Wednesday, June 13, 2007


We left Rua before dawn, and in the courtyard of the country-house complex where we stayed the night, the brightest thing was the Coke machine´s red and white glow. For the first half hour of the walk, maybe more, most of the group stayed together, though I think most of us could have guessed from our experience of the past two weeks that we wouldn´t arrive that way in Santiago. We´d settle into our private paces: someone would soon get quiet and fall behind, or perhaps march ahead, or linger at one of the bars we´d stop at along the way.

I´m having trouble remembering the pre-dawn part of the walk. I´ve got a picture in my head of the dark blue sky and the silhouettes of houses and trees against it, or the forests of eucalyptus we´d learned to spot over the past few days, but these are general images I can´t tie to particular conversations or spots on the map.

Later parts of the day I remember better. At one point, Dr. Gyug picked a few sprigs from the wild anise he´d noticed on the side of the road and passed them out to a few of us to chew on. John and I spoke about what it might have been like for medieval pilgrims on the camino. He told me about wealthy pilgrims, nobles who traveled on horseback with caravans of servants and donated to churchs along the way. It was a nice reminder that I´d narrowed my image of the medieval pilgrim a bit too much: I always thought of a solitary traveler in a gray cloak and sandals, plodding along with a wooden cane. I mentioned that I had a difficult time understanding the idea of a religious motive -- both what the pilgrimage could have meant to medieval pilgrims as an aspect of spiritual practice and what it means to pilgrims who identify themselves as religiously motivated in the present day.

Jackie and I reached Santiago cathedral together after winding through the infinite streets of Santiago about a half hour behind Jim and Connor. We found the two of them lying on their backs in the plaza, facing the cathedral doors with their heads propped up on their backpacks. Pilgrims continued to arrive: I saw a woman rock backwards from a sitting position so she could photograph her feet with the cathedral in the background, and a troupe of German pilgrims singing into a video camera held by one of their friends.

Santiago cathedral was astounding. I hadn´t pictured it so elaborate and so huge. Santiago makes sense to me as a final destination: you´re greeted by this magnificent building whose scale surpasses anything you might have seen along the way, and where before there were straggling pilgrims spread out along the path, in Santiago there were throngs of pilgrims and tourists everywhere. When we went to mass at noon, we found ourselves among dozens of pilgrims standing in a ring around the cathedral pews, which were already
packed with families from the local population.

That night we gathered at a local bar for queimada, a traditional Galician drink that´s mixed in a large bowl, flavored with coffee beans and citrus rinds, and then lit on fire. Our bartender stirred the flames and led us through an incantation in gallego, and then stirred some more. And some more. We learned, as we shed layers of clothing in our crowded corner of the room, why queimada is typically a winter drink.
We were able to take some time at the bar to reflect on our experience of the camino. There were some running themes: how we liked that we formed a community within our own group and with other pilgrims we´d spoken with along the way, how for some the last mass and the arrival and Santiago was quite powerful, for others less so. We plan to meet again in September, and I look forward to seeing what we´ve come up with processing our time on the camino since then. For my part, what I´m most curious about is whether the patterns I grew accustomed to on the walk -- the patience I think I developed, and the way of thinking things over (for hours and hours...) -- will endure as time off the camino increases. We will see.

Well, team, that´s all I´ve got -- we made it. Thanks for being such great company on the long walk. Remember: break in your boots, tip lightly, and beware of monocultures. Can´t wait to see you guys again in the fall.

-- Paul

1 comment:

Tracy said...

Hola Peregrinos Todos,
I just read your Camino Blog and I have to tell you that it has brought back some precious memories. Especially loved the photo of the interior of the Cathedral. The angle is perfect. It's very hard to capture on film that feeling of immense gradness that the place gives. I looked long and hard through my own photos before deciding on the cover for my new book.
I hope you won't mind if I share something of that book with you here.
I walked my own Camino in 1999 from the Pyrenees. There is still no doubt in my mind that it was perhaps the most important thing I have ever done, and, as it does with all pilgrims remains a constant influence in my everyday life.
Along the way, somewhere between Ponferrada and Cacabelos, my fellow pilgrim, and a Gnostic priest, told me that there was increasing conjecture that it was not S. James buried in Compostela at all, but a "heretic" named Priscillian. I countered that I had never heard of Priscillian, but the idea wouldn't go away. So when I got back, I began to do a bit of research and what I found was fascinating indeed. Priscillian's story had all the elements of a best seller: persecution and injustice, alternative faiths, a scandal or two, but no such book existed. So I decided the only thing to do was write my own!
Pilgrimage to Heresy has been recently published in the US. It is "novel" in so much as the story and dialogue are my own, but, the historical detail, such as we know it, is accurate, and it presents Priscillian's philosophy dovetailed with the thoughts of Miranda, a modern day Canadian pilgrim, who is looking for the basis for her own beliefs and insights into her own spirituality. If you have walked the Camino, or plan to, I would be very surprised if you do not find something of yourselves within its pages.
For more information, see where you can read about Priscillian, my own Camino, and some links to Gnosticism, as well as ordering information. You can also read some pages from the book.
If you wish to read the Prologue and the first chapter, see also ... 124&page=3
Pilgrimage to Heresy will not be to everyone's taste. It challenges established ideas about the pilgrimage and particularly asks "Who is buried in Compostela?" Ultimately, perhaps it doesn't matter: it is the Camino we experience in our hearts which lasts. Either way, it asks pertinent questions about the idea and rationale of going on a Pilgrimage in the 21st century.
I hope you enjoy reading about it.

Ultreia y Buen Camino
Tracy Saunders