We are all part of the one collective…and we are collectively awakening to a new spiritual age with a thirst for renewal and connectedness with our self and with others.
For me, I yearned to go for a walk, but… not just any walk; a walk that would open my heart and show me my true self; a walk that would show me the joy of sharing life’s journey with others along the way.
I had done my research, booked my flights and train travel, learnt where to pick up my Pilgrim Passport (credencial), and made the commitment to honour myself – it was time… time out from the familiar of my modern life. The Camino de Santiago was calling. What would unfold as I set off on a journey on foot to the fabled city of Santiago and its majestic and historical cathedral?
As I set off towards Santiago, I was mindful, as A Course in Miracles suggests; that the true temple is not a physical structure. Its true holiness lies at the inner alter around which the structure is built. And, yet the real beauty of the inner temple cannot be seen with the physical eye.
Walking through the inner landscape temple that is the essence of the camino, and through the many historically significant hamlets, towns and cities spread out along the way, opens you to the wonders within and some of the world’s most outstanding and baroque religious buildings. Sights to behold and many, many moments of reflection to be had. Again an inner voice reminds me to be mindful, and not confuse the messenger with the message, as each step brings one closer to finding the mysterious inner alter: and to open the heart. For when one follows their heart, magical moments and memories are made and an inner knowing of connectedness is ignited.
The route known as the Camino de Santiago is neither a road nor a highway. It’s a walkway trod by travelers of all kinds since the 9th century. ‘The Way’ as the camino is referred is the finest pilgrimage in Spain, and one of two or three in the world that passes through landscapes of exquisite beauty and significant cultural history. Many Christians are attracted to this remote corner of Europe as legend foretold that Santiago de Compostela is the burial place of the apostle St. James. As such, it ranks along with Rome and Jerusalem as one of Christendom’s great pilgrim destinations.
Yet, ‘the way’ has its origins in pre-Christian times when people of the Celtic/Iberian tribes made their way from the interior to Finisterra (land’s end on the Atlantic coast of Galicia). As part of the Roman conquest of Europe, they occupied Iberia by 200 B.C. They built infrastructure, including a road from Bordeaux in modern France to Astorga in northwest Spain, to mine the area’s gold and silver. Today, sections of ‘the way’ journeys over the remains of pavement laid by the Romans two millennia ago. By the 12th and 13th centuries, half a million pilgrims made their way to and across northern Spain and back each year. Local kings and clergy set about building hospitals, hostels, roads and bridges to accommodate them. The Knights Templar patrolled ‘the way’, providing protection, places of hospitality, healing and worship, as well as a banking system that became one source of their fabled wealth.
I had read that as I traverse ‘the way’, that I would find myself amongst the company of many who have walked before me, historical figures including Charlemagne, Roldan, Francis of Assisi, Dante Alighieri, Rodrigo Diaz (El Cid, Spain’s great epic hero) and other amazing people like you and I.
A popular starting point during both historic and modern times – Roncevellas, meaning ‘valley of thorns’. A village that has been receiving pilgrims from all walks of life. The sick and well, Catholics, Jews, pagans, heretics and wanderers since the 12th century.
The first few days are predominately downhill through a peaceful and picturesque landscape, and can be hard on your knees. I’m being given a taste of personal and physical strength along with rural country life as I pass through a number of small villages and towns before arriving in the vibrant university city of Pamplona.
Continuing to Puente la Reina and walking down Calle Mayor, the narrow road that ‘the way’ has followed for centuries and cross the magnificent Romanesque ‘Queens Bridge’, built to support the movement of an increasing number of medieval pilgrims, you forget about your sore feet, sore knees and other parts of an aching body. Instead, with open eyes and an open heart I take in the surroundings and witness the joy and gift of being in the present.
Time passes as I find my natural rhythm and flow and for me, I found that rising and leaving early each morning added to my enjoyment of being in the moment with natures gifts and the frequent pausing, to admire the intrinsic carvings on many historical buildings that provided time for personal reflection to what was unfolding within the inner landscape.
Rising and leaving early provides stunning sunrises and fresh crisp mornings welcome the day, and leave ample time to enjoy exploring the many outstanding and baroque religious buildings that pepper the outer landscape as one passes through the villages, towns and cities. It’s also quieter during the early afternoons whilst the locals are taking their afternoon siesta.
Gratitude abounds as everywhere there are fountains. Some contain refreshing drinking water to hydrate the body; and others wine to fortify it. The famous Irache wine fountain at the Monasterio de Irache near the village of Ayegui, provides pilgrims an opportunity to sample local free wine.
Whilst stopping to take in the expansive and breathtaking views of the Urbasa Mountain Range, soothes the Soul.
A 21.5 km walk between Estella to Los Arcos takes you through the native evergreen oak and pine trees as you climb your way up to Monjardin to behold the magnificent view around you and a distinctive backdrop with the ruins of St. Stephen’s Castle; before the landscape is moulded into remote vineyards and then opens to a lengthy stretch of country with little shade and few water fountains. Arriving in Los Arcos I am greeted with a warm welcome and the promise of a restful sleep at Casa de la Abuela. This delightful premises a short stroll from the square has seen many changes since 1888, and the current family have been the owners and caretakers of the building since 1955.
Situated in the square, the church of Santa Maria, Los Arcos – is a richly decorated monumental building constructed and renovated during the 12th to 17th centuries with varies styles, from Romanesque and Gothic to baroque and neoclassical.
An enjoyable and relaxing afternoon wandering the narrow streets and soaking up the tranquility, before sharing an evening in one of the outdoor cafés in the Plaza de Santa Maria; the authentic heart of the town that provides companionship with other pilgrims to share and exchange experiences and to acknowledge the kindness of strangers who offer practical and useful information about ‘Jacobans’ backpack services.
Days pass with eyes and heart open. There is much to see, much to experience, and much to be grateful for. Expansiveness is present as you pass through open and remote plains and crop fields before meeting with the national road on the outskirts of Santo Domingo de la Calzada.
The town and its network of medieval streets so named after Dominic de la Calzada who lived a long life and died aged 90 in 1109 was an important man in the area, responsible for much of the infrastructure at the time. He built bridges, a pilgrim hospital – now the Parador Hotel, cleared many kms of paths and helped rid the nearby forests of lurking bandits.
Santo Domingo de la Calzada is rich with historically important buildings and historic town square Plaza del Santo. The first church was established in 1098, with much of the current building from the 12th and 12th centuries. At the entrance of the town’s cathedral stands three statues of saints presiding overhead the square, one is Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Time well spent inside the cathedral admiring its interior, the Retablos and learning an interesting aspect of the town’s history. Before sitting in quiet contemplation by the lone olive tree outside beside the well, reminisce of a time passed, which still serves today.
For a small fee, ascending the interior stairs within the 18th century Baroque tower – Torre excenta, a freestanding Cathedral Tower provides opportunity to take in the spectacular views across the town and beyond.
Before leaving this rich historic town, I am told to find my way to the bakery, Panadería Sto and purchase some of their mouth-watering pastries, and stock up on a wonderful choice of sweet and sour dried fruit treats.
Departing Santo Domingo de la Calzada early, a crisp refreshing morning and a beautiful sunrise looking across the sweeping plains opens the day from the tranquil Jacobean village of Grañón. Once home to two monasteries and a pilgrim hospice, now home to a population of less than 300 habitants.
Further along the path on the hill top between Grañón and Redecilla del Camino stands a stately sign showing that you are passing the border into the autonomous region of Castilla y León. The largest region ‘the way’ travels through.
It is during the coming days, that became two weeks for me spending considerable time in this region, traveling through and breathing in the wide open plains of the Meseta approaching Sahagún; the half way point. Stopping to rest and rejuvenate my body in the smaller villages, towns and longer stays in the larger cities. Meandering the quiet narrow lanes and busy city streets and finding myself admiring the beauty and grandeur of two truly magnificent and beautiful Cathedrals in Burgos and León and many other memorable buildings constructed during the 9th – 13th centuries, along with monuments and ruins that grace the outer landscape, that continue to provide offerings of reflection that is awakening the inner landscape.
…the journey continues
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This blog is one of a five part series of posts sharing the heart opening joy of walking the Camino de Santiago. Continue reading and learn more about this centuries old hike across Northern Spain here. Purchase the most comprehensive ‘A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago: St. Jean – Roncesvalles’ here. And for those looking to book nightly accommodation, or stay in a location longer, you can find wonderful accommodation options here.
Thank you for taking the time to read and I hope you enjoy all that this centuries old pilgrimage has brought to myself and many, many others throughout time.
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