This month.....

The Way

Emilio Estevez’s film “The Way” starring Martin Sheen is one of those films that you either
know and love or you’ve never heard about. It tells the story of the central character’s
unexpected journey on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. I won’t tell you any more
about it because you either know the story or I’d spoil it for you.
People have walked the Camino for more than a thousand years. At various points in history it has been more or less
popular but it has never been as popular as it is at the moment. Over recent decades the Camino has become
increasingly popular with people walking from all over Europe to Santiago de Compostela. Most people will start
somewhere in Spain itself as you only need to walk 100km or ride (by bicycle or horse) 200km to gain your certificate
of completion.
If you sit on the plaza outside the West front of the cathedral you will see a steady stream of individuals and groups
arriving at the point that marks the end of their pilgrimages. Some will have completed their journey as a religious
pilgrimage, some will have done it as a long distance walk or cycle (few ride horses), some will have done the Camino
as a sponsored event for a charity. The word pilgrim means ‘one who comes from afar’ so all those taking part in long
journeys are pilgrims and the time and space that such journeys give enable the pilgrim to get a different prospective
on their lives and time to reflect upon how things might change. So a pilgrimage is literally a life changing journey.
I am writing this sitting in a hotel in Santiago de Compostela in ear shot of the cathedral after completing the
pilgrimage from Santiago de Compostela to Finisterre and then on to Muxia. This route has become increasingly
popular since “The Way” came out. In 2012 we walked the last qualifying section of the Portuguese and then a couple
of years ago, basically with the same group, we walked the English route. After walking the English route we had a day
trip to Finisterre and Muxia which inspired us to do this year’s pilgrimage.
Pilgrimage is an important part of most faiths. For Christians a journey to the Holy Land became popular very early on
when the Emperor Constantine’s mother Helena (St Helena of the Holy Places) made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to
see the places where the events in the Gospels happened. But other places have also attracted pilgrims, some like
Santiago de Composela would have taken people months to walk to, some such as Canterbury might have only take
weeks.
We only need to look around at our landscape in Wiltshire to see that pilgrimages have been part of what it is to be
human for millennia. Although we might not understand our ancient pilgrimage sites we can still appreciate something
of their importance, they are often located at physically significant points, hill tops, places where rivers join or can be
crossed, isolated point are just some common features.
In Medieval times it was not so unusual for someone to make just one pilgrimage in their life. This might have been a
long journey but it might have been quite local. For a person who lived all of their lives not normally traveling more
than a few miles from their place of birth a pilgrimage to Salisbury would have been the journey of a lifetime. We
might think that Salisbury Cathedral is an amazing building now but just imagine what it would have been like for
someone who had probably never seen a building taller than two stories. Approaching Salisbury they would have first
seen the spire emerge from behind the horizon then eventually the pilgrim would have seen the building dominating
the city and then going in one would be in a building whose dimensions would have been beyond anything previously
imagined.
But perhaps for all humanity it is the journey, The Way, that is even more important than the places of arrival.
Pilgrimage takes us away from our normal routine and responsibilities. Pilgrimage gives us space and time to reflect
and consider. For many (most?) of those people turning up outside the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela it is a life
changing journey and those returning are not the same people as those who set out. Many will be returning to the
normal journey of their lives with new objectives, perspectives and aims.
If you’ve never been on a pilgrimage it’s worth considering and if you’ve never seen “The Way” then that might just
inspire you.
See you on The Way,
Richard Curtis