I am back from five days on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. I walked 110 kilometers through the Galician countryside on the ancient pilgrimage that has had a huge revival in the past 20 years, despite the fact that fewer and fewer Spaniards identify as religious Catholics.
The Camino has existed at least since the ninth century, when the remains of St. James the Apostle, were "discovered" at Compostela. The legend goes that St. James, known in Spain as Santiago, came to Galicia to proselytize and established the first Christian community and church in Spain. Galicia is the northwest region of Spain above Portugal, where Gallego is spoken, a language similar to Portuguese, and one of the four official languages of Spain. Santiago then returned to Rome, where he was beheaded on the orders of Herod Agrippa. His disciples are said to have brought his remains back to Galicia and buried him at Compostela. In the ninth century, Santiago is said to have risen from the grave and performed miracles for Spain, including the defeat of the Moors at the Battle of Clavijo, earning him the nickname Matamoros (Moorslayer). Santiago was declared the patron saint of Spain, and Pope Calixto II in the tenth century declared a Holy Year, also known as a Jacobeo Year, every time St. James' Day coincided with Sunday. 2010 is a Jacobeo Year, so the sins of all pilgrims in this year will be absolved.
The Camino is probably the hardest thing I've done in my life so far. I walked through epic mud, rivers, in hailstorms and rainstorms, through forests and fields, beside roads, up and down hills. I learned not to think about how much farther I had to go, I just followed the yellow arrows through tiny rural towns and the middle of nowhere, thought about issues of ethics, my future, my personal relationships, anything to distract from the pain. I met many fellow pilgrims from all over the world including France, Germany, and Korea. Everybody had different reasons for the Camino, few of them exclusively religious. I was also observing Passover for most of the Camino, but I still managed to enjoy traditional Galician foods like Caldo Gallego, a soup consisting of cabbage, potatoes, and greens, and beef, which was everywhere, as Galicia is cow country. On my last night, when Passover was over, I tried Tarta de Santiago, a cake flavored with almonds and lemon and dusted with powdered sugar. The Camino taught me that I really can do anything, I can walk much farther than I ever thought possible, and when I think I'm going to keel over, I can keep on going.
When we finally reached the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, it was hard to believe it was over. I watched a pilgrims' mass, and at the end, they swing a big bottle of incense called the botafumiero. It was hard to get a picture with so many people and also it was swinging back and forth, but I tried.
Here are some pictures of the Galician countryside, my beautiful and perilous friend, and the outside and inside of the Cathedral of Santiago. The outside I have pictures of is Baroque, dating from the eighteenth century, but the original cathedral is Romantic architecture, dating from the tenth century. Unfortunately, the most famous Romantic construction, the Portico de la Gloria, was closed during my visit. I have pictures of two sides of the Cathedral, the Azabacheria or Northern facade, and the traditional entrance, the Obradoiro or Western Facade. There is also a photo of the Quintana fountain outside of Platerias, the Southern facade.