country, but not everybody that self-identifies as Catholic actually ever darkens the door of a church here 😉

On the other hand, countries like Canada, the USA and South Korea might send more pilgrims, proportionally, as they heard about the Camino first in a ‘religious’ context and are practising members of their respective churches.

As far as I know (please correct me if you have more information!) only one of the main starting points collects information about the church affiliation of pilgrims and that is Roncesvalles on the Camino Francés.

The problem is that I can’t find these statistics anywhere. Apparently they go into a black hole in the Government of Navarra. If somebody could take a spaceship there and dig them out, that would be very much appreciated!

But even if that would happen one day, only 5,541 pilgrims (1,69% of all pilgrims in 2018!) started their Camino in Roncesvalles that year. So, that information would have to be extrapolated with a huge grain of salt as the total number of pilgrims registered by the Pilgrim’s Office here in Santiago in 2018 was: 327,378!

A pilgrim friend of mine had a better idea.  He looked at the top 15 groups of pilgrims by country in 2018 as registered by the Pilgrim’s Office here in Santiago and then applied their ‘home country’ denominational ratio to them.

For example: with 144,141 Spanish pilgrims arriving in Santiago in 2018, and because Spain is a predominantly Roman-Catholic country, only 1.2% of the population have declared themselves being protestants in the last census. Which gives us a guesstimate of 1,729 Spanish protestant pilgrims on the Camino.

In my own experience, I would say the number is in reality far lower as a lot of Spanish protestants belong to non-denominational Churches which really haven’t developed a tradition of pilgrimage to Santiago – yet. In fact, I have only met perhaps two handful of Spanish Protestant pilgrims over the last twenty years…  And, in any case, they wouldn’t be necessarily be interested in an English language ministry.

The next biggest (by country) group of pilgrims comes from Italy with around 216 Protestant pilgrims.  Again, Italy is a predominantly Catholic country.

After that we have Germany, which does indeed have a higher percentage of Protestants and so we got likely 6,451 Protestant pilgrims from Germany in 2018.

Next in line is the USA, the first predominantly English-speaking country in the list, with a likelihood of having contributed 8,262 pilgrims.

And so it goes on, if you would like to see the rest of the numbers, please download the PDF from the link at the bottom of this blog post.

And if we look now at the top English-speaking countries from which the pilgrims come from, the total numbers get even smaller:

  • USA – likely 8,262 Protestants from different churches
  • Great Britain – likely 1,990 Protestants from different churches
  • Ireland – likely 943 Protestants from different churches

To cut a long story short and taking in account the 15 Top countries where pilgrims come from we get a guestimate of 28,271 Protestant pilgrims in this Top 15 group. And the total of all pilgrims from these Top 15 countries is 286,934.

Summary: As a careful guesstimate, between 10% and 15% of all pilgrims that arrived 2018 in Santiago, and who went to the Pilgrim’s Office for their Compostelas, were Protestants.

Which gives us the following numbers:

  • Pilgrims in total- 327,378
  • Possibly Protestant Pilgrims: ~32,737 and ~49,105

And if we take into account the number of pilgrims who come from English-speaking countries or a country where English is widely spoken as a second language, the number of pilgrims that might be interested in an English language service offering drops again.

So, my personal guesstimate is that around 15,000 and 20,000 Protestants from a variety of different churches AND that speak English as a first or second language, arrived last year in Santiago.

So, yes, having a Anglican Camino Chaplaincy here in Santiago de Compostela makes an awful lot of sense!

Any thoughts or questions? Please leave them in a comment below! Many Muchas Gracias and Buen Camino wherever you are Peregrin@s!

And if you want to have a look at the original numbers my pilgrim friend crunched and which sources of information he used– and he emphasizes that this is a methodologically imperfect exercise, have a look at this >>>PDF File<<< Click to download …

16 thoughts on “How many Protestants are on the Camino de Santiago?”

  1. Hi Sybille,

    You hosted my wife, Stephie, and me for tea two summers ago when we finished the Camino. We are planning on starting a ministry somewhere along the Camino Francés within the next couple of years.

    We are so pleased to read about the chaplaincy program being up and running, and hope to collaborate in the future!

    Blessings on you and Egeria House!

    1. I meant to add, one reason I think many Spanish non-RC Christians avoid the Camino is that they think it’s all a bunch of superstitious nonsense. It’s not really St. James there, so they say, and therefore they avoid it.

      While I understand their suspicion of the RC tradition here, it doesn’t change the fact that thousands of pilgrims are still walking the Camino searching for truth, God, blessing, answers, closure, and any other host of things. Whether St. James is under the altar at the cathedral or not, the Camino still sounds like a good place for Christians to be!

  2. Dear Sybille,
    How does/will the Diocese in Europe’s Camino de Santiago Chaplaincy and its work at Egeria House interact with the Episcopal Church/Spanish Episcopal Church initiative ‘to set up an Anglican Pilgrim Centre in Santiago de Compostela’, as mentioned today in this Anglican Communion News Service post:
    With very best wishes from the Anglican Church in St Petersburg

    1. Hi Maria,
      Lovely hearing from you! Yes, I know this article.
      There is an simple answer to this: If and when that Anglican Centre is build and opened, any collaboration is a case of “bishop to bishop” discussion first. Until it is open, or at least very close to opening, we, me and the priest and lay volunteers, are just doing what we have done now for the last two seasons: Taking care of pilgrims, providing pastoral care and the sacraments for them and so on here in Santiago de Compostela. Best wishes from rainy Galicia to Saint Petersburg! BC SY

      1. Many thanks, Sybil! Sorry that it is rainy now in Galicia (& from the forecast it looks like being wet for some days yet). I just saw this latest Episcopal news item on the history of their United Thank Offering (UTO) support for the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church, including their match funding for a Pilgrim Centre, and thought it might again be of interest: It is a pity that they only published the news item after they had finished their recent trip to Santiago de Compostela as it would have been good for you to meet them. Anyway, enjoy your ‘down time’ after a successful pilgrim season this year and have a blessed Advent season. With very best wishes, Maria

        1. Actually I met them when they were here as I am also opening Santa Susana Church for visiting groups, in coordination with my ecumenical contact in the RC archdiocese here, obviously. Downtime? I wish! Busily getting the word out about our shiny new newsletter for the chaplaincy. If I send you the link and info, could you help with getting the word out, please? BC SY

        1. Don’t we know that! Our lead chaplain is working hard with the diocese to get that on the way!

    2. I have made a small financial contribution to support the Episcopal Chaplaincy effort. I’ve walked into Santiago from three different pilgrimage routes now, and should I walk in another time I will seek out the opportunity to partake of communion with y’all. With what Christianity has become in the public eye in the United States, I hesitate to call myself by that name, I rather say that I am a follower of the Way, and am continually dismayed by the Spanish Catholic Church’s exclusionary policies. I am formally a member of a United Methodist congregation.

      1. Many thanks for your contribution Robert! I can reassure you that our relationship here in Santiago with the local Roman-Catholic church/archdiocese is excellent and that they are very supportive, for example, by letting us use their buildings. Looking forward to meeting you in person, when you come next time to Santiago. Buen Camino, SY

  3. I have walked into Santiago three times from three different directions and met very few pilgrims who admit to being Christians. I ask everyone I meet if they are catholic, and I’m not sure anyone has ever said yes. I follow up with “are you involved in a church?” and again, few say yes. I’ve not asked Spanish pilgrims since it is more difficult to have a conversation with them as my Spanish isn’t good enough. I just finished two weeks on Via Podensia in France, and again, no one admitted to being Catholic or religious. The subject of religion actually never came up at all except for my question. I’ve only found one avowed atheist, last year on Via Podensia, walking his 6th camino.

    “Religious” is a loaded word for many people. I find the Caminos deeply spiritual but not religious. I go into every church on the way (if open). I pray and meditate in them too , although not for a long time.

    I think a properly done survey on the trail (not the pilgrim office) would show that the Camino is not a religious pilgrimage at all. It is instead spiritual.

  4. “My heartfelt apologies to those of my fellow Anglicans who don’t like to be called Protestants btw 😉”

    Thank you for that! Apology accepted.

    1. Thank you my online friend! Hope to meet you one day ‘in the flesh’ here in Santiago or on any Camino our Lord calls us to! BC SY

  5. Dear folks at Egeria House- What a fascinating and informative post! My own experience of worshipping with the Anglican Chaplaincy was just as you described: Three U.S. Episcopalians, one Anglican Church of Canada, one Church of England, one Church of Scotland, one Old Catholic, and one Lutheran. A wonderful group. The little room at the Parador was filled with the Holy Spirit. -Tom

    1. Hi again Tom,
      Glad you felt right at home with us and also hope to see you soon again, BC SY

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