Pilgrimage is one of the oldest forms of Quest, and is celebrated by religions and cultures all over the world. Since everyone knows that my characters and I are aficionados of Quests of all sorts, it’s no surprise that this is one of my favorites!
Some years ago, I was invited to lecture in Spain at several universities and other venues. Perhaps coincidentally, my path led along the Camino de Santiago (the “Way of Santiago.”) Starting in Barcelona, and meandering through the Pyrenees, I journeyed across the country, ending at La Coruña, at the northwest corner of Spain, not far from Santiago de Compostela.
For those few who may not know Santiago (called “San Diego” by Cervantes, and known as “St James the Greater” in the English world) he was one of the biblical “Sons of Thunder”: Jesus’ disciple who later traveled as a pilgrim-apostle throughout Spain, carrying his now famous attributes: the scallop shell and soup tureen, and converting pagans. I have since found scallop shells embedded in the stone streets from Brussels to Bremen to St Jean Pied-de-Porte.
Tradition says that Santiago was the first martyr, in Judea, whose bones were later brought back to Spain by sea (with a few miracles along the way) and then they promptly disappeared into obscurity. Eight hundred years later, Emperor Charlemagne was called upon — by St James himself, in a dream — to rescue his bones from the “Saracens” (Moors) who’d conquered southern Spain 100 years earlier. Santiago said: “Follow the Milky Way,” as the guiding lights that led across Europe, pointing the “Way” to his resting place. Once Santiago‘s bones were discovered, the locale became a great Christian pilgrimage site, second only to Rome, and remains so to this day. His bones are interred in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostella (“Field of Stars”), alluding to the stars that guide pilgrims to the spot.
Since my lectures fell during the 800th anniversary celebration of the pilgrimage to the Cathedral, I received my official scallop shell, and a tiny pilgrim created in Miro-esque colors just for the occasion.
If you are interested in El Camino de Santiago (The Way of Santiago) – this is the best guide book: The Pilgrim’s Guide to Santiago de Compostela by William Melczer. Professor Melczer, an authority on the pilgrimage of El Camino de Santiago, translates the medieval pilgrim’s book with notes and fascinating history.
There are four routes that converge in Spain: the French route; the Austro-Hungarian route; the Polish-east European; the Flemish-Scandinavian-British. I’ve found scallop shells embedded in the streets of towns from Brussels to Bremen, it’s a spiritual treasure hunt!