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Monday, October 8, 2007 (read 2297 times)
El Camino de Santiagoby Erin
As published by don Quijote in the Costa Blanca News:
El Camino de Santiago
The pilgrimage is the new black. It's unlike anything seen since the 13th Century.
People are once again taking to the road and following the medieval Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James) across the north of Spain. Guided by yellow arrows, men and women of all nationalities head west from the French border on a 750km journey over mountains, wheat fields, forests and vine yards, taking in Pamplona, Burgos and León.
Medieval pilgrims seeked faith and penance whilst modern pilgrims often do it for the architecture, the physical effort, the incredible landscape or to take "time out " and seek a new direction. But whatever their reason, the camino is undoubtedly an unforgettable experience unique to Spain.
The Origins of the Camino
Back in 44AD, the pagan Queen Lupa of Padrón, Galicia, received two Palestinian refugees bearing the headless and decomposing corpse of a Christian martyr, requesting to bury him there. The body was said to be that of the apostle James, who had preached in Iberia and been executed by Herod Agrippa on his return to Jerusalem. His followers had rescued the body and allowed Providence to guide their boat through the Straits of Gibraltar to the shores of Galicia. Queen Lupa set them a series of tasks, including the taming of two bulls, which the Palestinians achieved successfully after falling to their knees and praying to Santiago (St. James). Amazed by what she saw, Queen Lupa granted the burial of Santiago and converted to Christianity.
However it wasn't until the 9th Century that the Camino de Santiago was truly established, when a religious hermit, Pelayo, followed a brightly shining star and stumbled across a hidden Roman mausoleum which housed the remains of the apostle James the Greater. Amongst his relics was gold " artifacts which, still intact and belonging to one of Jesus'apostles, were some of Europe's finest. The news spread across the continent like wildfire and between the 11th and 13th Centuries Compostela rivalled Rome and Jerusalem as a desination for pilgrims.
FACT: The Camino de Santiago is also known as the Vía Láctea or the Way of the Stars, since the Milky Way appears to mirror the path of the Camino in the sky.
The route across northern Spain is not an easy one. Whilst no official start point exists " people usually picking it up wherever they choose " the most popular and traditional route, the Camino Francés, begins at the French border in the Pyrenees, at Roncesvalles. From here, beech forests lead into pastures and villages on a 45km route to Pamplona, which became an official stop on the pilgimage in the 11th Century and whose Gothic cathedral is worth a detour.
West from Pamplona, the camino takes a route through the Sierra del Perdón and down a long valley of wheat, white asparargus, grapes and olive groves to Puente de la Reina, where the Camino Aragonés meets with the Camino Francés, before carrying on to Estella, where the first examples of Romanesque architecture can be found.
From here, the path continues across an undulating landscape of oak trees, wine groves and sleepy villages to Viana, in Navarra, and then on to La Rioja, where Logroño awaits with its Gothic Iglesia de Santiago. From here beckons the province of Castilla y León, where the camino winds through the dense forests of the Montes de Oca to the beautiful city of Burgos - the 13th Century cathedral, whose three eight-pointed-star vaults illuminate the aisle and chapels, is stunning.
The next 200km of the journey takes in the Spanish meseta, where the exposed landscape consists of wheat fields and high barren plains. Highlights here include the Romanesque churches of Frómista and Sahagún, before the Camino reaches León and the home of the "Sistine Chapel of Romanesque painting ", the Panteón Real. The cathedral's 2000 sq metres of stained glass is rivaled only by Chartres in France.
On the way to Astorga, the Camino passes again into mountainous country, ascending to the Cruz de Ferro, a tiny iron cross lodged into an ancient pile of stones and surrounded by items left by passing pilgrims. A steep descent then drops to the city of Ponferrada, with its impressive castle, and on to Villafranca del Bierzo, whose church offered respite and pardon to pilgrims too ill to continue to Compostela.
The mountain pass at O Cebreiro is home to one of the earliest pilgrim stations, founded in 836, and the legendary home of the Holy Grail. The route carries on to the province of Galicia and from here the scenery changes dramatically. Countless villages and hamlets replace the cities and monuments, the houses are stone, the landscape green and the people speak Gallego. Here, Sarria is the chosen spot for those wishing to undertake the last 100 km of the Camino, where rural lanes lead to the town of Melide and Galicia's oldest cruceiro (standing crucifix).
The last stops on the Camino include Arca and Lavacolla, where pilgrims would wash themselves before heading into the city. The last hill, the Monte do Gozo (Mount Joy), leads to the medieval gateway of Porta do Camiño and finally the magnificent Praza do Obradoiro. Devout pilgrims will then proceed to the cathedral's altar and climb stairs to hug a statue of Santiago and finally to the crypt to pay respect to the famous relics. A symbolic end to the journey is to witness the swinging of the mighty Botafumiero incense burner before mass ends.
FACT: When July 25 falls on a Sunday, that year is known as an Año Santo or Jacobeo (Holy Year). This happens every six, then eleven, five and back to six years…so 2010 and 2021 are the next two to look out for. Holy Years allow Catholic pilgrims earn plenary indulgences.
From Compostela, many pilgrims would historically continue to the end of the known world, Finisterra. At the lighthouse, they would burn rotten and stinking clothes whilst watching the sun set into the Atlantic.