CAMINO OF ST. JAMES Author: Lois Gray Photos: Kay Gilmour Travel Arrangements: Ultreia y Suseia
LOISGRAY THE CAMINO OF ST. JAMES, SPAIN September 9 to September 29, 2016 180 walking miles in 17 days 15 Pilgrims: including a Priest, a Sister and Kay, Lois, Betsy & Robin C ONTENTS What is this trip about? ......................................................................................... 2 A Short History Lesson ........................................................................................... 3 Definitions of terms ............................................................................................... 6 The Scallop Shell .................................................................................................... 7 The French Way ..................................................................................................... 8 Hotels, Food, & Tourism ...................................................................................... 12 The Physical Challenge......................................................................................... 20 The PilgrimMasses .............................................................................................. 22 CONCLUSION ....................................................................................................... 27 W HAT IS THIS TRIP ABOUT ? It is one of the oldest religious pilgrimages in the world! For more than 1000 years, people have been making this journey on foot from various starting places in Europe (London, Paris, Rome, Prague, Lisbon) and now from all over the world. No matter from whence they begin, the goal is the Cathedral de Compostela in Santiago, Spain. Tradition has it that the bones of St. James Major, a disciple of Jesus Christ, are entombed there. St. James is the evangelist who brought Christianity to what is now Spain. Though he was martyred in Jerusalem, many believe that his bones were brought back to Spain to become holy relics in the care of the magnificent cathedral. Nowadays, people walk the long route for many reasons: to make a true religious pilgrimage and earn an important
indulgence, for the physical challenge that it truly is, to find space and time for solitude, peace and reflection, to meet people from around the world along the way, Probably each pilgrim has an individual reason of his/her own for making this difficult and time-consuming journey. I know that our little group of four (within the larger group of 15) would each have a different answer to the "Why Do It" question.
A S HORT H ISTORY L ESSON The Camino ("Way" in English) generally follows an ancient Roman trade route. Earliest records of visitors occur in the 9 th century usually from Spain. By the early 11 th century, visitors were arriving from outside Spain. And by the 12 th century, the pilgrimage was well organized with services for pilgrims: hostels for housing (called Albergues in Spanish) and food, chapels and churches for religious devotion, "hospitals" providing both rest and nutrition to ailing and injured pilgrims, small villages to provide these services. It was Pope Callixtus II (from Burgundy) who reigned from 1119-1124 who greatly popularized the pilgrimage by writing his Codex Callixtinus which not only became
a sort of map for the pilgrims but also stressed the religious importance of making the trip by creating a plenary indulgence awarded to those who completed it. In the modern world, a plenary indulgence is difficult enough to explain but during the centuries it has changed in significance in the Canon of the Roman Catholic Church. Probably the simplest way to define it is to say that a plenary indulgence will save the possessor from spending time in "Purgatory" for specific sins for which he has already been forgiven but not yet punished. Though the Church no longer stresses the need to earn indulgences, it still rewards the pilgrim who completes the Way of St. James with a plenary indulgence. Pope Callixtus's endorsement of the purpose for making the pilgrimage was very important in the establishment of the many towns and villages along the Way to serve the pilgrims. The modern history of the camino is almost more interesting than the centuries old stories. While use of the pilgrimage route has waxed and waned throughout its history because of wars, plagues, increases in local crimes like robbery and murder, and the deaths of many of the small villages which provided the services pilgrims need. The typical pilgrim in the middle ages would take from three months to a year to complete his walk, depending on where he started. Obviously, he was dependent on local assistance as he proceeded. Around the 1950s, there were almost no pilgrimage walkers and the tiny villages began to become ghost towns. In one year of that decade only a single pilgrim appeared to claim a Compostela (the Latin certificate of completion of the pilgrimage) at the Cathedral in Santiago! Of course, larger cities like Burgos, Leon, Pamplona and Santiago itself were not dependent for their existence on the pilgrims. But it must have seemed to anyone familiar with the Way of St. James that its significance had faded away. In the 1967, a village priest named Don Elias Valina Sampredo of O Cebreiro parish did his dissertation work on the history of the Camino and was rewarded with his doctorate. In the early 80s, he decided to restore the Camino to its previous importance among Christian faithfuls. Because the actual route had been so disused and was therefore so confusing, he decided that the best first
step should be to make the route clear and unmistakable. So what could a poor parish priest do to map the route. Of course, he walked it himself from the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain all the way to Santiago to familiarize himself with its intricacies and multiple choices. He didn't want pilgrims to be left with the old Yogi Berra conundrum "What do you do when you come to a fork in the road? Take it!) He wanted his "followers" to know which leg of the Y to continue along. After his own physical and exploratory exertions, he went to the government of Spain (Department of Roads) and literally begged for buckets of yellow paint so that he could place yellow arrows regularly along the route to guide future pilgrims. He was able to explain the importance of reviving the route to small towns and villages and to a resurgence of Christian fidelity in Spain itself. Then with whatever volunteers he could gather, he began walking the route once more placing the bright hand-drawn yellow arrows all along the way. Today you see them on stones and boulders, on the sides of buildings, on roadways, on signposts and light poles, fence posts and curbing. The good Don Elias painted them on anything he thought would not move. When that was finished, he published a guide to the route in 1982. The pivotal year for the restoration of the Camino of Santiago (St. James in Spanish) was 1985 when UNESCO named the city of Santiago a World Heritage Site. Of course, that designation put the route on the tourist circuit. In 1987, the Camino was placed on the first European Cultural Itinerary. More people became aware of the history and significance of the route. After Pope John Paul II visited Santiago in 1989, at least 5760 pilgrims followed that year. In 1985, the Spanish government had given Father Elias complete responsibility and authority over the Camino and its "resurrection." He helped restore the albergues and refugios and helped bars, restaurants and hotels to begin businesses along the Camino. Following the Pope's first visit, growth in traffic became exponential. By 1993, 88,436 people claimed a Compostela. And remember, officials at the Cathedral now believe that only 1 in 5 walkers seek that document. Here are some figures
completion. published by the Cathedral documenting pilgrims earning the certificate of
YEAR 1986 1989 1993
YEAR 1999 2004 2010
2,491 5,760 88,436
154,613 179,944 272,000
Tourist information statistics report that between 10 and 12 million people visit Santiago each year, but of course only a small percentage of that figure walk, bicycle or horseback ride the Camino and fulfill the requirements for a Compostela (official recognition of the completion). The requirements are: for walkers & horseback riders, complete at least 80 miles on foot; for bicyclists complete 200 miles; for all, get two credential stamps daily (the credential can be picked up anywhere along the way but most people get one at the their starting point), the last stamp of which must be at the Chapel of St. Mark just above the city of Santiago. Other stamps for the credential can be gotten in churches, chapels, pilgrim hospitals, hostels and alberques, bars and restaurants, & even some businesses. The stamps prove that the bearer was in these areas along the way. It is sad that Father Elias did not live to see the huge success his efforts achieved, but the continued growth in the popularity of the Camino de Santiago is evidenced by the increasing number of pilgrims (peregrinos in Spanish), by the many countries worldwide represented among the pilgrims, the many websites and blogs about the Camino on the internet, and the fact that even an American movie about the way achieved great popularity ("The Way" was produced and starred in by Martin Sheen in 2010). Many churches of all denominations (but especially Roman Catholic ones) sponsor trips to the Camino. And many companies offer tours for religious and non-religious groups.
D EFINITIONS OF TERMS
1. Camino: Spanish for "way" or "road" 2. Santiago: Spanish for St. James the Greater
3. The Scallop Shell: Pilgrims (religious or otherwise) wear a large scallop shell on their backpack or around their necks to demonstrate that they are on the pilgrimage
4. Peregrino: Spanish for pilgrim 5. Albergue: Spanish for Hostel
6. Hospital: A building used as a place where pilgrims can find food, resting places, and treatment for small health or physical problems such as blisters. Many were started by religious orders to support the pilgrimage and are still operated by them; others are traditional but not necessarily religious in origin or operation 7. "Buen Camino": Traditional greeting among pilgrims and by local people in addressing pilgrims. It means simply "Good Walk" or "Good Trip" 8. Credencial: Spanish for the Credential pilgrims must complete with at least two stamps per day at various places like churches, chapels, hostels, hotels, restaurants, bars, etc. 9. Compostela: Spanish for the document in Latin certifying that the pilgrim has completed the requirement for the pilgrimage to Santiago; for religious participants, it is the official granting of a plenary indulgence for this devotion. 10.Stage: the distance and map our trip required for each day's walk towards Santiago. T HE S CALLOP S HELL Why is the scallop shell is symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Tradition holds that when the bones of St. James were transported from Jerusalem where he was martyred to Santiago the vessel wrecked and his bones fell into the sea. When they were recovered for burial at the Cathedral of Santiago, they were covered in scallop shells. Another explanation for its use is as a metaphor for the many pilgrimage routes that lead to the Cathedral at Santiago where the relic of St. James is exalted and displayed: the deep grooves on the shell all
converge at one central point at the top of the shell. Today brass scallop shells are embedded in the paved roads where the camino enters and passes through cities. Just another method of guiding the pigrim through confusing streets.
T HE F RENCH W AY The route which our pilgrimage took is called the French Way because it originates in the French Pyrenees at Saint Jean Pied du Port. Other famous routes include the Portuguese Way which originates in Lisbon, even the British way because it originates in London, and the Camino Primitivo which is actually the oldest route and least travelled because it never developed into the pilgrim-accommodating camino that the French Way has done. There are very few hostels or even restaurants and trails are not well marked or even well-maintained. There are not as many villages or towns along the way. It is more physically challenging since it lies in a more mountainous area with more stony paths. How did our pilgrimage work? We were rather pampered "peregrinos" in that we always stayed in hotels rather than hostels and did not have to carry anything but a daypack for items we would want during the day's walk. We were accompanied by two experienced guides (who also own the company which arranged our trip).
Most importantly, we were always accompanied by a van (large enough to hold us all) which would meet us at various "checkpoints" along the day's walk (or Stage as they were called). That meant if we were tired or too blistered to continue walking, we could always ride to the next checkpoint and see how we felt then. Furthermore, the van often would take us from an endpoint of a walk and move us ahead for the next day's walk so we would not be walking through the more boring parts of the Way. As I said, we were really pampered!
Our projected walk was 180 miles in 18 days. The walk was divided into 15 "stages" (defined above). At the start of each day, we were given a laminated copy of the day's stage which included information on the towns we would walk through and the elevations and distances all along the route.
In addition, our guide would explain where the checkpoints would be for meeting up with the van. This method not only gave each of us a chance to ride if we chose or to get a snack or more water from the van, but it also allowed Ruy to keep up with us so he could tell if someone was "missing" in action. That way he knew that if someone was unable to walk to the checkpoint, and could arrange to "rescue" him/her in one way or another. At the beginning of the walk, we were all given cell phones so that we could call Ruy or he could call us if we were lagging behind or lost.
Our stage distances ranged from a low of 10 kilometers (6 miles) to a high of 25 kilometers (15 miles) with an average of about 12 miles per day. The highest elevation gain we made in a single day was 1400 feet but on average it was around 800 feet. The different terrains we followed varied from ordinary paved city streets, to cobbled roads in smaller towns, to rocky mountain paths, to wide open gravel lanes between fields of hay and other crops, to concrete pavement and very occasionally grassy rural paths. Though boots had been recommended, nowhere did we feel inadequately shod wearing our walking shoes with thick tread. On a few occasions we were walking on paths that paralleled a major automobile road very closely or we even walked along briefly on the highway. The towns and villages we passed through and/or visited ranged between one tiny village with 6 inhabitants to cities with almost 200,000 inhabitants (Leon, Burgos and Pamplona). Santiago has a population of 96,000. In comparison, Madrid is home to 3,165.000 and Barcelona 1,600,000. This northern part of Spain obviously is not the major population center of Spain. Some of the small towns and villages we walked through are really very dependent on the pilgrims to support their way of life. This plan was the one envisioned by Pope Callixtus II when he wrote his Codex to promote the pilgrim way. Our guide Ruy told us that many of the villages and hamlets are actually dying and only the Camino keeps them going. Populations are diminishing and younger family members no longer want to stay in these small areas and run touristic facilities or perform some sort of farming. This trend is not unique to northern Spain or to the Camino of Santiago. All over the world, younger people are leaving rural life to live and work in cities. After all, farming is demanding and time-consuming work which allows very little free time since cattle must be tended daily, cows must be milked twice daily, chickens and other livestock must be fed, and crops must be tended from tilling the soil, to planting the seeds, to harvesting the crop and then getting it to market somehow. And almost all the activities are dependent on forces the farmer cannot control: weather, demand, plant blights and animal diseases. No wonder young people want a different and easier life.
H OTELS , F OOD , & T OURISM Pampered as our group was, we never set foot in an albergue for the night or slept in a tent when there was no room at the inn. Our hotel reservations had been made in advance so we always knew where we would stay the night. Sometimes we walked into the city/town where our hotel was located and sometimes we would be met at the last checkpoint of the day and be driven to the hotel. Our hotels were all very comfortable and some of them were actually 4 and 5 star facilities. At least three of them were former monasteries which had been converted to hotels. These were rather spare but still very comfortable and always included en suite bathroom facilities. Even these also had beautiful paintings on the walls, period furniture, and impressive views from their windows.
The hotels were often Paradors which are definitely 5 Star establishments with incredible histories. The Spanish government owns and operates most of this type of tourist accommodation. They are generally buildings which once had served as ancient castles or palaces, forts, or public buildings. They have been upgraded and remodeled into the kind of places modern tourists want to stay and most are quite impressive and lovely.
An interesting side note is the fact that the oldest continuously operating hotel in the world sits across the plaza from the Cathedral of Santiago. This hotel was built for royal tourists including themselves by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who funded Columbus's voyages of discovery. So obviously we are talking about the hotel being constructed in the 15 th century. Perhaps it is not necessary to add, but we did not have even one night in that historic building. Everyone wants to know about the food we ate while on the pilgrim's way. Once again, our hotels provided our breakfasts and suppers and so they were included in the reservations. Only during lunch time could we be said to have been real pilgrims because we had to provide our own lunches. Most of us became scroungers because we did not want to take the time from our walking to stop in bars or restaurants to eat. So how and where did we scrounge? European breakfasts buffets, and those of Spain as well, always include breads, cold cuts, lettuce and tomatoes, and fruit along more traditional things like eggs, bacon and crepes. So we would make sandwiches
from the foodstuffs on the buffet and carry them along with us to eat when we got hungry. Water was always provided, so that would be the beverage of choice. Only occasionally did we actually eat in a bar or restaurant at lunch.
But what was the food like? Delicious is the best word to describe it and varied as well. We had no strange meats (but lamb more often than Americans like), but seafood in Northern Spain is the preferred delicacy and there we were offered strange (to us) things like octopus and squid. There were rice and fresh vegetables with every supper, tasty soups, and always some sort of dessert. Unlike Mexican cuisine, Spanish food is not highly spiced and certainly not made hot with peppers. Tomato sauces are common for stews and casseroles. I believe I can safely say that if we had not been exercising so regularly every day, we would have all put on some pounds because the food was so tasty.
Though we were with a Roman Catholic pilgrimage group, not everyone participating felt that the religious aspect was the only one that could be legitimately pursued. Most of us were taking pictures, enjoying the scenery and visiting tourist sites when possible. Churches were the most prominent of the architectural monuments we could and did visit and they are many and beautiful, even the smaller ones in small towns.
Most outstanding were the Cathedral in Zaragoza (pictured above) which we visited as we traveled by bus fromMadrid to Roncesvalles.
The French Gothic cathedral of Burgos (pictured above)
Santa María de León Cathedral
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
The oldest of these (Santiago) dates from 1205 and is the 3 rd church on that site. The newest was Burgos which dates from the 16 th century. All are some version of Gothic; there are French touches and Spanish touches as well. All are incredibly ornate and filled with magnificent artwork (both paintings and statuary) and stained glass windows. Leon has the most original stained glass (99% is original) in the world, with 129 different pieces, covering 1400 square feet. T HE P HYSICAL C HALLENGE Part of the pilgrimage no matter what your reasons for attempting the walk is the physical challenge it presents. We walked 180 miles in 17 days which is maybe more considerable than someone might imagine. We stayed in the same place for two nights only twice so that means that the long walks were daily except for one rest day in Leon. As discussed above, the trails were varied, the altitudes went from flat to 1400 ft of rise in one stage.
The individual paths and trails were sometimes flat and easy and at other times challenging with rocky terrain and steep grades.
Everyone had prepared in his/her own way for the walks and everyone seemed to be pleased with their own achievements. I would not want to describe the pilgrimage as grueling because it was not, though it was certainly not easy. As we became accustomed to the rhythms of the days, it seemed to become less taxing. But everyone was very happy to see the spires of the Cathedral of Santiago: the end of the long walk and its goal.
T HE P ILGRIM M ASSES We attended two official masses during the walk: the first one in Roncesvalles where we started our pilgrimage and the one in the Cathedral of Santiago where we ended it.
The first was held in a small chapel connected with the monastery which was the site of our first night's sleep. It was not a particularly ornate or lovely chapel, but the mass was meaningful because it was our official blessing as we started the pilgrimage.
Father Jason, the priest who accompanied us, concelebrated the mass and his was the only English we heard during the service. But since everyone was familiar with a Catholic Mass, it was not a mystery to us. It was a meaningful beginning to our individual pilgrimages as we were reminded that everyone's pilgrimage would be his/her own experience. The concluding Pilgrim Mass all attended was the all-important one in the Cathedral in Santiago. That structure was so totally different from the little chapel at the start that we were all in awe of our surroundings.
The fabulous Gothic architecture with the high vaulted ceilings, the intricate and lovely woodwork, the marvelous stone carvings, the brilliant paintings and statuary, and the mighty organ all combined to create an unexpected spiritual experience for many of us. The cathedral holds 1200 people and it appeared to be completely filled. We were lucky enough to have front row seats for the service. We learned later that a 300 Euro donation from our group made this service possible as well as insuring our amazing seats. Again, Father Jason concelebrated the mass. Pilgrims can record their country of origin when they enter the church for this mass and someone who can speak each one of the languages reads some part of the service in each of those languages: so we heard Spanish, French, English, German, Japanese, Swedish, and Italian. The high point of the service was the "Botafumeiro" -- the swinging of the giant thurible (censer), the largest in the world at 5 ft in height and 170 lbs of silver.
45 kilos of charcoal fill the censer before the tiraboleiros (the 8 men who make the thurible swing through the center aisle of the church almost touching the
ceiling) begin their rhythmic tugging on the huge ropes that carry the censer's weight.
This incredible sight is accompanied by the mighty organ whose magical tones fill all the spaces of the cathedral. This ceremony was started in the 11 th century as a symbol of prayers reaching upwards to God in his heaven. Less spiritually motivated folks thought the censer was swung throughout the church to disguise the musky odors arising from the exhausted and unwashed pilgrims. We learned later that the 8 men who make the magic happen are all descended from generation to generation from the male members of their families. So these "tiraboleiros" have an honored position in the Cathedral (they are neither priests nor monks) and are a vital part of the tradition of the swinging censer. Though we were all "in church" the pilgrims could not stifle
their awed voices calling "Wow" and "Oooh" and "Aaaah across the pews. Nor we could not greet the amazing sight with applause!
CONCLUSION The decision to make a pilgrimage is a personal one and choosing this one entails some concentrated preparation. Because there are several ways to complete the long walk, some thought must be given to the method one will choose: total independence complete with heavy backpacks and chance encounters with albergues and hostels which may or may not have roomwhen one arrives or group travel arranged by one of the many companies that provide various levels of service. As already described, we went with a church group where all arrangements had already been made for us. An easier way perhaps, but we did not feel that our method of reaching Santiago de Compostela was any less valid that anyone elses. Many of the blog sites on the internet seemed inaccurate to me once I had actually done the pilgrimage myself. For instance, some writers describe the walk as boring because so much of it is along highways. That was certainly not our experience at all—perhaps because our trip entailed being driven through some of those spots. After all, we did not cover all 450+ miles on foot (only 180 of them). Also, I don't think any of us found the walk monotonous at all. Some walkers describe the Way as more physically challenging than they had expected and indeed it is difficult to predict just how hard it will be on oneself. Only one person can decide on the level of fitness needed and that is the one who wants to do the pilgrimage. In our group many people were already exercising regularly and did not feel extra workouts were necessary. Some believed that they did need to walk more often and longer than they usually did. Some spent very little effort in preparing. All of us completed the walk and no one suffered much more than blisters and lots of tired feet and legs.
W ATCH T HIS M OVIE PS: For an additional treat - Here's a wonderful movie entitled "The Way" starring Martin Sheen. It's well worth a watch. In sum, I think that anyone who is healthy and without known physical problems can find a way to do the pilgrimage successfully by selecting the method of traveling mindfully. After all, only 80 miles of walking will qualify the pilgrim for the cherished Compostela. The Way of Saint James was exhilarating, challenging, fulfilling on many levels, spiritually uplifting, eye-filling with beautiful scenery, and lots of fun as well . Don't let the negative bloggers dissuade you! After all, as we were told in that first pilgrim mass, everyone's pilgrimage will be his/her own unique experience. And that turned out to bethe truth!
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