Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Destination Santiago: Pilgrims Learn to Pray with Their Feet on the Way to St. James' Burial Site in Spain

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Destination Santiago: Pilgrims Learn to Pray with Their Feet on the Way to St. James' Burial Site in Spain

Article excerpt

THERE IS SOMETHING DEEPLY HUMAN--THE LONGING for what lies beyond the horizon, the mysterious, inner space, God--and popular about pilgrimage. It's a rich menu of holiday, sport, and devotion doused, according to taste, in a potent penitential sauce. The penitential aspect rarely dominates: Going on pilgrimage is just too much fun. Judging by the huge masses of pilgrims wandering along the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James), as the pilgrimage route to Santiago is popularly called, the idea of pilgrimage is experiencing an acute revival in Europe.

Santiago's claims to such renewed attention are based on an ancient popular tradition that alleges that the apostle St. James traveled as far as Spain to preach the gospel. Following his execution at Caesarea in 44 A.D. by King Herod, his bones are said to have been transported back to and buried in Spain. Centuries later in 825 mysterious lights appeared over an open field and songs of angels were heard in a cluster of shrubs covering an ancient Roman burial place. The local bishop, called in to investigate, identified one of the tombs as being the sepulchre of St. James. Thus the name Santiago de Compostela (St. James of the Field of Stars) and a place of pilgrimage were born.

Since the Middle Ages, Santiago de Compostela has attracted a steady stream of pilgrims mostly traveling on foot along historic routes from across Europe. The present-day rehabilitation of the Camino has greatly improved the infrastructure of walking paths and refugios (hostels where pilgrims can stay for a small donation). Yellow arrows and images of seashells--the emblematic attribute of St. James--now guide the modern walking pilgrim from St. Jean Pied-de-Port to Santiago more than 500 miles to the west.

When I walked a large section of the Spanish Camino with six friends, we encountered a Swiss lady who was walking the whole Camino on her own. "I have become totally empty," she confided, referring to the inner silence generated by the steady rhythm of solitary walking. A friend encountered two Japanese Buddhist monks who kept a steady distance of some 60 feet between them as they walked along, presumably in order not to disturb one another's contemplative space. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.