As a tribute to Hispanic Heritage Month, I would like to talk about a journey that has been at the top of my bucket list for a very long time. The Camino de Santiago or, Way of St. James began in the 9th century when the body of James the Apostle was discovered by a shepherd in a field in Galicia, Spain.
At the time of the discovery, the Spanish king, Alfonso II, commissioned a small chapel to be built in Galicia so that Catholic pilgrims from all over the world could make the long journey to the chapel in order to pay respects to St. James.
Centuries later, pilgrims still flock to Spain, where they walk the entire length of Northern Spain from the eastern border of France to the western coastline of Spain, where the chapel is located.
Since the original pilgrimage called for followers to walk from their homes to the chapel (now a large Catholic Cathedral), there are several paths across Spain and France that are considered part of the Camino De Santiago.
However, the most popular of these routes is the "Camino Frances." This particular route is some 800 km's long and takes approximately 5 weeks to walk. Beginning at St. Jean Pied de Port, pilgrims now stay in large hostels built specifically for the journey.
Pilgrims still carry with them a white seashell that indicates they are on a pilgrimage. Once they arrive at the cathedral, a daily mass is made in which a large incense candle is swung throughout the church. Historically, this incense served the practical purpose of hiding the smell of pilgrims who haven't been able to bathe for several weeks.
I have wanted to hike this path ever since I saw the movie "The Way", starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Esteves. In the movie, Sheen travels to Spain to gather his son's (Esteves) ashes after he is tragically killed while hiking the path during a storm.
Once arriving, Sheen decides to take his son's ashes and walk the Camino de Santiago himself. Once he arrives at the cathedral, he walks to the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and spreads his son's ashes into the wind.
I don't know why this movie spoke so personally to me, but I have wanted to walk this path (also called 'The Way") ever since. Perhaps it is the physical test that I am longing for. Those who take the pilgrimage train for up to a year in advance.
Or, perhaps it is the spiritual aspect I am longing for. The Camino de Santiago is still very much a religious journey for many Catholics. Even today, many priests and people of faith walk the long path to pay their respects to the burial site of St. James.
Whatever the reason, I have been longing to take this journey for a very long time. So much so, that I am subscribed to a weekly newsletter dedicated to the Camino de Santiago, which tells personal stories of those who have already hiked it and gives practical information on how to do it properly.
I'm not sure when I will have the time (roughly 5 weeks), or the money (around $1,500 for food, equipment, and hostel stays) to take the pilgrimage. What I am certain of is that I will do it one day. I'm also certain that it will happen at a time when I need it most.
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