A 800km walk down a mediaval footpath under the stars of the milky way in Northern Spain
"This is the way of peace:
Overcome evil with good,
and falsehood with truth,
and hatred with love."
Why make this pilgrimage?
I have always had a yearning to do things that challenge me -- to take the road less travelled, to explore the unknown territory. Deciding to walk the Camino de Santiago-- making the pilgrimage to Santiago Compostela, is not taking a road less travelled -- on the contrary -- thousands walk this road every year! Nor is it unknown territory -- it is probably the best known pilgrimage of all time. But for me it will be -- finally taking on this challenge that I had set myself several years ago will be the road less travelled and an unknown territory in my personal life in every sense.`
Father Frank de Gouveia said:
“Every major religion has a tradition and practice of pilgrimage.
Pilgrimage is a ritual journey, either alone or in a group, with the aim of achieving purification, perfection or salvation; a religious experience in which a series of bonds are established between a place of this world and a higher sphere, between an individual traveller and a community, between a flesh-and-blood pilgrim and he who is reborn, purified by the consummation of his goal. These bonds are what distinguish pilgrimage from other types of journey or travel.
Pilgrimage requires a sacred journey, a sacred place and a sacred goal. The sacred place may take many forms – a tree, a spring, a mountain, or a place where holy relics are revered. On the journey – a metaphor of earthly life – a personal transformation is initiated and effected through a series of rites that culminate in the moment of arrival. Here, his goal attained, the pilgrim is reborn, a new man.”
All the above refers to pilgrims in the traditional sense. Of course, many people do the camino for other reasons – they may be keen walkers who want to do a truly long walk, they may want to walk on Roman roads or see famous places, they may want to find themselves or ponder the meaning of life and their place in it. They may be religiously motivated or simply look for a spiritual experience. They may hope to find the reason for their need to make the pilgrimage along the way....
Pilgrims have been travelling to Santiago de Compostela on foot or horseback for over a thousand years. (The Bishop of Le Puy, who went there in AD 950, was one of the first). Some say the cult of the spiritual traveller along the path existed even earlier as the way led to Cape Finisterre the end of the known world.
The route to Santiago was a Roman trade-route. It was nicknamed by travellers la voje ladee, the [i]Milky Way. It was the road under the stars. The pale arm of the Milky Way that stretched out and pointed the way to the edge of the known world : to Cape Finisterre, and Santiago --- far away under the mists and Atlantic skies of Galicia, woods and water in a Celtic landscape of menhirs and lost gods that exert an appeal that is infinitely pre Christian.
Its 800 kilometers from the Saint Jean Pied de Port in the foothills of the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in the western reaches of Galicia have changed little in that time. For although sections of it have now become modern tarred roads and many of the refuges and other accommodation set up by religious orders along the way to minister to the needs of pilgrims have long since disappeared, the Camino still passes through the same villages, crosses the same rivers, visits the same chapels, churches, cathedrals and other monuments as did the path taken by our predecessors in centuries gone by.
At the height of its popularity in the eleventh and twelfth centuries over half a million people a year are said to have made the pilgrimage from different parts of Europe, the majority of them from France.
The high point of the pilgrimage occurred between the years 1000 and l500 but although numbers dwindled after that, due to the Reformation and other, political, factors, the stream of pilgrims making the trudge westwards to the far reaches of Galiciain north-west Spain never completely dried up and in the late twentieth century is making something of a comeback.
Several thousand people walk the Way of St James (Sant' Iago) every year, whether from the Pyrenees, from different parts of France or from even further afield: it is not uncommon, even nowadays, to meet Swiss, German, Belgian or Dutch pilgrims, for example, who have set out from home to make the entire journey on foot. The Cathedral authorities in Santiago maintain a register of pilgrims and in 1991 recorded a total of 7274 travelling on foot, bicycle or horseback (compared with 5760 in 1989, the year of the Pope's August visit there, and 4918 in 1990).