I was drawn to the Camino. I had not had any information on this pilgrimage prior to reading about it in a magazine, despite my many travels into Europe. The more I read up on this historic trail, I learned that the Camino de Santiago, does not consist of just one trail, but of many. In Spain, there are currently 15 different routes, in Portugal, and in France, 7 routes. Upon learning this, I realized that I didn’t have enough years in my life left to explore them all, and so I have set about changing my lifestyle in order to achieve this dream.
My pilgrimage is mostly a religious one. I feel the spirit and warmth of faith every day while I am walking, and while I try very hard to bring this feeling into my normal life, that is life not on the Camino I often fail miserably. I love this feeling of peace and tranquillity that I experience on Camino, and I am aware that for me, it comes from a higher place. I have often thought of joining the church, and while I am on Camino, this thought almost becomes a reality for me.
In historical context, for those who don’t know, the remains of St James the Great are said to be interned at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. The most popular route, traditionally starting in St Jean Pied Du Port on the French Pyrenees is also known as the Camino Frances. The Way of St James, which is any of the many routes currently sign-posted through Europe, represents one of the most important pilgrimages still today, and during the Middle Ages most certainly a primary route upon which on completion, the pilgrim would earn plenary indulgence for one’s sins.
Traditionally the route begins at one’s home, and so pilgrims from all over Europe during the Middle Ages would have walked the route from their front door. Today, there is controversy as to the starting point of the pilgrimage. In order to receive a Compostela, which is your certificate of distance covered and issued by the Pilgrims Office in Santiago De Compostela one needs to walk at least the final 100km’s. This fixes the starting point for this minimum requirement in Sarria, which is around 112km outside of Santiago De Compostela. There is lively discussion around this aspect of the Camino and that a true pilgrim should have started in St Jean. Outside of Sarria, there is a popular milestone upon which the words saying that Jesus didn’t start in Sarria. While it doesn’t have any historical foundation, many pilgrims talk of this and believe that a true pilgrim walks any of the routes from start to finish. My position on it is based on history. It seems quite unimaginable for a pilgrim in the Middle Ages, who might have had his home in the area surrounding Sarria, to walk all the way back to St Jean Pied Du Port to then start his pilgrimage back to Santiago de Compostela. It is based on this practicality, that I base my own pilgrimage on the idea that medieval pilgrims did – it starts when I leave my door. That door is in Johannesburg South Africa, and it really is a pilgrimage since it takes me generally two or three flights, a train, and a bus to the starting point, which was on the first occasion in Pamplona and the second, Sarria. On my way, my mind is fixed (probably more fixated) on the task at hand and is preparing for the way ahead. I practice gratitude every day these days, and when I leave for a pilgrimage I am filled with so much gratitude that it is difficult to contain and even harder to explain the feelings that overwhelm me.