Walking the Camino de Santiago is believed to ensure one’s eternal salvation – Muddy River News

The cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, purported burial place of Saint James the Greater, has been the destination of millions of pilgrims since the year 1075. | Photo for Muddy River News by Martha Rapp

(Part 1 of 4)

NORTHERN SPAIN – There are as many reasons and ways to walk El Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) today as there are pilgrims who travel across Europe to the alleged tomb of Santiago the Greater in Santiago.

It has not always been so.

After a shepherd claimed to have been led by the stars to the burial site of St. James in northwestern Spain in the early ninth century, religious pilgrimages to the tomb quickly ranked among the most popular in the world.

Many routes (or Pathslisten)) developed as pilgrims began marching to the burial site, spurred on by the belief that those making the pilgrimage would secure their eternal salvation. The belief was so strong that wealthy patrons often paid surrogates to walk on their behalf.

In the year 813, King Alfonso II built a small chapel to house the remains of Santiago. It was soon replaced by a larger chapel, and finally, in 1075, the impressive Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. (Santiago is Spanish for Santiago, and Compostela means “field of stars”).

Close to the French border in the Pyrenees. | Photo for Muddy River News by Martha Rapp

no baby

My husband Jim, our grandson Benjamin and I were drawn to the centuries-old tradition and joined a small group starting our Camino hike near the French border in the Pyrenees in the Spanish province of Navarre.

Unlike pilgrims who plan to travel around 800 kilometers from Saint-Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago, we joined a tour that organized the smoother and gentler parts of the Camino for us. We will be spared the unshaded plains of Castilla y Leon (where many perish from heat exhaustion), the toughest ascents and descents over rugged mountain passes, and restless nights in dormitories with dozens of pilgrims in crowded hostels. Even so, there is an air of solemnity as we take our first steps on the Camino’s most popular route, the French Way.

But why even bother if you’re not going to walk all the way?

The answer is as personal as the hiker. Some members of our group are struggling with heartbreaking loss or trauma. Two are grappling with long and painful experiences of racism. One of them celebrates his recovery and a couple enjoys walking. We have all felt called to this particular place at this particular time to follow in the path of millions who have gone before us.

Like all Camino routes, the French Way is marked with the symbol of the seashell and prominent yellow arrows. In the past, many pilgrims traveled with a large shell, which was useful as a utensil for eating and drinking. The tradition, if not the need, persists. Additionally, today’s pilgrims also travel with Camino Passports, which are stamped en route and must receive an official Camino Compostela or – for those walking for non-religious reasons – a welcome certificate for having walked at least 100 continuous kilometers on foot or 200 kilometers on a bicycle.

(Tomorrow: on the way to Saint-Jacques)

Pilgrims are guided by the symbol of the shell and the yellow arrows, whichever Camino they take. | Photo for Muddy River News by Jim Rapp

Martha Brune Rapp served as Senior Director of Strategic Communications for Harris Corporation’s Broadcast Communications Division. Called to the ministry in 2005, Rapp received a doctorate in preaching in 2018. She is a certified spiritual director and author. His first book, Conversations with Benjamin: A Spirituality of Healing Preaching, was published by Wipf and Stock of Eugene, Oregon, earlier this year.

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