Vila do Conde has always had close ties with the St. James Way, primarily due to the strong tradition of pilgrimage in the region since the Middle Ages. The medieval bridges, the parish whose patron saint is Saint James, the monasteries with tradition of pilgrimage and even the royal pilgrimages of D. Manuel I and Filipe II of Portugal attest this fact. The Misericórdia archives in Vila do Conde make reference to the presence of pilgrims, as do the tombs in the Monastery of S. Simão da Junqueira.
Two different pilgrim trails leading to Santiago de Compostela cross Vila do Conde. Both have different stories, distinct landscapes and different chronologies.
The Portuguese Coastal Way is a variation to the Central Way, the most used trail for pilgrims travelling to Santiago de Compostela. The trail became quite popular during the 15th century, when various factors contributed to making the coastal trail more attractive and appealing. Economic growth in Vila do Conde not only in uenced the way the town grew but the number of amenities that were constructed, namely those to support the pilgrims on their way.
The camino enters the Vila do Conde region via Aveleda, coming from the D. Goimil Bridge (regions of Maia and Matosinhos) and crosses lugares de Cancaparte and Mota.
The trail then travels north towards Santiago da Labruge Church, passing through a large farming area. From lugar da Javalan, the Way then passes the “Large Shrine” built in the 19th century in Rua de Labruge, close to the border between the villages of Modivas and Vila Chã. You will be walking through forested area.
From this point you will reach the village of Mindelo, walk past the parish church as well as through the lugares (places) de Cameira and Paredes. When João Baptista Confalonieri, the Secretary of Nuncio for Lisbon, travelled through this area in 1594 on his way to Santiago de Compostela, he described Mindelo as a dispersed settlement.
The trail is relatively close to the beach and passes through the Mindelo Bird Reserve. It then continues on to lugar de Pindelo in the village of Árvore followed by lugar da Granja whichis quite near the church belonging to the ancient Capuchos Convent as well as Santa Maria de Azurara. As you walk between the various houses which depict a Manueline style, you will soon reach the south bank of the Ave river.
During a short time span the river was crossed by way of a bridge, which is mentioned in a document from 1270. However, throughout the centuries the vast majority of travellers crossed the river by boat. The right of passages belonged to the Santa Clara de Vila do Conde Convent. A document attesting this fact was found in the Manueline royal charter granted to Vila do Conde, dated September 10th 1516. Other documents confirm the existence of such a boat, as it was referenced in a municipal resolution from November 11th 1466.
Even though the crossing of the river was not done at regular intervals, the service continued until a bridge was nally built in the 18th century.
It was almost obligatory to walk past the main church (Matriz) in Vila do Conde as it was built in an area that at the turn of the century (from the 15th to the 16th) had become the political, administrative and religious centre of the community. Other pilgrims may have preferred the aid offered by the Misericórdia de Vila do Conde, built just a short distance from the main church and the new city council building.
Even though some of these institutions were built earlier on, all of them emerged at the end of the fourteen hundreds, or already in the fteen hundreds.
As was the case with other urban agglomerations, it was possible to take various trails towards the north. Nonetheless with the growth of Póvoa de Varzim in the Modern Era a branch of this trail became quite popular, leading travellers to pass by the ancient Praça Velha (Old Square) in Alto da Pega and Poça da Barca.