I have a couple of friends who walked one of the routes of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. This is a network of trails that lead to a famous cathedral in Santiago, the Santiago de Compostela, which is a famous shrine to the apostle Saint James the Great. The city is near the coast in the upper left corner of Spain.
There are a number of starting points throughout Europe and even in England, but the most common are in Spain and Portugal. A very traditional route begins in France, near Spain’s border, and follows a route through the countryside across the top of Spain. It is about five hundred miles of walking, and this is the route that my friends took.
Thirty-one days later, they walked into the famous cathedral and watched the evening service performed in honor of those walkers who finished their treks. My friends later produced a forty-five minute DVD of their experience, so I was able to watch a shortened version of their journey.
Walking the Camino de Santiago has been done for centuries and millions of people have done varying parts of the trail network. Some two hundred thousand people typically walk parts of it every year, and the towns and villages along the way have developed hostels, hotels, bed and breakfasts, and dormitories for overnight stays, as well as numerous places to eat along the different routes. Of course, there are also businesses that provide guided walks, assisted walks (vans and drivers), preplanned hotels and restaurants, and other aids for those who want the experience but cannot physically accomplish the whole experience.
The key word for describing the experience of walking the Camino is that it is a pilgrimage.
A pilgrimage is a journey undertaken for a reason or cause. Many people go on a pilgrimage in the name of other people; many walk in honor of a cause; many walk for inner peace, or the need for accomplishment, or because of religious fervor and/or rededication. Some, of course, walk it to have done it, or walk it as a vacation experience.
Going on a pilgrimage is nothing unique to Santiago or to Spain. There are recognized pilgrim’s trails throughout the world, and the reasons for walking any or all of a particular route varies with purpose, passion, dedication, interest, or for sightseeing. Going on the journey can be for any number of reasons.
There is an annual pilgrimage in New Mexico that occurs this Friday, the day designated as Good Friday, the Friday before Easter.
Hundreds of people, starting from several points throughout Northern New Mexico, walk to the Santuario de Chimayo, a historic Catholic church tucked away in the small village of Chimayo, which is twenty-some miles north of Santa Fe, in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. It is believed that the church is a location for special healing, and many walk the pilgrimage to receive special blessings related to health. Many others do it in memory of loved ones.
I have recently finished a (fiction) book that describes one man’s unexpected journey to see a friend before the friend dies. Written by a wonderful writer named Rachel Joyce, it is a rich and enthralling tale called The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I enjoyed it very much and recommend it.
We should all be so fortunate to go on a pilgrimage such as Harold’s.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.