Displaying items by tag: Santiago de Compostela
Combining the Interior and Coastal Camino de Santiago trails in northern Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, the tour explores the historical wealth and beauty of these borderlands
Via de la Plata: The Camino from Sevilla to Santiago de Compostela
Nancy’s Book Review
Walking Your Blues Away. How to Heal the Mind and Create Emotional Well-Being by Thom Hartmann (Vermont: Park Street Press, 2006).
I was gifted this book by a body worker who walked with us along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in 2005. After sitting on the shelf unread for at least a year, the right moment finally arrived to crack open the pages. It’s a quick read and easy to access. The most compelling parts are when Hartmann discusses how walking is a potentially healing activity for emotional trauma. This concept immediately began to resonate with my own anthropological work on the contemporary reanimation of the medieval pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago in Spain, which culminated in my book Pilgrim Stories. On and Off the Road to Santiago (UC Press, 1998). In the late 1980s people from many different backgrounds, countries, walking experience and belief systems (and frequently without a religious motivation) began to take up the traditional symbols of the Santiago pilgrim, the scallop shell and staff, and set out on demanding journeys walking westward across northern Spain (and even the far corners of Europe) to reach the tomb of the apostle James the Greater in Santiago de Compostela. Every year since then, more and more people undertake this walking journey and come home with positive stories of self-discovery, personal triumph, transformation and, even, change.
I found over and over again during my research that many people were led to walk the Camino (a personal journey that can range from one day to four months depending on the walker) to work through their own personal issues. Many were at a breaking point – graduate from college, mid-life crisis, retirement – or had experienced a loss – divorce, death, employment. Whereas many pilgrimage sites, framed within a more religious context, are sought out by pilgrims to heal the suffering body, I found repeatedly that along the Camino, as they walked, people were healing the suffering soul. In Pilgrim Stories, I write:
The journey of the Camino can reveal wounds – loss, failure, fear, shame, addiction – left festering from daily life. Experiences along the way often act as the catalyst that allows them to be exposed. It has been, and appears to continue to be, a road for hopes and miracles of fulfillment of a different order. Some pilgrims, acknowledging this themselves, refer to the Camino as la ruta de la terapia, the therapy route (Frey, p. 45).
Through the walking experience people opened themselves up, usually without any perceived intention on their part, to a whole series of unforced emotional experiences. Time and again, people recounted thinking of people that had not been in their conscious thoughts for years, developing a more active dream life as well as feeling ‘more deeply’ while on the road.
In my book, I discuss this process of opening as part of the elimination of the distractions/stressors of daily life. When life is reduced to its basics and your mind is not absorbed with the minutiae of running a busy life, full of obligations and demands, all of sudden there is space for feelings, emotions, memories to come to the surface. While walking (though also many times during sleep and dreamtime), pilgrims described to me how they came to new insight, resolution or clarity regarding issues from the past. The walking became a healing process for both known and unknown or conscious/unconscious (prior to beginning the Camino) issues from the past.
In Walking Your Blues Away, Hartmann has added a new dimension to my understanding of this healing process on the cognitive level with his discussion of ‘bilateral therapy’ – the alternating stimulation of the right and left lobes of the brain ‘while thinking of a problem or issue’ (p. 30). Stimulating both the thinking and feeling parts of the brain with the bi-lateral movement, the person is able to process the experience in such a way that it is moved from the forefront of memory to the past thereby reducing its negative hold on your psyche. Apparently most of our memories are processed during our REM sleep – another form of bi-lateral stimulation. Sometimes, though, the memories are too big/painful to be worked through in REM. Bi-lateral therapy works to simulate the same type of memory processing so that painful experiences can be worked through and moved into the past. Hartmann explains, “With the walking therapy…in most cases this recognition that the experience is in the past happens during the walk itself. That is the key indicator that the session has been successful” (p. 13). By applying bilateral theory to walking (an activity that requires the constant stimulation of the brain’s left and right hemispheres with its side-to-side motion), Hartmann offers an excellent way for people to heal themselves without having to resort to traditional ‘talk therapies’, or even any kind of verbalization of the trauma or painful memories. He posits that perhaps we have been healing ourselves, since the dawn of time before we had experts – psychotherapists, psychologists, shamans, etc. – by engaging in our most fundamental human activities: walking and thinking.
His work is strongest when discussing the history of bilateral therapies and the application of them to walking based on his own experience and practice. Bilateral therapy has its origin in the development of healing techniques derived from hypnotism first recognized as therapeutic by Mesmer in the 1700s. He describes the fascinating story of Freud’s initial usage and success with bilateral therapy and hypnotism before he abandoned this path in favor of psychotherapy when hypnotism was discredited in Europe and America in the 1890s. His middle chapter on cultural bi-lateralism is over generalized and I found it to be an unnecessary distraction to the larger theme.
The last three chapters provide concrete advice on how to utilize his technique not only for resolving past trauma or negative feelings around a nagging issue but also as a means to increase creativity, motivation and physical health. His technique is thoroughly described and is easily accessible to the lay person. It consists of five steps very briefly summarized here (pp. 62-67):
1 – “Define the issue”. Figure out what’s bothering you and picture it in your head.
2 –“ Bring up the story”. Flesh out the issue and determine its level of strength inside of you.
3 – “Walk with the issue”. It usually takes less than 30 minutes to get resolution.
4 – “Notice how the issue changes”. While walking observe how your feelings around the issue shift.
5 –“Anchor the new state”. Review the transformation of the feelings to fix it in your mind.
He encourages a positive and optimistic viewpoint and helpfully reminds the reader: “Remember: There is no failure. There is only feedback. Learn from the feedback and continue on.” (p. 65)
His ideas resonate with my own observations of how people experienced the walking along the Camino. It was very common for those walking to come to some kind of resolution or decision. Many people wanted to do something more creative with their lives upon return home. Others spoke about returning to the Camino to ‘recharge their batteries’ – that the walking along the Camino gave them mental and physical energy that they felt lacking in their daily lives. Perhaps it was simply engaging in this process of bi-lateral movement while walking that allowed people to stumble along the path to their own healing process. In 2008 I interviewed a modern-day Camino legend, John the English gentleman who aids wayward pilgrims in his campervan, for a chapter I wrote for Lonely Planet’s 7th edition of Spain. He had a nice of way of describing the same process of healing. I asked him why he thought people were walking to Santiago today and he responded :
“My impression is that a very large proportion have suddenly been confronted with a grave problem with home, work, family, career, their physical health or love life…and they are so overwhelmed by their everyday preoccupations that they don’t know what to do about it. Walking the Camino is a unique kind of therapy. I call it ‘Self-administered Ambulatory Psychotherapy’. Troubled minds heal themselves – by walking the Camino de Santiago. (Spain, 7th edition, article: Camino de Santiago by Nancy Frey, p. 125, Lonely Planet, 2009).
John has also observed the healing quality that is experienced by those who walk this historical pilgrimage path. Intuitively people have sensed that walking to Santiago will be good for them and have heeded that call to go, once again, the ‘human speed’.
Hartmann’s book and technique will potentially be very helpful to people who walk (or those who don’t but who would like to) and who would like to more consciously make their walks productive for healing, creativity and focused thinking. While for many people the bi-lateral movement brings about the healing without realizing it, by having the technique available, it can potentially help people focus on problem solving as well as ‘anchor’ the new state so that the change is more lasting. In Pilgrim Stories, I write: “While it will not determine outcomes, making the pilgrimage can help the participant on a personal level to ‘rework the past’ and possibly ‘move toward a renewed future’ (Frey, p. 46). This sentiment is in essence the point of Walking Your Blues Away – it takes a very basic human activity and explores its great potential for healing and future well-being. Go take a walk!
 Thank you Erin Susan Parks for bringing this book to my attention. Erin is the owner of LMT Massage for Optimal Living in the Atlanta area.
Maggie Beer On Foot in Spain
By Nancy L Frey, 6 November 2018
“One of the great trips of our lives was 7 days on the Camino with guides Nancy Frey and Jose Placer of ‘On Foot in Spain’ from Porto to Santiago de Compostela.”---Maggie Beer**
It’s not every day that we have the pleasure of traveling with a “living national treasure of Australia” as one friend of Maggie Beer’s described her to me. For those of you who are not Australian and are unfamiliar with Maggie, she is a beloved food author, producer, cook and television personality with a career spanning five decades. I have to admit feeling some trepidation before the tour began about whether we’d be able to meet the expectations of someone of such renown! I didn’t need to worry though because one of the many things that I came to love about Maggie is her down-to-earth vibrancy and joie de vivre – an approach to life that imbues everything that she does. Maggie is truly a life force with an energy that fills a room and that stimulates joy and pleasure with those who are in her company.
(Photo Credit: Laurence Clemens)
Jose and I planned this trip for the Australian journalist and food producer Dee Nolan (and friends) with whom we had collaborated previously when she wrote her magnificent ‘green book’ – The Food Lover’s Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela – describing her journey to Compostela with beautiful prose and stunning photography (by Earl Carter). Dee wanted to return to the Camino, this time on the Camino Portuguese, with friends including Maggie. We customized our Camino Portuguese tour and added a few of special food and wine experiences due to the group’s special interests. We met in Porto, Portugal and had a fabulous week sharing our love and knowledge of these regions and the Camino with the group.
One of the comments I appreciate in Maggie’s newsletter is…”it was a never ending journey of discovery for me in so many ways.” I wrote in the opening paragraph of our 2018 Year in Review article that guiding people to discovery is one of the gifts of what we do. And Maggie’s (and the group in general) enthusiasm for every experience presented to her made it a delight to introduce her to this beautiful corner of the world. Whether it was relishing mouth-watering clams and grilled sea bass at a seafood restaurant in Matosinhos, walking along the Galician shore, or accompanying her into the kitchen of another restaurant in Guimaraes to meet the staff and look in the pots, or watching three generations of locals participating in the wine harvest, or enjoying the olive brine to the last drop at the Michelin- restaurant, or swooning over goose barnacles, razor clams and steamed mussels in Baiona washed down with the local Albariño wine, or sharing with her Jose’s grandmother’s empanada recipe at lunch – being with Maggie was just plain fun.
As on all our journeys along the Camino, one of the elements most appreciated by the group was also the joy of walking on beautiful trails and having the opportunity to share and reflect on life – where we’ve been and where we are going. In the end it comes down to the beauty and fulfillment that one finds in the most elemental parts of good living – sharing friendship, food, exercise, wine and laughter.
**Maggie gave me permission to share parts of the text of her newsletter relevant to the tour and here is part of her narrative from her October 2018 article entitled “Maggie’s Food Reflections from Europe”. She explains the trip in great detail and with enthusiasm! To receive her full newsletter text, please sign up through Maggie’s Food Club:
Maggie’s Food Reflections in Europe
(selections relevant to her experience with On Foot in Spain)
One of the great trips of our lives that was 7 days on the Camino with guides Nancy Frey and Jose Placer of ‘On Foot in Spain’ from Porto to Santiago de Compostela. Some background is needed here in that my great friend Dee Nolan who has written two wonderful books on the Camino had researched her books with the help of Nancy and Jose on many walks of the Camino. I had long wanted to be part of the trips undertaken with Dee and friends to walk but wasn’t sure I could manage it physically and if you saw the photograph of Colin and I the evening at the end of the walk you can see it all in our faces….the thrill of the achievement of finishing the walk is palpable.
It happened that it was very unseasonable weather conditions between 28 and 31C on all but the last day at the end of September but I not only managed, I revelled in it. There was so much that contributed to this being so special; the organisation of ‘On Foot’ with Nancy and Jose pulling together so many aspects to give us such an unforgettable experience; and that was by taking into account our love of food and making that a huge highlight every day from the wonderful picnics Jose prepared for us each lunchtime sharing with us the specialty of the area we had just been walking through; the stories of the history of the Camino, Nancy having done her Phd on the very subject but always with the most fascinating knowledge delivered in such a way that brought the journey so alive to us.
…. so there were nine of us along with Nancy and Jose all bound by friendships of one very special couple so firm new friends made and lots of great shared experience of our lives as we walked and much hilarity at the table each night. Nancy and Jose’s knowledge of the foods of the region added so much to our adventure always organising whatever was most special and significant each night and other than one spectacular lunch at a One star restaurant Culler de Pau with chef Javier Olleros, a treat for us almost at the end of the walk – such great psychology that; an exceptional meal all of it recorded in my food diary and all with the marriage of history; tradition with an edge that made it so exciting and relevant to today in a sophisticated way yet still so of the region.
The meals at night were often so simple; so seafood dominated yet with the specialties of northern Portugal I suspect unseen anywhere else and the same in Gallicia….. it was a never ending journey of discovery for me in so many ways. And then there were the random acts of kindness that blew us away. Such as an elderly lady in a village we walked through; so small there was no bar or shop to be seen yet having so obviously heard three of us coming she picked three bunches of grapes from her garden washed them and simply handed them to us with a smile; such giving that gave us such joy and such camaraderie with everyone we encountered.
So many food experiences from our first day in Porto waiting for the rest of the group with a dish of clams simply served with the cooking juices, garlic and parsley; or sea bass in a salt casing cooked in a hot pan and flamed with great theatre. A seafood porridge; full of mussels, scamp and razor clams in a tomato broth with the juices again from cooking with fresh coriander, EVOO and stale bread and ‘making’ the porridge by the waiter stirring at the table. The first night of the trip we were bussed to Matosinhos, a town by the sea, and ate at Restaurant Casa Serrao where the grilling of the fish was done on an outside charcoal barbecue; lines of these outside kitchens taking over the street; the smoke bellowing over the street long which was where the most perfect sardines caught that morning as whole fish with just EVOO were cooked; then the largest sea bream I had encountered; gutted and opened up to cook on the grill; the amazing caramelisation of the skin and the sides and cooked again to perfection. Such plenty on the table as we dissected the fish off the bone to begin with but then a few of us attacked the bones and the cheek and every bit of it so succulent I definitely ate more than I needed and the meal was nothing short of unbelievable yet so incredibly simple.
Jose’s picnic lunches every day were so different; so moorish and sustaining…. I devoured every taste and learnt so much of the traditions that resonate with my climate back home. Each picnic could have been a food diary all in itself but so much else to share.
Then just to choose one more example of why the food was such a stand out I need to tell you of the dinner in the town of Guimaraes in northern Portugal. Restaurante Florencio. Firstly a caldo verde soup served for all that I was smart enough to only have a few mouthfuls as I could see how the table was set. So much more food to come; The biggest plates of baccala a’broa; baked cod with beans and potatoes; cod being such an important fish through Portugal this one fresh; a huge serve that would really have been enough for the whole meal that we tackled with gusto; and then the next platters appeared; this time of roasted veal; beautifully cooked and falling off the bone; again with potatoes and beans as they were what is in season. I was in my element and so excited with every taste that I was asked whether I would like to go into the kitchen; an opportunity I jumped at. There was a huge kitchen and as they proudly showed me around I saw a pot on the stove that looked interesting; they explained it was a pigs stomach stuffed with pork and would I like a piece; (in fact it looked a little like haggis); of course I said yes and then returned to the table expecting a small piece to taste. With the generosity we found everywhere we went through Portugal and Gallicia they had taken the boiled meat and deep fried it so it was beautifully burnished and presented it sliced on a platter to the whole table. To the slight distress of my travel companions as we’d already eaten so much and after which I was banned from visiting kitchens! And that wasn’t the end of the meal small pastries; a crema Portuguese and a deep golden pudding from the region made in a mould a little like a large crème caramel just with egg yolks and incredibly rich. The whole spirit of generosity and pride was wonderful to absorb; the building had originally been his grandparents and had been a wine cellar and he was very proud of the family heritage and the family still involved. Such a special night and indicative of one experience after another during our seven magical days.
I’ll share just one more with you as I am limited by time and space. The town of Baiona having crossed the border into Spain we walked along the rugged Gallician coastline so beautiful even through a heavy mist. I have to admit we were not sleeping rough; that night we stayed at a Parador in the 16th century Monterreal Castle. …..So to dinner at Restaurante O Mosquito in this small town Nancy had chosen 7 simple dishes for us to share; 10 of us at the table; platters both ends and as ever such generosity. Racones are larger tapas to share with friends and of course all Gallician specialties served with incredibly good Albarino wines. A platter of goose barnacles; a platter of padrone peppers simply fried in EVOO with sea salt biggest fat mussels ever so full of flavour; totally unadorned and perfect. Razor clams Navajas; barbecued till goldon; delicate; thin and sooooooooo sweet; soooooo fresh. Clams again in a sauce of pimento evoo garlic and parsley and then a tortilla Espagnola; the traditional potato and egg cooked in the pan. I almost forgot the Octopus Gallega; boiled, sliced with just EVOO, sea salt and some paprika. A feast yet again.
So many unexpected and wonderful experiences of food; wine music and tranquility walking through the beautiful countryside and finishing at the Cathedral and experiencing the Pilgrams Mass; all of it totally unforgettable. A special mention must be made of Pedro Araujo the main wine advisor at Quinta Do Ameal a fantastic winery and wonderful place to stay, great wines such a beautiful property.
2018 in Review - 19 Years of On Foot in Spain
By Nancy L Frey, 5 November 2018
Sometimes people ask us if we get tired returning to the same places year after year. For me leading a group of people is not about revisiting the same places over and over but rediscovering them anew with people who are usually experiencing them for the first time. As Henry Miller wrote, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” I typically tell people in our opening meeting that for me it is a privilege to journey with others because it gives me the opportunity to witness that process of discovery, wonder and enjoyment in others that is potentially a great part of the travel experience. Sometimes people are deeply moved by their travel experiences with us and share how they have been inspired, healed, uplifted or pleased way beyond their expectations. Being a part of that process is deeply rewarding and keeps our energy high and is what motivates us to continue packing our suitcases, farming out the kids to their grandparents and giving ourselves completely over to our groups during our time together. In essence, leading groups is often more about the people than the place – it’s about you!
The Story Teller
By Nancy L. Frey
24 June 2018
The most extraordinary gift that I have ever received as a result of my work leading and guiding groups along the Camino de Santiago is the sculpture The Story Teller. Commissioned by a six-time Australian client, who has become a wonderful friend over the years, The Story Teller by Australian artist Laurel Billington is a remarkable sculpture that manages to bring to life the journey along the Camino de Santiago as this dear pilgrim remembers me conveying it to her. All the symbols of the journey are amply present – yellow arrows, the flora, the scallop shell, the backpack – as well as iconic links to the stories – the chickens of Santo Domingo, the Puente la Reina bridge, the Way of the Stars and the dog pilgrim.
When I received this gift I felt truly overwhelmed with emotion. It was deeply moving to have a dear client and friend sum up in such an extraordinary way what the Camino de Santiago had come to mean to them led by Jose and me. People often say to me that I tell stories well. One New Zealand man once told me that I could “make the stones talk” – a compliment that I found very gratifying. I love the stories of the Camino and I adore sharing them with others. It’s a pleasure to bring to life the hopes and dreams of pilgrims over the ages, the trials they suffered, the hazards they encountered, the saints and relics they visited along the way and the many miracles that motivated them to continue on. A good story continues to motivate and enrich our lives. We all have stories of our own which makes it possible to relate to all of these human and endearing stories we encounter along the Way
Video of Nancy’s talk: The Smart Camino: Pilgrimage in the Internet Age (Jan 2017, London)
By Nancy L. Frey
In January 2017, I gave the keynote address at the Confraternity of St James’ Annual General Meeting in London titled The Smart Camino: Pilgrimage in the Internet Age. In the talk I briefly review some general changes I’ve noticed over the last 25 years and then present my research on the incorporation of new media technology into the Camino and how this has impacted being a pilgrim. The rise of the Internet is the single most important change in the Camino during this period and has dramatically impacted how people engage with the pilgrimage experience before, during and after the Camino is over.
The video is long. To help facilitate listening to the parts that are of most interest, I’ve broken down the video into segments and themes. Please let me know if you have any questions or observations.
0:00-1:00 - Intro to video
1:00-4:35 - Intro about talk and Nancy’s 25 years’ experience on Camino
4:35-5:30 - Nature of change on Camino
5:30-22:15 - General Changes on the Camino over the last 25 years
• 6:55 - Pilgrim’s Office and Statistics
• 7:45 - Numbers
• 8:27 - Sex
• 8:50 - Internationalization
• 10:11 - Mode of Travel
• 10:50 - Roads Traveled and Development of other routes
• 11:44 - Acquisition of the Compostela Certificate & Certificate of Distance
• 14:18 - Motivations and Expectations
• 16:33 - Infrastructure
• 17:50 - John, the Pilgrim Helper and Red tape
• 18:29 - Equipment
• 19:13 - Invasion of our Attentional Space
• 19:42 - Graffiti & Pokemon Go
• 21:08 - The Cathedral: Security, protecting patrimony and limited access
• 21:33 - What happened to the wild dogs?
22:15-23:38 - Changes related to Internet Age. Tech is a tool but not a neutral tool.
23:38-26:44 - Pilgrimage/Camino is a Rite of Passage with three stages: Prep, During, Return. “While the physical component has remained relatively the same, for most people the mental component has changed dramatically…” The Camino in the Cloud.
26:44 – 35:47 - Stage 1: Preparation for the Camino in the Internet Age. Anxiety is normal. Information overload, we overly complicate the Camino, developing pilgrim identity pre-Camino
• 33:12 - What to take and packing lists
35:52 – 1:02:15 - Stage 2: Being on the Camino
• 35:52 - Outcomes of preparation and spectrum of mobile tech usage
• 38:45 - Experience of time and place impacted, Incorporation of “Tech time”; bracketed time away disrupted, stay inside comfort zone
• 42:56 - Internet age pilgrims have new needs and new neediness; my sacred tech time; increase virtual connections and decrease face-to-face connections
• 47:10 - Impact on Camino community and social relations
• 49:53 - Relationship to Home; the importance of “missing” and “longing”; collaborative pilgrimages
• 53:48 - Digital Detox pilgrimages
• 56:25 - Shift in thinking and expectations about “what is the Camino?”; controlling the Camino and fear management; “not having a bed” anxiety; having a “Trip Advisor” Camino; dilution of the power of our experiences
• 1:00:30 - Tech industry encourages us to trust tech and not ourselves; WiFi App; Progressively outsourcing skills to phone and atrophying those abilities within ourselves.
1:02:15-1:05 - Reaching Santiago – transition point; experiences mediated by phones; losing trust in our memories; capturing moments vs contemplating moments
1:05-1:11 - Stage 3: The Return Home
1:11-1:14:59 - Conclusions
There are some people you never forget! Virginia and George Havens traveled with us 12 years ago in May 2003 along the Camino de Santiago. They formed part of a special group that came together as strangers and ended up sharing many wonderful moments and developing friendships that still endure today. I have a photo of that memorable group taken at the Camino’s literal high point – la Cruz de Ferro (the Iron Cross). Looking at each face brings back a flood of memories. Some of them went on to travel with us two or even three times. Others we have kept in touch with via email and holiday cards.
One such special couple is Virginia and George. At the time they were a spry 78 and 79 and they are still going strong! Jose and I fondly remember how beautiful Ginnie was always lovingly cared for by George. Ginnie’s a birder and I can still remember hearing about her work with birds and building birdhouses. As we walked she’d point out birds I couldn’t even see. Many times over the years I have wished she were along on other walks to keep teaching me! On that trip we also discovered that Ginnie and I and another woman on the trip, Nancy Grandfield, are all Kappa Kappa Gamma sisters. That was a great coincidence! At the end of walk, during our final dinner at the Parador in Santiago de Compostela, George got up, ordered champagne for the group and gave a very special and meaningful toast! What a couple!
Over the years we have kept in touch and George sent me an email telling me about Ginnie’s continuing education through Case Western Reserve University. He wrote:
Her latest [class] was Sports History which required writing a short paper on an object related to some athletic activity (baseball bat, football, etc.). Ginnie chose her scallop shell and we thought you would enjoy seeing her report to which she attached a copy of the Camino certificate that you gave us.
We did enjoy seeing her report and asked if we could have permission to publish it here with a photo of Ginnie. We hope you enjoy this as much as we did! We greatly enjoy seeing how the Camino continues to evolve in people’s lives and can inspire projects such as these 12 years later! Buen Camino, Ginnie and George!
The Scallop Shell
By Virginia C. Havens
The symbol that evokes memories of achievement, endurance and adventure is the white scallop shell hanging on a cord at my desk. This type of shell was first worn on the hat of St. James, patron warrior saint of Spain, and today it signifies a completed pilgrimage walk on the Camino de Santiago across Spain.
First, a brief history of St. James, a disciple of Jesus, and this 500-mile trek to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. James came to Spain shortly after the crucifixion to spread Christianity. On returning to Jerusalem, he was beheaded by Herod and his body sent in a casket by the other disciples back to Spain for burial. After some 800 years, the burial spot was forgotten and unknown, but on a certain night the field was illuminated by the stars and with this guidance the burial casket of St. James was unearthed and discovered. This startling discovery resulted in a sacred pilgrimage to this holy site that drew pilgrims from all over Europe.
The Camino starts in eastern Spain in the Pyrenees Mountains that separate France and Spain. It descends through Roncesvalles (a historic location where Charlemagne once fought the infidel Moors) then on to Pamplona. Logrono, Burgos, Leon, Bierzo, Arzua to Santiago to be blessed in the great cathedral there. In the middle ages, pilgrims walked the 500 miles across Spain seeking redemption and a spiritual encounter with St. James, and receiving forgiveness for their sins. This walk along this ancient road became a venerated tradition and Santiago became a popular pilgrimage destination. Last year over a million individuals were reported to have traversed the Camino and then received the scallop shell to reward and verify their experience.
In my years of reading I would come across references to this famous “road” and I would think “Oh the experience of walking it...walking, thinking a and meditating” with all of Spain stretching out before me, all open, no restrictions, no time table...just me and the world.
In 2003 my husband and I decided to tackle the Camino, at least a part of it. We would do 100 miles in 12 days in an arrangement that extended across the entire road, but avoided the less interesting parts. It was for me a magnificent experience and the shell recreates memories of golden wheat fields filled with red poppies, impressive ancient buildings, bridges and churches, warm and kind mountain people, owls and great beech trees and exotic foods. And then the memory of walking 8 to 10 miles each day on weary, weary feet, then the last demanding push for 12 miles up an almost unending mountainside on a never-to-be-forgotten day.
What are the lasting, indelible effects of such an experience? First of all, I am always aware of having the gumption to do such a trek at a senior age. Then having the courage to cross the ocean, plant my feet on strange soil and move out on a 100-mile effort, and accomplish it. It was a singular decision in my life – that produced a bold, unique and highly satisfying experience that confirmed my commitment to an adventurous life. It reinforced my love and appreciation for Spain. It left me with regrets that we were not able to do the tough trek to the Everest base camp at 18,000 feet in Nepal (which we had planned) and on to the Antarctic in the footsteps of Shackleton.
by Nancy L. Frey, PhD, 1 June 2015
One of my favorite objects on display in Santiago de Compostela's Museo de las Peregrinaciones (Pilgrimages Museum) is this scallop shell dated to before 1120. Identified as "Vieira de peregrino (Pectem maximus) " (Pilgrim's Scallop) the room text tells us it: "was found in a burial place in a plot that was later occupied by the north central nave of the Romanesque cathedral of Santiago. Therefore, it is prior to 1120. The scallop shell is the symbol of the pilgrimage to Santiago, taken by pilgrims on their way back home to the most remote places in Europe." We are looking at the oldest known scallop shell used by a pilgrim to the shrine of St James in Santiago de Compostela.