Occitania / Pyrenees-Mediterranean is the region with the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites listed as main staging posts on St James's Way.
Of the 76 monuments listed in France, 33 are in Occitania / Pyrenees-Mediterranean, on the Le Puy route, the Arles route and the Pyrenean Foothills route, all three of which pass through Occitania.
What's more, in Occitania 6 sections of the route are listed as World Heritage Sites, all of them on the Le Puy route which enters the region in the Aubrac.
Basilicas and little churches, bridges and symbolic features: UNESCO has taken into account the host of constituent parts and values expressed by these legendary pathways.
From the most humble to the most prestigious
The roll call of monuments listed by UNESCO includes the 'flagship' attractions of the Abbey Church of Sainte Foy in Conques, the Abbey Church of Saint Gilles du Gard, the Abbey Church of Saint Guilhem le Désert, the Basilica of Saint Sernin in Toulouse and the Abbey Church of Saint Pierre in Moissac, major staging posts that lit the way for the crowds of pilgrims treading the path.
The list also includes, for example, the Pont Valentré in Cahors, the Pont d’Artigues in Gers and the church in Gavarnie. These links in the chain, both humble and prestigious, are representative of the symbolism of the act of crossing something on the pilgrimage, when crossing a col in the Pyrenees or crossing a river became part of a spiritual endeavour.
Alongside the religious heritage, UNESCO's list includes some civil monuments such as the Hôpital Saint Jacques in Figeac, a reminder of the network of places where pilgrims were welcomed and given succour, solace and sustenance.
A cultural, spiritual and human dimension
In addition to the built environment, in its recognition of St James's Way UNESCO took into account the considerable intangible aspect of these monuments, which they still bring to life. The traditions, the tales and legends that they harbour, the solidarity and hospitality that come across at the different staging posts, the feeling of surpassing oneself and fulfilment that walking St James's Way often brings: all this makes St James's Way an ongoing and enduring part of our heritage which lies at the heart of what it means to be human.