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Pilgrims' Progress

SPAIN | Friday, 3 June 2011 | Views [849]

Finally made it: Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Finally made it: Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Some come alone, others travel in organized groups, and most walk in twos and threes.  Some ride bikes but the majority are on foot.  They come from Spain and France, from England and Germany.  A few are from North America.  Some cover all 500 or so miles while others walk only the most scenic parts, using the bus or train to skip the more tedious sections.  Nearly everyone carries a staff or uses trekking poles and most attach a scallop shell to their packs.  They are the “caminantes” on the Way of Saint James.  And their destination is Santiago de Compostela.

The pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, El Camino de Santiago, was considered one of the three most important in Christendom, along with Rome and Jerusalem, and the devout have been making the journey for more than one thousand years.  They come to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela to pay homage to the remains of Saint James.  In case you haven’t kept up on your saints, James was one of the twelve apostles and the first to become a martyr.  Of the several miracles attributed to him, his appearance more 1000 years after his death to fight for the Christians against the Moors made him the patron saint of Spain.  His bones, which were MIA for centuries, now supposedly rest in the Cathedral.

When the pilgrims finally reach the plaza the atmosphere probably isn’t much different than it was hundreds of years ago.  There is still music and reunions, buskers and beer, food and wine.  Bagpipes and drums are reminders of the Celts who made the journey.  No doubt there are still pickpockets and prostitutes among the masses.  There is a feeling of pride and perhaps piety, too, among the caminantes.  And certainly relief at journey’s end.  After a visit to the cathedral to hug the statue and honor the remains of St. James, followed by the traditional fish dinner, for most it is back to work.  Many, I suppose, have trouble readjusting after four to six weeks on the Camino.  I imagine a number of romantic liaisons developed along the way and wouldn’t be surprised if the stress of the journey helped end a marriage or two.

I confess!  Heathens that we are, Connie and I did not walk the Camino de Santiago.  It would have been a logistic nightmare since we have everything we own with us.  We have backpacked throughout Colorado, in the Canadian Rockies and in the Swiss Alps and, frankly, we just weren’t interested.  We followed the route by train from Pamplona to Burgos, Leon and finally Santiago and have watched the pilgrims’ progress.  May God bless them!



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