In October 2011 I completed a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella in Spain following the ancient path called the Camino Frances. My journey took approximately 36 days, with rest days along the way. I will attempt, through a few humorous blogs and photographs, to convey the spirit and beauty of this incredible route, without, however, dwelling on the religious aspect of the walk. I kept a daily diary, which I originally planned to use for blogs, but my walk became such a personal and deep inner journey that this is no longer appropriate for me to share.
What made my walk a pilgrimage as opposed to just a long distance walking holiday was the intention behind the journey. What exactly is a pilgrimage, one might ask? There are probably as many explanations of a pilgrimage as there are routes to Santiago, and there are also just as many reasons why people walk The Way of St James as it is also called.
A pilgrimage is a journey embarked on alone or with companions, with the intention of connecting with the Divine in a profound manner, thereby seeking purification, redemption or knowledge. During the course of this experience the pilgrim joins a small community of fellow walkers, each intent on attaining their goal of arriving at a holy site by having to make enormous personal sacrifices and expend great physical effort to achieve their sacred mission. The journey becomes a metaphor of life on earth and during the walk, with many hours of contemplative awareness, a significant inner alchemical process takes place, and on arriving at the site, the pilgrim is transformed on many levels.
From birth to death, on our personal pilgrimage of Life, we are constantly faced with challenging situations where we have to make choices that result either in our personal happiness or private hell. After death, according to our beliefs, we arrive at our sacred site, which is either heaven or knowledge – or oblivion if we are non-believers!
There are many books that have enticed people to become pilgrims or simply walk the Camino, the most famous being those written by Paulo Coelho, Shirley MacLaine and Hape Kerkeling. Forgive me – I know there are other famous writers on the subject, but these are the names that I heard mentioned most often on the Camino. Martin Sheen has recently released a movie called The Way, which is bound to draw thousands more feet to this ancient path.
St James is the patron saint of both the Camino and Spain. His ministry was devoted to converting the pagans in Galicia, more especially at Finisterre where Druidic rituals and initiations were the order of the day. Realizing that he was not having much success, he returned to Jerusalem where he was unfortunately beheaded at the order of Herod. His remains were brought back to Spain and many legends abound about miracles he has performed along the Camino. Today the scallop shell has become the symbol of the walk, along with images of St James wearing pilgrim attire and holding a staff and a bible.
The Camino still has mystical pagan overtones, with Celtic symbols and witches adorning buildings alongside the conventional religious statues of saints and angels. Folks can walk the same route and have no religious epiphanies or visions, but for the ones who are open to the Divine and prayerfully walk the way, the pilgrimage becomes a meaningful spiritual experience.
For those who walk the way without a spiritual goal in mind, it is merely an enormous challenge, a walking holiday or time out from everyday life after a traumatic event like a death, divorce, illness or a personal challenge that needs consideration. It is a journey that can be done on foot, by bicycle or on horseback. On arrival in Santiago de Compostella, those who have completed the requirements of the journey receive an ornate certificate – a very prized trophy – for all the hardships endured.
I hope that you will enjoy my blogs and photos of this amazing walk over the coming weeks.