Map of Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle’s roads in the Gers
The Gers is crossed by two roads going towards the pilgrimage destination of Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle in Spain. The Via Podiensis (from Arles) and the Via Tolosana (from Toulouse) which pass through the north and south of the territory. The GR65 follows part of the trail of these historic roadways.
Many people enjoy travelling these roads to discover the pleasant rural regions of the Gers, with its many towns and villages of great interest. The religious heritage, the abbeys, cathedrals, churches, historic monuments and culture of the Gers allows pilgrims to really appreciate their journey. On foot, by bike, by horse ... the Saint-Jacques de Compostelle roads are waiting for you!
Walking on the Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle roads.
During the 11th century this fantastic history of pilgrimage started. Being unable to go to Jerusalem due to the political and religious troubles of the time, the pilgrims travelled the roads leading to Rome and Santiago, Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, to honour their saints. The first official road, which is also the most used, is the Camino Francès. (It is still the most popular road used today as many other roads in France and northern Europe converge here.) The pilgrims' route became very popular and well known in the 13th century. But wars and European conflicts slowed down the flux of walkers from the 14th century, and it was even forbidden under Louis XIV.
In 1879, there was a renewed interest in Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, with the rediscovery of the Saint's relics. The 20th century is marked by the ever increasing popularity of the roads leading towards Santiago, amongst the religious, but the non religious also walk the route! Art enthusiasts, sports people, hikers, the young and the less young, now join the religious pilgrims. Spanish (mainly pilgrims), Italians, Germans, Americans, Portuguese, French walk these roads: in 2015, 180 different nationalities were counted on the roads of Compostelle!
Emblem of the road of Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle on the street of Montréal
Why do they walk? For therapeutic reasons (we talk about "road therapy") for a sporting challenge, to cleanse the mind and to have a break from daily life, and, of course for a religious reason.
France is crossed by 4 main roads, two of them go through the Gers!!
- The Via Podiensis, which starts in Puy-en-Velay and goes through La Romieu
- The Via Tolosana, which starts in Arles, and goes through Toulouse and Auch
Outside the Gers:
- The Via Lemovicensis, goes through Limoges
- The Via Turonensis goes through Paris and Tours, then Bordeaux
Since 1987, the roads of Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle in France are listed as "Itinéraires culturels du Conseil de l'Europe" (Cultural Roadways of the European Council), a label that values roads of historical interest or heritage in Europe. Since 1998, 71 monuments on these roads have been listed as Unesco World Heritage sites, representing 7 sections of the GR65. Some associations are campaigning for new places to be listed in the years to come.
Fancy discovering the Gers by following the roads of Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle? Choose your itinerary, you have a choice between Via Podiensis and Via Tolosana. You can even combine the two by taking the auxiliary lane connecting Lectoure to Auch (see map).
The first thing to do, is to get your pilgrimage booklet, the “credential”. Whether you walk for religious reasons or for the pleasure of walking on these roads, it is necessary to validate your milestones, justify the nature of your journey and if you pass the Spanish border, it is indispensable (for the gites, hotels, restaurants and other free sites or concessions offered to pilgrims). You can obtain it (from religious sites) and keep it, doing a section of the road at different times. A lot of pilgrims do this and cover a few milestones (section of road) each year.
Pilgrims in Montréal-du-Gers
Once you arrive in Santiago, if you present your credential and you covered at least the last 100 kilometres by foot (or 200 by bike), you obtain the "compostella", an official stamp.
Get the right equipment, rucksack and walking shoes. The pilgrimage roads are used by many people, they are quite secure and well signposted.Infrastructures have been developed along the way since the 11th century: refuges, accommodation, and restaurants...
On the budget side, pilgrims have said they spend on average, (according to a survey in 2016) 36 euros per day. The biggest expense is accommodation and then food.
Businesses benefit from the passage of pilgrims, without abusing them. In Lectoure, for example, there were more than 4,000 people going through town from the Via Podiensis. Restaurants, accommodation and guest houses are open to pilgrims at very reasonable prices. A community is created on the road and meals are moments of conviviality, sharing and solidarity.
Sign of welcoming for the pilgrims.
An anecdote, for the road... do you know why the famous scallop shell is associated with the pilgrimage? In Galicia, we find many of these scallop shells in the water (these big grooved shells are also associated with Venus, the goddess of love). Since the beginning, pilgrims have brought them back as souvenirs, like a testimony of their journey. Today, the Saint Jacques shell is the official emblem on the roads of Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle and can be found in sculptures and on plaques on the pilgrimage.
Signs to follow the Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle road