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A Very Long Walk Through Spain

Or, Camino, Here We Come!

In about a week, my husband and I are crossing something off our bucket list that has been there a very long time. We are going to walk the Camino de Santiago (also known as The Way of St. James, or The Way). This is an 800 km trek across the north of Spain.

Yup. 800 km. Gulp.

I know this sounds slightly crazy, and perhaps it is, but bear with me!

Many of you may know about the Camino and what it is. Over this last year, as my husband and I have been planning for it and telling others about it, I am surprised how often I heard of others who have done it or know of someone who has. But for those who don’t know, here’s a very brief description.

What is the Camino?

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, his apostles spread throughout the Roman world, preaching and teaching. Most of them didn’t get very far before they, too, were killed. James and his brother, John, were one of the first disciples of Jesus. James was the first apostle to be martyred, on the orders of Herod Agrippa, in AD 44.

Those are the facts about James and his death as we know them. However, an interesting legend/myth was circulated about James after his death. It said that between Christ’s resurrection in AD 33 and James’ death, he went to Galicia (northern Spain) and preached the Gospel there, but with little success.

The story recounts that after his martyrdom, his disciples took his body back to Finis Terre (world’s end, at the northwest tip of Spain) where James had been preaching. But the Queen of the region, Lupa, conspired with the Roman Legate based at nearby Dugium to ambush the disciples to destroy James’ body (and the disciples, too). Fleeing for their lives, the disciples escaped across the river Tambre; the bridge collapsing miraculously behind them and keeping them safe from their pursuers.

A town called Libredon (present-day Santiago) was not too far away, and so that is they laid the bones of St. James to rest.

This story faded into the mists of time until it appeared again, with some embellishments, at the time of the Moorish conquest of Spain. In 813 AD, a shepherd boy saw stars dancing over a field (compus = field, stellae = stars; all together, Compestola) and was divinely inspired to recount that this was the final resting place of St. James the Apostle. The Bishop of Iria Flavia (present-day Padrón) promptly verified this astonishing find. The miraculous re-discovery of James’ resting place was just in time to inspire the reconquest of Spain from the Muslims in favour of Christianity, and poor St. James became the figurehead of their armies. He is often portrayed as Santiago Matamoros, St. James the Moor-slayer, seated on a white horse and decapitating the enemy with his sword. I’m fairly confident he would not like this legacy, but that’s neither here nor there.

Thus, based on this legend and the military successes he inspired, Saint James (saint = Sant, James = Iago) became the patron saint of Spain, and his final resting place (associated with many miracles) became a place of pilgrimage.

The first recorded pilgrimage to Santiago was in AD 950, and the stream of pilgrims hasn’t stopped since. In fact, once the Holy Land was no longer accessible to pilgrims after the failure of the Crusades, this pilgrimage route became even more popular throughout the Middle Ages. It stands as the third most important pilgrimage site in Catholic Christendom, eclipsed by Rome (#2) and Jerusalem (#1).

Why Walk the Camino?

That’s a good question, and one every pilgrim has to answer for themselves. I can only give you my answer!

I learned about the Camino about ten years ago, while doing research for The Traveller’s Path. Yes, I know the setting of my books is 7th-century England, but you just never know what rabbit holes your research might land you in.

On that day, I was researching routes of travel across Europe in the early medieval period, and came across the Camino, an ancient pilgrimage that people took across the north of Spain, ending up in Santiago de Compestela. There was a casual mention that people still walked this route today.

Well, that intrigued me. And as I learned more about it, it continued to capture my imagination. It soon became a bucket-list item for my husband and I. An 800 km walk through historic and beautiful rural Spain?* Walking in the footsteps of millions of others who came seeking spiritual renewal? And did I mention, Spain?

Doing this significant walk that so many other Christians had done before me captured my imagination. There is a spiritual aspect to “my” Camino, but not in the sense that I think by doing this significant thing for God, He will bless me by answering a thorny prayer or two. I am not Catholic, but I am a Christian, and by nature an aesthetic person. The practice of spiritual disciples, such as fasting, prayer, contemplation, meditation, Scripture reading, etc is something that has brought me great joy and peace over the years. This long walk, which can stand as a metaphor of our life’s journey, with its steady march in one direction, seemed like a perfect reset at this time of our lives.

My husband retired from a very busy and stressful job a year ago, and we are at a natural crossroads of our lives. I sometimes tell people that he and I are celebrating this next phase of life by walking into it together. It will offer us opportunities for meditation and prayer, conversation, and silence. We will meet people from all over the world who are embarking on the same strange journey, and I’m looking forward to hearing their stories, too.

It’s also a physical and mental challenge, and I wanted to see if I could do it. I am under no illusions that it will be “easy”. Walking approximately twenty-five km a day for about six weeks is no joke. Lots of people do it, and lots are quite a bit older than us, so I’m confident that with the training we have been doing, we will make it to the end, too. We are not in a race, and we can stop and rest along the way each day as we like. But we have places booked to stay each night, so we do have an ending place we have to get to each day, and on average the distance is twenty-five km. It is a daunting thought, but, on the other hand, it’s just one step at a time, right?

Side note: There are heated debates as to who can be called a “pilgrim” on the Camino. Some insist that the “right” way to do it is to go with no expectations and walk just as far as you want to each day, finding a bed in a communal albergue (hostels set aside for pilgrims along the way) each night. Many do this and love it. It becomes part of the semi-mystical nature of the Camino for them, to see where they end up every night and who they might encounter. I think these debates and discussions are silly. For myself, I didn’t want to stress about where to stay every night and I absolutely did not want to have to deal with snoring and other unpleasantries each night (my husband doesn’t snore, thankfully!). I also didn’t want to be woken up by people getting up very early to get going so they can beat others to a bed in the next stopping place along the way. I need to get good sleep or I won’t make it, that’s for sure! So we have chosen to do it with reservations and without having to carry everything on our backs but our daypacks, our one piece of luggage will be transported for us from place to place each day.

In a nutshell, that is the Camino, and why I am doing it. I will take some prayers along the way, and am relishing the opportunity to get to better know myself, my husband, others, and God through this journey.

Follow Along? 

If you want to keep up with our journey, I’ll be posting a few pics and thoughts along the way over on my Instagram or Facebook page. Not every day. But I’ll try to post at least once a week. Hopefully.

I’ll connect back to this space after I return and let you know how it went!

In the meantime, here’s another picture of what we will see along the way, to wet your whistle! Maybe it will inspire you to walk The Way sometime, too.

*The Camino Frances, the route we are taking, is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. 

Looking for a fantastical tale set in a real historical time and place? Look no further! Check out The Traveller’s Path, a trilogy set in 7th-century England, featuring a young man whose shadowed destiny takes him to the past, where he could change our world forever.