As you research or walk the Camino de Santiago you will come across two greetings – Buen Camino and Ultreia! These words are almost synonymous with the pilgrimage walk through Spain because of their long histories.
What Does Ultreia Mean?
Ultreia is a greeting used on the routes of the Camino de Santiago. It is much less common than the often heard “Buen Camino!” but you will still meet some people who use it.
Both greetings are welcome and show a sense of fellowship and camaraderie on the Way of Saint James. You can call them out to people as you see them, you can use them to wish people well as you part ways. They are a friendly salutation and way of acknowledging each other’s journey.
Where Does the Word Ultreia Come From?
This is a fascinating question. Because “Ultreia” has such a long spoken history the true meaning of the word is debated.
You will find references to Ultreia in medieval times and in the “original” Camino guide – the Codex Calixtinus (12th century). It is the title of a walking song that pilgrims sing on the Camino – the ‘Song of Ultreia’.
One theory comes from the Latin etymology of the word. The word ‘Ultreia’ (also ‘ultrella’ or ‘ultreya’) comes from Latin and it means ‘beyond’. This understanding means that the salutation says “Let’s go further”, “Let’s go forward”.
This idea of moving forward towards Santiago de Compostela is common among pilgrims, so the idea of a greeting that is a form of encouragement makes sense.
The second theory is that “Ultreia” means “Hallelujah”. Pilgrims use it as a celebration and an acknowledgement of the pilgrimage’s religious roots. Thus, Ultreia is considered more than a greeting on the Camino de Santiago, it is an exclamation of joy.
Replying to Ultreia with Et suseia
As with many older greetings, there is a response that goes with it that is different to the greeting. In the case of “Ultreia” the historic response would sometimes be “Et suseia!”
“Et Suseia” consists of “sus-“, meaning “higher” and “-eia”, meaning “beyond”. One salutes, saying “let’s go further,” and the other answers by exclaiming “let’s go higher.”
“Et Suseia” can also be used by itself as a greeting on the Camino de Santiago. Some scholars believe that the complete salutation was actually “Ultreia, Suseia, Santiago”- “beyond and higher, onto Santiago”.
Overall, the use of the “Ultreia et Suseia” on the Camino de Santiago is used to express that the pilgrims acknowledge each other, encourage each other, and hope to meet again.
Learn more about Buen Camino, the Scallop shell, and other symbols of the Camino de Santiago on our blog.
Whatever greeting you choose, we hope that you meet many wonderful pilgrims on your travels and that you feel the warmth of the joined experience.
If you are interested in starting to plan your Camino de Santiago – get in touch with us! We would love to help you to discover the historic and spiritual Way of Saint James in Spain.
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Originally published on 10th August 2021