Camino de Santiago. Chemin de St. Jacques. Jakobsweg. The Way of St. James. The Way.
Santiago de Compostela sits in a bowl. It's rimmed by the hills of Galicia. Tucked into the confluence of the Sar and Rio Sarela, which both burble up nearby. They make their collective way to the Ulla River, which in turn winds its way to an estuary along the coast of Spain. Santiago de Compostela sits directly along a path that has been traveled for thousands of years.
Pagan travelers, making their way to the Costa da Morta (Coast of Death), likely followed the path of the Milky Way to what they believed to be the end of the earth. There's a town in Galicia called Finisterre (literal translation: End of the earth). Early Pagan pilgrims also used to believe there were lay lines (energy lines) under the Milky Way. This path, one of the lay lines, the route described by the Milky Way traverses the hills of Galicia. It passes directly over the confluence of the Sar and Rio Sarela.
This all happened in neolithic and megalithic eras, well before anyone had even considered the notion of a Christ child, much less a canonized apostle by the name of James (Iago, Jacque, Jakob, Ya'qob). St. James, the Greater. The first martyr. Son of Zebedee and Salome. Brother of John.
There is lore about The Way. Christian pilgrims have trod this path since 812 CE, a bit over 1,200 years. As with many things pagan, the tradition of pilgrimage to this sacred spot seems to have been usurped. That's cool. It's the way of things.
There are a number of explanations for the name of the destination, Santiago de Compostela.
The most recounted is based no the idea that compostela comes from latin. Folklore has that the latin phrase campus stellae (star field) is the origin. In answer to this theory, SpanishDict.com user Nina San says, "... it is unlikely such a phonetic evolution takes account of normal evolution from Latin to Galician-Portuguese." Her answer sounds right to me. She suggests a more plausible latin compositum tella, which means burial ground.
I've heard several pilgrimage aficionados claim that compostela is derived from spanish, campo de estella. Again with the field of stars. This would be neat, but doesn't seem entirely likely.
I love the concept of compostela meaning field of stars. I have a feeling that burial ground is more credible.