Medieval pilgrims made their pilgrimages for basically three reasons: supplication, atonement and thanksgiving. It’s a way of praying in a very physical way. The pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela has been one of the most popular pilgrimage routes of the middle ages and continues to be popular today, where many different routes eventually come together and lead the pilgrim to the tomb of Saint James, one of the 12 Apostles, in the Cathedral of Santiago. For us, this will be a pilgrimage of thanksgiving for all of the gifts God has bestowed on us these past 31 years and perhaps there might just be a component of atonement! And we go with a hope that our hearts can remain open to receive God in whatever way, whenever, and however He chooses to reveal Himself. Medieval authors wrote of the pilgrimage and prepared early guides, but it is a much more modern author whose words speak to this journey, JRR Tolkien through the words of Bilbo Baggins:
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”
And Bilbo’s advice to Frodo:
It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
And a modern religious poet, John O’Donohoe, inspires a hope in us to awake and walk each day in the spirit of what he describes in his poem “Morning Prayer” from his book To Bless the Space Between Us…
I bless the night that nourished my heart
To set the ghosts of longing free
Into the flow and figure of dream
That went to harvest from the dark
Bread for the hunger no one sees.
All that is eternal in me
Welcomes the wonder of this day,
The field of brightness it creates
Offering time for each thing
To arise and illuminate.
I place on the altar of dawn:
The quiet loyalty of breath,
The tent of thought where I shelter,
Waves of desire I am shore to
And all beauty drawn to the eye.
May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shells of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.
May I have the courage today
To live the life I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.
Obviously we hope to be swept off to Santiago de Compostela and to pursue this path with eager feet. Fortuitously the year 2016 has been designated a Holy Year by Pope Francis which could mean more pilgrims than usual, but it could also be an auspicious time to make the trek to the tomb of the Apostle.
A little background and history about this pilgrimage might help. First, however, we should say something about why we posted a GoFundMe page, which several good friends encouraged us to do.
We had been saving for this trip for some time but we do live on a limited income and with research began to realize that there is more to undertaking such a pilgrimage than first thought. It became clear that the cost would be more than what we had saved so far and would have saved in time for the trip. We will go early September into October and as the saying goes, we’re not getting any younger. So in the spirit of our mendicant monk forebears and knowing that many pilgrims before us have made this journey only through the generosity and support of those who accompanied them in spirit, we will embark on our journey with gratitude for the support and prayers that make this pilgrimage possible.
It will be a journey of gratitude for these many years of God’s gift of our love and commitment to and for one another. It will be a journey in which we will hold in our hearts the intentions of all those friends who are supporting us. What the pilgrimage will be in the end, what it will hold, and what it will reveal to us remains a mystery as does so much in life. And all those who travel with us in our hearts and spirit will be a part of our daily prayer along the Camino and we would be happy to carry whatever intentions you might like to send us.
BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
The Way of St. James was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages of the Middle Ages. Legend holds that the remains of St. James were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain, where he was buried in what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.
The scallop shell, often found on the shores in Galicia, has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Over the centuries the scallop shell has taken on mythical, metaphorical and practical meanings, even if its relevance may actually derive from the desire of pilgrims to take home a souvenir.
The scallop shell also acts as a metaphor. The grooves in the shell, which meet at a single point, represent the various routes pilgrims traveled, eventually arriving at a single destination: the tomb of James in Santiago de Compostela. The shell is also a metaphor for the pilgrim: As the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up onto the shores of Galicia, God’s hand also guides the pilgrims to Santiago.
As the symbol of the Camino de Santiago, the shell is seen very frequently along the trails. The shell is seen on posts and signs along the Camino in order to guide pilgrims along the way. The shell is even more commonly seen on the pilgrims themselves. Wearing a shell denotes that one is a traveler on the Camino de Santiago. Most pilgrims receive a shell at the beginning of their journey and either attach it to them by sewing it onto their clothes or wearing it around their neck or by simply keeping it in their backpack.
Modern-day pilgrimage routes
This is the route we are planning
Pilgrims on the Way of St. James walk for weeks or months to visit the city of Santiago de Compostela. Some Europeans begin their pilgrimage on foot from the very doorstep of their homes, just as their medieval counterparts did.
Along the French border, a common starting point is Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, on the French side of the Pyrenees, and Roncesvalles, on the Spanish side. (The distance from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela through León is about 780 km. This route is known as the French Route and is the most popular one). An alternative is the Northern Route nearer the Spanish coast along the Bay of Biscay, which was first used by pilgrims to avoid travelling through the territories occupied by the Muslims in the Middle Ages. Our intention is to walk the French Route.
Credencial or pilgrim’s passport
Most pilgrims carry a document called the credencial, purchased for a few euros from a Spanish tourist agency, a church or parish house on the route, a refugio, their church back home, or outside of Spain through the national St. James organization of that country. The credencial is a pass which gives access to inexpensive, sometimes free (donation based), overnight accommodation in refugios along the trail. Also known as the “pilgrim’s passport”, the credencial is stamped with the official St. James stamp of each town or refugio in which the pilgrim has stayed. It provides pilgrims with a record of where they ate or slept, and serves as proof to the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago that the journey was accomplished according to an official route, and thus the pilgrim qualifies to receive a compostela (certificate of completion of the pilgrimage).
To all those who will be supporting us as we undertake this pilgrimage, we offer our deepest gratitude.