Camino to Santiago de Compostela
– Sir Walter Raleigh 1604
` Give me my scallop shell of quiet,
My staffe of Faith to walk upon,
My scrip of Joy, Immortall diet
My bottle of salvation
My Gowne of Glory, hopes true gage
And thus I’ll take my pilgrimage.
The Camino, which launched my post-retirement life, was quite a ride. Who would have predicted that a site of a Christian relic (St. James) in a “field of stars” (compostela) in northern Spain would have incited a virtual riot of pilgrims 2000 years later? An important destination for Christian pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages, spawning a number of routes through Spain and France,
the last 20 years has seen a sudden surge in the popularity of a walking pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The route most favoured is the 800 kilometre way that begins in St. Jean Pied du Port, France; The Camino Frances.
The Camino Frances, both sublime and challenging, begins with the formidable Pyrenees, descending into the undulating Basque country, the sweeping ‘meseta’ plains, concluding in the mountains of
Galicia. It is essentially a path for the faithful from church to church, statue to statue and cross to cross (with a few bustling town plazas, picturesque stone bridges and ancient water fountains thrown in for good Medieval measure!). In 1985, 700 pilgrims completed the Camino Frances, in 2002 that number had grown to 65,000, and in 2014, 250,000 pilgrims could claim ‘compostela status’ (a certificate awarded the
pilgrims devout enough to have walked at least the last 100 kms). From Santiago, many pilgrims choose to walk the 200 kilometre Camino Finisterre to the ‘end of the earth’, a cape on the Atlantic where the body of the apostle Saint James delivered from Jerusalem first reached the shores of Spain.
Did not really caring that an Apostles’ bones lay at the end of an
800 km long purpose-built pathway make me a fraud as a pilgrim? Did one need Catholic guilt, piety and rosary beads to
be even considered a candidate for the course? Or could one be welcomed for one’s other humble intentions…
To savour the landscape, and not take for granted one single charming Medieval village along the
way redolent with the art, architecture and history that was mere centuries in the making. To toast a culture that values strong coffee and steamed milk, and family bodegas that date back hundreds of years. To be grateful for the opportunity to sleep my way through Europe for no more than 10 euro a night (if one stayed in the designated pilgrim hostels). Likewise for the
opportunity to try out my fledgling Spanish, my apologetic French, and if nothing else, my comfort with the unknown. To re-assess my physical needs, and dare to see if 8 hours of walking a day can be
fueled by more water and less food, thereby honouring what our bodies truly need. To let the simplicity of walking be a conduit to greater spiritual and self awareness. To let it connect me to the soul of the world.