Posts Tagged ‘Camino de Santiago’

Camino de Santiago – Santiago de Compostela

July 26, 2010

El Camino de Santiago, the Way of St James, is a medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. At its height, a million pilgrims a year were walking the route. It then slowly fell into disuse. When Paulo Coelho undertook the pilgrimage in the 1980s, it had all but disappeared. Since the mid-1980s (The Pilgrimage was published 1987), there has been an exponential increase in pilgrims. 2010 is expected to see more than 200,000 pilgrims.

When July 25 falls on a Sunday it is a Jubilee or Holy Year. 2010 is a Jubilee or Holy Year. [see El Jubileo Compostelano Xacobeo 2010]

For those completing the pilgrimage, they have to create something to give thanks. For Petrus (Paulo Coelho’s guide) it was a painting, Paulo Coleho wrote The Alchemist , Catherine Ferguson gave two talks on the pilgrimage, Paul Tobey made this video and composed the music.

For Paulo Coelho, Catherine Ferguson, Paul Tobey who have walked the route and all those pilgrims walking or wishing to walk El Camino de Santiago.

Also see

Paulo Coelho on the Road to Santiago de Compostela

Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela today

The History of the Pilgrimage to Compostela

The History of the Pilgrimage to Compostela

July 7, 2010
Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela at St Nicolas Church

Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela at St Nicolas Church

‘We are all pilgrims in search of the unknown.’ — Paulo Coelho

I was walking back from a day out at Celebrating Surrey Festival at Loseley Park, had stopped off for a much needed drink at the White House on the banks of the River Way in Guildford when as I left my eye was caught by a poster at St Nicolas Church on two talks on Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

So here I was, Tuesday evening a week later, at St Nicolas Church, or, to be more precise, the associated Parish Centre, for a talk by Dr Catherine Ferguson entitled The History of the Pilgrimage to Compostela. The first of two talks, the second the following week entitled Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela today.

The Way of Saint James (el Camino de Santiago) is a medieval pilgrims route that had fallen into disuse and was little known, until two decades ago Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho was obliged to walk the route as a penance by his master J for having the arrogance to believe he was worthy of receiving a sword. An account of which he gives in The Pilgrimage.

There were three important medieval pilgrimages, the route to Rome, the route to Jerusalem and the Way of Saint James.

The first pilgrimages were to the Holy Land, not to venerate a few sacred remains or for the experience of the pilgrimage itself, but to see where it happened.

Constantine decided to mark the important places of Christendom, he did this by building huge churches.

Constantinople lacked any relics of Saints. They were then allowed a body from the catacombs in Rome. This started a free-for-all in Holy Relics. No church could be established without its Holy Relic being entombed within the altar. Private collectors wanted their bones too.

Saint James was one of the Apostles. He took up the call from Jesus and gave up his life as a fisherman. He was beheaded in 44AD by order of King Herod Agrippa, the first of the Apostles to be executed. He is believed to have preached in Spain, but herein lies a problem, as he was already reported as dead.

His sarcophagus floated ashore in Spain at what is now Santiago de Compostela. Somewhat difficult for a marble sarcophagus, but it was aided by angels so that explains that then. The Bishop of the day said it was indeed the relics of Saint James, official approval had been granted, word spread, pilgrims arrived and Santiago de Compostela has never looked back.

The importance of this event cannot be overstated. The centres of Christianity were Rome and Constantinople and Jerusalem to the East. A centre had now been established in Western Europe.

Its timing was most fortunate. The Spanish Christian Kingdoms were under attack from the Moors who occupied all of the South of Spain. Under St James, the Spanish pushed the Moors back.

Pilgrims came from all over Europe. They needed to be fed and watered and housed and hospitalized, shoes were needed for their feet. Cluny Monks established monasteries along the route.

One of the factors that determined the medieval pilgrim to make the pilgrimage was that it reduced the time spent in Purgatory.

There was not one route. Strictly speaking the route was from your door to Santiago de Compostela. Four routes became the recognized routes as these were easiest to defend. The pilgrims followed old Roman roads, crossed old Roman bridges. The Cluny Monks built bridges.

Cluny Abbey was an independent Benedictine Order. The Abbey controlled or established 314 monasteries. Its power rivalled that of Rome. The Abbey was destroyed during the French Revolution.

Unlike today, when pilgrims walk the route and then fly home, the medieval pilgrims walked there and back, that is they walked the route both ways. This led to cultural interchange along the route.

The Pilgrimage led to major cultural shifts in Europe, 1100 was a watershed. Before 1100 churches were squat buildings, the figures slight reliefs. After 1100, within a period of only 40 years, we had graceful Romanesque churches, realistic carved figures, on the women detail of their lace, on the men detail of their chain mail.

One of the innovations brought back from the pilgrimage was the apse at the end of a church. Pilgrims could walk in through a side door, around the relics, and out through an opposite door without disturbing the congregation in the main body of the church.

Medieval man walking the route had to learn his place in life. Images of man being tormented in Hell. On arrival, the Pilgrims would pass through a portal where only figures in heaven were depicted.

On the front of Lincoln Cathedral can be seen the same images of hell.

At its height, a million pilgrims a year were walking the route. It slowly fell into disuse, the buildings fell into disrepair and were looted for their stone. Wars in Europe were one cause for the disruption of the Pilgrimage, as was disease.

From the mid-1980s the numbers undertaking the pilgrimage has shown an exponential increase. This coincides with the publication of The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho which was published in 1987. The numbers show sharp increase on Holy Years, when 25 July falls on a Sunday.

In 1985 690 pilgrims completed the Pilgrimage. In 1995 there was 19,821, then in 2005 there was 93,921. These are only the pilgrims that asked for and received a Compostela, the stamped certificate that shows you have completed the route. More than 200,000 are expected for 2010, a Holy Year. Holy or Jubilee Years are when 25 July falls on a Sunday, as it does this year.

A Pilgrim’s Mass is held in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela each day at noon for pilgrims. Pilgrims who received the compostela the day before have their countries of origin and the starting point of their pilgrimage announced at the Mass.

This increase in pilgrims is not unique to this pilgrimage. Strange in what is seen as an increasingly secular society. Could this be because people are walking away from the Church, but still seek the spiritual? If nothing else this would explain the popularity of Paulo Coelho. Do the Eden People at one end of the religious spectrum have a greater pull than the Catholic Church at the other?

This phenomena is not restricted to medieval pilgrimages. Many ‘pilgrims’, are following the trail blazed by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code.

French priest Aymeric Picaud who walked the route in 1123 recorded his travels and experiences in five books Codex Calixtinus. It is still accurate today!

A very interesting talk, a very inspiring speaker. This was the third season of summer talks at St Nicolas by Dr Catherine Ferguson. Catherine Ferguson has walked el Camino de Santiago twice. She has just completed the pilgrimage this summer and her knees still ached!

The talk was preceded by Mass and refreshments. Later a few of us went for a drink. Before doing so I presented Dr Catherine Ferguson with a copy of The Pilgrimage to thank her for such an excellent and inspiring talk.

Next week: Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela today and the impact it has on present day pilgrims.

Fr Andrew who took the Mass (if it be he), has a blog Heart to Heart, where he shares his thoughts with fellow Christians. But sadly in reality an apology for the Catholic Church and all its ills. St Nicolas is in all but name a Catholic Church, even though it comes under the Diocese of Guildford.

Synchronicity: Walking back from Celebrating Surrey Festival, I saw a poster at St Nicolas Church for these talks. The evening before I clicked on Suzie who had commented on the festival. She was packing her rucksack to walk this route!

Synchronicity: The evening before the talk I listened to A History of the World in a Hundred Objects on BBC Radio 4. The subject was a relic held in the British Museum, A Thorn from the Crown of Thorns!

Also see

Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela today

The Pilgrimage

Carolena’s Quest for the Sword

Pilgrimage to Aylesford Priory with the Knights of St Columba

Tourists to Pilgrims

Carolena’s Quest for the Sword

July 2, 2010
The Cathars martyrs of pure Christian love 16 March 1244

The Cathars martyrs of pure Christian love 16 March 1244

‘We are all pilgrims in search of the unknown.’ — Paulo Coelho

Two decades ago Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho was set a penance for his arrogance by his Master J. He had to walk the Way of St James (el Camino de Santiago), a medieval pilgrim’s route that had fallen into disuse and was by the mid-1980s little walked. An account of which he gives in The Pilgrimage.

Two decades on as 2009 drew to an end, Paulo Coelho pondered on whether in this age of computer games and general inactivity, anyone could be persuaded to embark on a real life adventure. Early 2010, he set a quest, clues were posted on his blog and all anyone had to do was to solve the clues, then visit all the places that the clues pointed to. The first person to reach the final destination would find and receive a sword deposited there by Paulo Coelho.

One of those who successfully completed the quest, but sadly not in time to recover the sword, was Carolena Sabah. She has kindly published with illustrations her account of her quest.

One of the places she visited or passed by was Montsegur, the final stronghold of the Cathars. The Cathars were closest to the life of Jesus which no doubt explains why the Church launched its first Crusade against the Cathars, that and the greed of the northern French Barons who wanted their lands in what is now the South of France.

Eric Levi commemorates the Cathars in his Era trilogy. Paulo Coelho mentions them in his novel Brida. The Cathars form the major element of the plot in Labyrinth by Kate Mosse.

The account by Carolena Sabah, especially her photos, compliments Paulo’s account of his trip in The Pilgrimage. Which has given me an idea. Why not a special illustrated 25th anniversary limited edition coffee table size of The Pilgrimage with sidebars on the various places, cf the special limited edition of The Da Vinci Code?

Carolena Sabah stars in and co-produced The Witch of Portobello based on the novel by Paulo Coelho of the same name.

The closest I have been on a pilgrimage was a trip to Aylesford Priory with the Knights of St Columba!

Synchronicity: At the weekend I walked to the Celebrating Surrey Festival along the River Wey, then along the North Downs Way, dropping down to Loseley Park. On my way there the lovely scent of elderflower, on my way back in the gathering dusk the lovely scent of honeysuckle. As I passed St Nicholas Church I saw they were to have two talks on the Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (7-30pm in the evening on Tuesday 6 and 13 of July 2010), a medieval pilgrims route. A route that had fallen into disuse until Paulo Coelho wrote of his pilgrimage in The Pilgrimage.


The Quest of the Sword is over!

Carolena’s Pilgrimage

Carolena’s Quest

The Pilgrimage


The Quest

Conversation with the master – The journey

Pilgrimage to Aylesford Priory with the Knights of St Columba

The Witch of Portobello

Organ recital at St Michael’s Abbey

February 8, 2010
winged figure, St Michael's Abbey, Farnborough

winged figure, St Michael's Abbey, Farnborough

An example of serendipity: My lovely friend Sian and I went for a walk Sunday afternoon to Farnborough Abbey and stumbled upon an organ recital.

We were wandering around the grounds of Farnborough Abbey, heard music coming from the church, a neo-Gothic monstrosity, well suited to the set of a horror movie. We quietly walked inside, thinking there was a service on, intending to sit at the back and not disturb anyone.

As we walked in we were surprised to find the church full, but what really surprised us was the music coming from the organ. It was weird, surreal even, there was this music suited to a Hammer horror film, and no priest presiding. What was happening we thought, is this the dramatic music for a grand entrance by the priest? It took a while for it to dawn upon us that we had stumbled upon an organ recital which had probably not long started.

We stayed until the end, then had a brief chat with the organist Neil Wright. He was appointed in 2001 as the Organist of the Cavaillé-Coll organ at the Abbey. He is also a founder of the Annual Festival of New Organ Music in London.

The music was not really my cup of tea, late Victorian and seemed to tally with the date of the church. Personally I would have preferred Bach or Handel.

What struck us both was an amazing winged figure high above the altar, illuminated by a spotlight. Who or what we did not know. Possibly the Archangel Michael? [see Angels]

There is to be a series of organ recitals at the Abbey on the first Sunday of the month 3pm, starting on Sunday 2 May 2010 and running through until October 2010.

I had been to a harpsichord recital a few years ago in the crypt. The only publicity a little notice pinned to the gatepost. For this recital there was nothing as we had passed by only the previous Sunday.

On that day sharp-eyed Sian had spotted three scallop shells at the entrance to the abbey grounds. We both had the same thought, the waymark used for Camino de Santiago, the medieval pilgrim’s route Paulo Coelho followed on a quest for his sword and which he describes in The Pilgrimage. Our curiosity was aroused further when we learnt that this was used by the founder of the Abbey and that she was Spanish.

Sitting during the concert a thought wandered through my mind that this would be an ideal venue for Paulo Coelho to give a talk.

St Michael’s is a Benedictine Order and we hope to return in the near future to look around and talk to the Abbot. The Abbey is located in Farnborough, only a short trip from London by train and within a few minutes walk of Farnborough Station.

Saint Michael’s Abbey sits atop of a hill overlooking Farnborough. It was founded in 1883 by the Empress Eugenie and completed in 1888. The Abbey is a working abbey with a community of Benedictine Monks. Within the abbey crypt are the tombs of Napoleon III and his wife Empress Eugenie. Their son, Prince Imperial, is also entombed within the abbey crypt. Occasional music recitals take place at the Abbey. Farnborough Abbey has recently republished a series of guides to Farnborough and the surrounding area.

Synchronicity: Sunday evening Paul Coelho reported that the Quest of the Sword was over!

Two CDs are available featuring the Abbey Cavaillé-Coll organ: Le Tombeau d’Eugénie (2003) and La Organiste (2008).

Also see

A warrior of light is never predictable


Quest of the Sword

A Christmas Tale

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