April 19, 2018
Day 14 on The Camino
The Way of St. James, or El Camino de Santiago, is an ancient Catholic pilgrimage. In centuries past, folks would head out from their European homes and just start walking to Santiago de Compostela where the bones of apostle St. James are purported to be buried. Sometimes they were sent as an act of penitence by their priest. Other times they just wanted to be able to pray over the bones and get the blessing of Spain’s patron saint James, who is thought to have brought the Christian Gospel to the country.
Over time, six main routes emerged and infrastructure grew to support the pilgrims in terms of eating and staying overnight on their journeys. The pilgrimage became less popular as time went on and many of the way markers were lost or impossible to read. And then in the 80’s, a particular priest took it upon himself to start repairing them. Now, especially after the movie, “The Way” starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez, as well as other movies, and the many books and memoirs written, the Camino has had a resurgence and an explosive increase in the numbers of pilgrims every year. My sister-in-law Di, who has completed three Caminos, has taken it upon herself to crunch the numbers of those who obtain completion certificates – by month (as well as nationalities) and it’s crazy how the numbers of pilgrims are rising!! She posts the information on a popular Facebook group page, the American Pilgrims on the Camino.
The pilgrimage has historically been a spiritual quest. Now people walk for all kinds of reasons – to deal with a loss or to mourn a loved one, to take a break from the demands of everyday life, to find oneself, as a fitness endeavor, to enjoy the companionship of friends or to meet new ones, to see a new country – even to quit smoking or to lose weight!! Now there are many tour groups offering packages as well as companies who transport backpacks and even bus “walkers” to make it easier.
A Perigrino can obtain a certificate by walking any route the last 100 kilometers into Santiago de Compostela and proving it by getting at least two stamps each day on their Camino credentials – usually at their place of lodging and a bar or two. It’s fun to see all of the different stamps accumulate!!
Consequently- it gets very busy the closer one gets to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela! I mean Crazy Busy! Last week we were lucky to see a pilgrim or two a day outside of ourselves. Today a stream of walkers set out in the morning – easily 85+!!!
Today I was no servant! I selfishly started with my group but only stayed with them 10 minutes or so, and began to walk my own comfortable pace. Not to brag, because I think I’m generally slow – focusing more on endurance, but I did begin to pass pretty much everyone! There were many bars to stop at, and I saw that numbers of pilgrims did, yet I just kept walking and walking until I got to our pre chosen albergue for the day. It took me four hours to walk the 19 km. And I ended up having three hours to myself to leisurely shower, wash my clothing, and sit out in the gorgeous courtyard enjoying the sunshine! It was heaven!!
I met two women from Calgary and several us had a lovely evening breaking bread, drinking vino tinto and chatting.
Tomorrow we walk to the Cathedral if Santiago de Compostela!!!