Randomly Chosen Religious Reads - No 10




This is a guide to the final stage of the Portuguese Camino, ‘written by a Spanish pilgrim for pilgrims from abroad.’ It starts on the Portuguese/Spanish border at Tui and heads north, reaching Santiago 117 km later. Santiago, we’re informed, is the third most important pilgrimage site in the Catholic world after Rome and Jerusalem.

It all began in the year 813 CE when the remains of Santiago - St James – were alleged to have been found in Galicia in Spain. (Luther reckoned they were probably the remains of a dog, but why allow the facts get in the way of a good story; and the church authorities were happy to encourage the idea that the apostle James had in fact managed to reach Spain).  The site grew in popularity as a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages, experienced a decline in popularity from the Reformation onwards but has undergone a remarkable rise in popularity in recent decades.  Nowadays over 250,000 pilgrims a year find their way to Santiago, from all over Europe and the United States. (Shirley Maclaine (83) is one ‘celebrity’ who has recently got in on the act.).

We were a group of six with an average age of 70.25 and by walking over a hundred kilometres on the Camino, we qualified for the official certificate issued by the office of the cathedral of Santiago. We entered the cathedral around 10.30 am on Friday, 15 June, in good time for the 12 noon Pilgrim’s Mass, which we all agreed was a well-orchestrated, special occasion, complete with a singing nun and the swinging of the famous cathedral thurible!

During our seven days of walking we took the easy option, as befitted our seniority, of having our luggage taken by taxi from one little hotel to the next, leaving us with day packs for the journey. The weather in early June was extremely hot but nearly all of the walking was done in delightful surroundings of woodland and country lanes. We also topped and tailed the walk with a few days in the attractive Portuguese city of Porto beforehand and a few days in Santiago to conclude the expedition.

Galicia is, this guide book informs the reader, celebrated for its seafood and wine, especially the white. We ate extremely well, enjoying, among other delights, the ‘Pimiento de Padron’ - delicious small green peppers, and the Tortilla Espanol - Spanish Omelette. It wasn’t difficult, despite the walking, to put on weight.

There are a number of guide books about the Portuguese Camino, and this one was certainly not without its merits and proved to be an interesting and helpful commentary on the route we were walking.  And as Barbara Ward wrote in an earlier ‘Grapevine’ – Issue no. 86 - ‘there is no early evidence to support whether the myths and legends surrounding St James are true. Does it matter?  He has been a catalyst for something much wider and deeper.’              

Colin Douglas






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