September 18, 2018
May your days be many and your troubles be few. May all God’s blessings descend upon you. May peace be within you, may your heart be strong. May you find what you’re seeking wherever you roam. ~ Irish Blessing
While staying in A Coruña I noticed Camino way markers – the classic shell and yellow arrow combination. How did I overlook them when I was here in April? Come to find out, one of several other camino routes, the Camino Inglés, can be started from here! Alternatively and more commonly, those who walk the Inglés Way start from Ferrol, another Galician town northeast of here which typically adds another four days to a pilgrim’s walk. The two branches join up in the town of Bruma. Total distance from Ferrol is 119 kilometers, and only 75 kilometers if beginning in A Coruña. Since there is a requirement to walk a minimum of 100 kilometers to receive a completion certificate (“compostela”) most modern day pilgrims will start in Ferrol.
However, as of December 2016, the Cathedral made an exception for Camino Inglés from A Coruña, based on the past tradition of pilgrims arriving here from their European homes. As long as a peregrino can authenticate prearrival travel of 25 kilometers, a compostela can be received upon completion of of the 75 kilometers from A Coruña.
The English way or Camino Inglés started in the Medieval Ages because of the strategic position of Ferrol and A Coruña, main ports to enter Galicia for Northern Europeans, such as English, Scottish, Irish and Scandinavians who came to Spain to buy and sell goods. The name “English Way” comes from the route that British sailors used in crossing the sea with merchandise to sell and to visit the famous Christian sanctuaries.
They would arrive at these two main ports and then walk to different Galician cities and villages; Santiago was not their main objective. In the mid-14th century, taking advantage of the commercial flows of that time, pilgrimage started to be more and more popular among sailors as they wanted to experience some of the Spanish Christian sanctuaries. When they arrived at Galicia the route became calm and safe and they could easily reach Santiago de Compostela in just a few days. This time savings was an advantage versus the French Way in which crossing the Pyrenees took considerable time and it was also safer given the many thieves along the Camino Francés
Main ports used to board for Galicia from England include Bristol, Newcastle, London and Southampton and Galway or Dublin from Ireland. Pilgrims used to choose the English Way after reaching Galicia because they could stay in monasteries and hospitals. It has been recorded that some Crusaders and Templar pilgrims from the 11th century on their way to Jerusalem would during their stopover in A Coruña, walk to Santiago to ask St James for protection in the Holy Land. This fact became so popular that knights from all over Europe stopped in Galicia to go and visit Santiago. (I gathered much of this information from the pilgrim.es website)
Galicia is a region unto its own in Spain and has a very Celtic vibe.The language is Gallego, a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese. Almost all place names in Galicia have two names – one in Spanish and one in Gallego! This town is also called “La Coruña,” which is the Spanish version.
A Coruña is a northwestern Spanish seaport, along with Ferrol, where the Camino Inglés begins. This is where the medieval pilgrims disembarked from boats to start their trek to Santiago de Compostela.
A visual attention getter in this port town are the glass walled structures. Known as “galerias”, they are actually glass enclosed balconies so that they may be used year round and they are everywhere in the city, adding an interesting appearance to the buildings. The town of A Coruña is known as the glass city, because of this feature.
One of the churches in A Coruña, is the Church of Santiago, or Igrexa de Santiago.. The building was initiated in the 12th century with additions in the 13th and 14th. Apparently the church houses a very famous 13th century statue of St. James.
La Coruña’s main downtown is on a lovely little peninsula which in the usual European fashion contains a lot of history. We started our Sunday walk from our hotel and headed out to the waterfront along the Avenida da Marina. This avenue is part of a promenade that circles the peninsula. Later we made our way to a long strip of beach that fronts the Atlantic Ocean. We attempted to visit the St Augustin Market but alas, closed on Sundays. We walked over ten miles and were pooped enough to eat dinner in the hotel’s lounge at 6:30 since all the restaurants are in “siesta” until 7:30 (only a couple) 8:00 or 8:30 (the norm) or 9:00 (not unusual). All day long though it was such a fun, family vibe!! As in Santiago de Compostela where we saw several rounds of a short niños (youngsters) “fun run” after dark with 50+ in each round!) we also happened to catch a policia escorted niños roller skating race culminating in the busy Plaza Mayor. And so many kiddos on scooters and kicking soccer balls!
Monday we headed north to the western tip of the peninsula, and eventually came upon the Torre de Hércules or Tower of Hercules. There are lots of legends surrounding this tower. It has held a prominent place in history, commerce and safety of the harbor at A Coruña.
One legend is that Hercules slayed a giant here, after three days and nights of continuous battle. He then buried his head and ordered that a city be built upon the site. This is how the coat of arms of the city of A Coruña came to have a skull and crossbones on it, representing the buried head of the enemy, under the city!
The other legend is that a king of Galicia and ancestor to the Gaels by name of Breogán built a tower so tall that his sons could see a green island from its top. This island turned out to be Ireland, and this is how the migration to there began.
What we do know for sure is that the Tower was originally built by the Romans and has been in existence since the 2nd century. It is the oldest Roman lighthouse still in use! Over the centuries, the original building was rejuvenated and refurbished, most notably in the 17th century.
As we approached this historic monument, we were unable to see it at all, the fog was so thick. Divinely the tower fully emerged when we were within a few yards as the sun finally won!’ We hiked on down the slope of the other side to a most idyllic little beach called the Playa de las Lapas. We had a nice picnic (with supplies from the St Augustin Market, which WAS open this morning!) and soon we were once again enveloped in fog.
After our long morning of another 10+ miles, we lounged by the pool, fortifying us to join the local throngs for a “late” dinner, our last Galician fare which I will surely miss!
Today we are traveling all day by train to Madrid, due to arrive after 6:30 p.m. I miss being a pilgrim, but being in a Camino town, seeing other peregrinos and still schlepping my mochilla around helps with the withdrawals a little…
Here are some details about the “compostela” peregrinos receive upon concluding their Caminos. As a result of increased pilgrimages during the 9th and 10th centuries it was determined that there was a need to certify that pilgrims had in fact completed the itinerary following the established premises of walking for religious or spiritual reasons. These two reasons gave pilgrims privileges when it came to receiving assistance or accommodation.
Before Compostela, pilgrims used to receive a scallop shell when they arrived at Santiago but apparently it was very easy to cheat and obtain a false shell. The underlying rules once the compostela became established bind peregrinos to obtain stamps on a “credential” that certify that they have gone through all the necessary villages and have stayed the night in some as well. A
When the Catholic Monarchs built the Hospital de peregrinos in the 16th century (now Hostal de los Reyes Católicos, a state-owned hotel) pilgrims that had Compostela could stay there for three nights for free.