The Way

The WayEight years ago, while studying for the Leaving Certificate in school, I was sitting in an Art History class and I must admit, I was bored out of my mind. I was fed up of learning about Georgian Architecture in Dublin and the Neo-Palladian style of architecture employed by some of the famous architects of the time. I was doing my best to rest my head in my hand without being noticed by the teacher. That particular day, we came to the end of the Georgian section and we were directed to a new section: Architecture cerca 1000 AD. I rolled my eyes and turned to the required page.

It is a memory I still retain, as it was the first time I ever heard of the ‘Camino de Santiago,’ an ancient pilgrimage route that winds its way through France and Northern Spain towards Santiago in the West.  We started reading the historical introduction to this section and I found myself fascinated. As European Civilization approached the year 1000, a shadow of fear and gloom settled upon the lands. Economies and societies fell into disrepair as it was widely believed that the year 1000 would be the end of the world. Jesus would return in glory with his angels to weigh the souls of the living and the dead and send them either to Heaven or to Hell. As a result, nobody saw any point  in maintaining order or continuing with non essential activities.

The year 1000 dawned and the sinners of the time must have breathed a sigh of relief. The world continued as normal. Some people moved on with their lives as before, but others chose to dedicate  time to God in prayer, fasting or even pilgrimage as a form of thanksgiving. They traveled to many places, chief among them Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago, where it is said that the remains of St. James the Apostle are buried. As this became a common thing to do, small communities that started as resting points for pilgrims on their long journeys grew larger over time, eventually leading to the construction of major cathedrals along the way. These cathedrals catered for the swell in the number of pilgrims. People believed that pilgrimage could bring them closer to God.

Nowadays, people still walk the Camino de Santiago. Some do it for religious or spiritual reasons, while others do it for adventure.  Everyone’s reason is different and personal. Traditionally, the Camino started at one’s front door, but you can start where you please in an age of air travel. The most popular route is the ‘Camino Frances.’ This starts in France in a town called St. Jean Pied de Port. However, it is not long until the pilgrim finds him or herself crossing the border into Spain. At that point, there is about 700 km of walking to do to reach Santiago. Several of Spain’s larger cities mark the way, with Pamplona, Burgos and Leon all part of this route. Upon reaching  the cathedral in Santiago, pilgrims receive a ‘Compostela,’ which is a certificate verifying the completion  of the journey for religious purposes. Alternatively, if the traveler has another reason for walking the Camino, such as cultural interest, they receive a certificate of acknowledgement. It is necessary to walk at least the last one hundred kilometers of the Camino to receive a certificate. This achievement can only be proven by presenting one’s passport at the pilgrim’s office in Santiago, which must bear the stamps of all the pilgrim hostels stayed in. These are alternatively called ‘albergues’ and ‘refugios,’ which are specific resting points for pilgrims where they can find bed and food for one night at a lower price.


(The Cathedral in Leon, Spain)

I want to walk this path someday. I have no immediate plans to do so, but in the last year, it has become something of a frequent thought for me. Everything seems to remind me of it and people have even brought it up in conversation out of the blue. It is as if the universe is trying to push me towards it. Often in our lives, we put things on the long finger for different reasons, whether they be financial, time or fear related. For me, the Camino potentially represents all of these reasons for not taking the proverbial bull by the horns and deciding to undertake the walk in the very near future.

The Way does not have to be a costly experience, but a minimum of 1500 Euros would surely be required, by my estimation. That’s 37.50 per day, if it takes 40 days. Of course, some people walk it in a month, but other people take longer. And it all depends on how much you want to spend. Do you want more up-market accommodation every so often or are you content with the cheaper pilgrim hostels. And what type of food do you want? Gourmet or a normal meal?

Time is an obvious barrier in committing to undertake the Camino as well. The traveler must be able to leave behind normal life for a significant period. Anyone employed in a steady job is unlikely to be able to get that amount of time off. Likewise, someone self employed probably could not afford to take so much time away from their business.

The ‘fear’ factor, perhaps for want of a better word, can also hold one back. In my case, I find the the prospect of starting the Camino alone unappealing. I would prefer to travel with friends. Apart from the fun and the camaraderie, there is the practical benefit of having good help at hand in case it is needed. However, some people prefer to start alone, even largely go it alone, to afford themselves time for self reflection. Of course, people from all over the world walk this path and my idea would be to make new friends along the way, thus enriching the experience.

There is an excellent film about one pilgrim’s experience of the Camino de Santiago called ‘The Way.’ Directed by and also starring Emilio Estevez, along with his father Martin Sheen, it is a poignant tale of a father’s journey on the Camino after the death of his son, who had been undertaking the pilgrimage. He meets many people on his journey, some of them very colorful personalities and they give us a glimpse of the diversity of people who make this journey to Santiago.

The Way Martin Sheen

For me, it is this diversity that is most attractive about the prospect of walking the Camino. If I had to put my finger on it, that would be it. It is a reflection of life’s journey, even though to undertake the Camino requires one to step out of their normal life. We start off at one place and then meet, see, talk, do, taste, go, love and hear, plus any number of other actions throughout our lifetimes and all end up ultimately at the same destination. Yet we never know what to expect in the ‘in-between’ stages and this is what is so exciting about life and about the Camino. It is like a work of art in progress.

Now that I’ve mentioned art again, that’s a good point to stop, I think! Just to clarify, I did enjoy Art History in school. Perhaps that day was a fateful one in my life, as who knows how the Camino will unfold for me, please God. Should you find that this article has whetted your interest, well, perhaps we shall see each other at some point along the way. Buen Camino!Cathedral santiago de compostela(Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the ultimate destination of the pilgrimage)

31 Comments Add yours

  1. Brilliant! Dreamed, since I was in high school, of doing at least one of the routes before I die. The Way is a brilliant film that depicts how important that pilgrimage route is to European history.

  2. Re-posted a link to this on our Facebook page! Hope that’s cool!

  3. thequail49 says:

    Saw The Way with Martin Sheen and loved it. Found it very inspiring and has given me the desire to take the walk. Maybe someday…

    1. Hi there, Quail. Thanks very much for reading! The film is really inspiring indeed and I hope that you are able to walk the Camino whenever the time is right for you.

  4. ‘The Way’ is such a powerful film. I hope you manage to achieve your dream of walking the trail someday – it’s bound to be a life-changing experience.

    1. Thanks very much for your comment, Little Tiny Scribbles! It is a seriously good film. Everyone who has seen it agrees on that, I think.

  5. nolanwrites says:

    Such an interesting and lovely post to read. The sad thing is, many of us cannot get off the merry go round that is life to experience such wonder!

    1. Thats it. Is that what brought you to Singapore? I have been very blessed in my life in the sense of the things I have been able to go and see and experience, although I only really know Spain and Italy reasonably well.

      1. nolanwrites says:

        To be honest, Singapore was the place I was most likely to find employment after graduating. I had already switched careers and so there was no real time to wait around. But Singapore has given me more than just a job – I’ve experienced new cultures, have been able to travel to parts of South East Asia and I’ve developed lovely friendships. What was the reasoning behind your future career (or vocation) path?

      2. Ah ok, so what do you do? If I had to guess I would say you teach english. Maybe I’m wrong though 🙂 If you are asking me from the point of view of reason why I chose to enter seminary, well, the simplest answer is that I felt called in my heart toward the priesthood. It was something I experienced for six years before I ‘gave into’ it! I reasoned ‘I’ve been thinking about this for long enough’ so I said I would give it a go. The great thing is there is no pressure and no commitment until being ordained a deacon, which takes place after about 6 years normally 🙂 I’ve just finished my first.

      3. nolanwrites says:

        No, not a teacher!:) I’m a Physiotherapist. But I was a Barrister for a hot minute before that. Realized quickly that it wasn’t for me! I think it’s pretty amazing that you’re following your heart and I hope that you’re enjoying the journey. I hope that you didn’t mind me asking about your reason for joining the seminary. I have to admit, when you posted on Suzie’s blog party that you were in the Seminary (Is that even the correct way to say it?), I was very intrigued. It’s great that you still have a long way to go before fully committing? I suppose that gives you time to really make sure it’s what you want.

      4. Fair play to you Melissa. It takes guts to leave something which you had trained so hard for because you know its not for you. I am enjoying the journey, although it’s hard work at times. One thing that is certain, you really get to know yourself better through the seminary process, which is designed to stretch you and make you learn. I don’t mind at all 🙂 I like talking about it and yes, saying I am in the seminary is the correct way to say it. I suppose it’s not so usual anymore, thats why I include it in my blog, as it’s something that is unusual about me personally. I’m glad it intrigued you. 🙂 I certainly have fove or six years to go I’m sure, if I make it, please God. How long have you been living in Singapore? Are you planning on staying there for a good while? It must be lovely 🙂

  6. Thanks! Sorry I should have thanked you for your compliment in the last comment. 🙂

  7. nolanwrites says:

    You are right, it is unusual for someone your age (I’m assuming you’re in your mid-late twenties) to enter the seminary but I find it so unbelievably interesting. Obviously I am (for the most part) Catholic but I’ve grown up seeing priests being of an older generation. I’ve been in Singapore for 10 months so not that long. It’s certainly been an adventure, some good, some bad. The work ethic here is different from at home. People here live to work, (not that there’s anything wrong with that, if that’s what you want) but there’s no real work life balance. Not sure how long I will be here but for now I’m just taking things as they come. I’m getting such unbelievable education and clinical experience here so that’s making me happy right now. I have to say Tony, I’m so delighted that I’ve met you! What part of Ireland did you grow up in?

    1. I suppose most of the guys (about 60 now in Ireland), average between 25-35 and I’m in my mid twenties. I’m glad its going so well for you 🙂 Its a pleasure to meet you too, albeit virtually 😛 Sure it will give context to any posts we read of each others. I was wondering the same about you. 🙂 I grew up in Meath, about an hour from Dublin City centre. What about you?

      1. nolanwrites says:

        Wow, I really thought the number would be less. I grew up in Co. Dublin by the sea but then moved to North Dublin about 30 minutes from the city centre, which is probably close enough to where you are from. I even lived in The Liberties for a short period before coming to Singapore and I loved it. It gave me a sense of ‘old school Dublin’. The community atmosphere was incredible. Walking down Meath Street was a treat…everyone saying hello and stopping for a chat. Are you on Twitter? It might be nice to DM.

      2. It probably is a little less than that, but there were fifteen ordinations to priesthood this summer 🙂 The coast along Dublin is beautiful, I’ve been to Dun Laoghaire and Malahide, for example. I am on Twitter, but I don’t use it so so often. What do you mean by DM? :p I only really use Twitter to automatically share blog posts.

      3. nolanwrites says:

        I mean to Direct Message, sorry haha! That’s no problem. I only suggested direct message just to prevent putting too personal information on the Internet. Yes, the Dublin coast is stunning and at times I do miss it. What I miss more though is breathing cold fresh air…that does not exist here in Singapore! 🙂

      4. Well that would be fine, its basically instant chat is it? Yes I appreciate that too, I don’t study here in Ireland, I’m just home for the summer from Rome. 🙂

      5. nolanwrites says:

        Wow, how exciting! I’ve actually never been to Italy! it’s kind of like instant messaging but with limited characters (140). I’m not on Facebook so maybe email might be better because of the limited characters available on Twitter?

      6. Well 140 sounds like plenty on immediate inspection but sure if you like we can exchange email addresses, maybe on twitter itself 🙂

      7. nolanwrites says:

        Ok Great! My Twitter is @nolanwritesblog

      8. I sent you a ‘tweet’ 🙂

      9. nolanwrites says:

        I sent you a DM 🙂

  8. Lovely post. I can certainly see the appeal of walking this path, even though my faith isn’t Christian.

    I am wondering. If it is playing on your thoughts so much, I am wondering if it would be worth it to just try it. Take a few days, and start the path as a retreat. You can do it incrementally, and you can get a feel of what it is like. What do you think?

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, it is a great idea. 🙂 Yes, you don’t have to be Christian to walk it, sure, it is all part of our planet Earth. It would be a wondrous experience I think. Unfortunately, at the moment the only time I would have to do it is during summer, as I am a student. But sure that is loads of time! Maybe next summer. Thanks for reading this. I’m actually just about halfway through your post on the guns in America. You’ve laid out an intelligent and fascinating explanation of the need for flexibility in the 2nd amendment, according to area. It’s very interesting. Thanks again. Tony 🙂

      1. I just don’t want to see you get into the “Someday” mind frame, Tony. Even if you walked just a few kilometers, you can say you experienced something.

      2. That’s very kind of you. I suppose we are all in danger of that. I know that, please God, I shall have specific time periods in the years to come when I will be able to do just as you have suggested, so I must decide soon which of those times I will do it. Then I’ll post here to let you and everyone know how it is 🙂 Thanks again for reading Karen. Tony

  9. Almost Iowa says:

    I heard about the pilgrimage back in the 1970’s but that was not a good time to be in Spain. Instead I did the Canterbury pilgrimage in reverse, walking the North Downs Way.

    1. Yes, Spain was indeed in a bad way back then. At least they don’t have that problem any more.I must keep the Canterbury pilgrimage in mind, it could be a nice alternative. Thanks for reading 🙂

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