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Monday, 05 May 2008

The Pilgrim’s Place: Le Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle - Page 2

Written by Cameron Karsten
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I came to Le Puy after being inspired by a book written by Paulo Coelho entitled The Pilgrimage, which chronicles the author’s mystical quest along The Way of Saint James (Le Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle) or El Camino a Santiago de Compostella – its commonly referred-to Spanish equivalent. This lengthy pilgrimage from France across the Pyréneés and traversing Spain is rough, challenging, cultural, and it is isolation from the external world for le pelerin (the pilgrim).

With the first sounds of the new day’s traffic I was up. I wiped the mud off my mat and appeared to make myself as orderly as possible. With darkness still deep in the sky, I climbed back up to the church and sat beneath its stone portico. The time was 5:30.

I waited an hour and a half. The Church of Notre Dame is the starting point of Le Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle. It was here that Pelayo first began, and today it is here that the pilgrim receives the passport (la créanciale): a small booklet of collected stamps to prove one’s worthiness to the pilgrimage. Fortunately, I was in time for the daily mass. The Pilgrim’s Place: Le Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle, Santiago de Compostella, El Camino a Santiago de Compostella, The Way of Saint James, pilgrimage France Beginning at seven, the service lasted one hour. Inside, the stones echoed the priest’s blessings and the nuns’ choir filled each niche, bringing life to the frozen statues. In the misty morning outside, the stained glass reflected the hues of the rainbow.

Shortly after nine in the morning on August 9th, 2007, I took my first steps. Up and out of Le-Puy-en-Velay the hills climbed. They took me onto a plateau and instantly I was in the French countryside. Here, clouds came closer to the earth and fields rolled along with their grains of harvest. Cylindrical bails of hay were stacked in open country and tractors groaned through the quiet of the day. Slowly, I came upon my fellow pilgrims who attended the morning’s mass, as well as others who had not. We exchanged French pleasantries, spoke briefly in our first day’s excitement, and proceeded walking along at separate paces. One man I met was German. He started his pilgrimage some years back from Nuremburg, and each summer he took three weeks of his holidays to etch towards Santiago de Compostella. It was 1600 kilometers from Le-Puy-en-Velay in the Massif Central region of France to Santiago de Compostella in northwestern Spain.

“Where are you heading this year?” I inquired. “Figeac, and then I must return to work,” He said and then paused to take a breath. With a large pack, a camera strapped to his chest, a shoulder bag carrying his heavy water bottle, and a walking pole in each palm, he appeared to have his hands full. “Maybe,” he continued, “I will reach Santiago de Compostella in a few more years. Maybe.”

All the days soon fell into one another with the routine and a constant pace. Without a map or a guidebook, things felt simpler. I followed the signs, bright white and red horizontal stripes that marked the GR 65. Upon trees, fence posts, electrical poles and signs, these markings could be found as long as one kept their head up and their awareness keen.

To me, the white and red colors became a lifeline. If I strayed, I was lost and had to backtrack. But if my eyes kept scanning the terrain ahead and to the side, I would be safe.

The Pilgrim’s Place: Le Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle, Santiago de Compostella, El Camino a Santiago de Compostella, The Way of Saint James, pilgrimage FranceIn the first week, the land was mountainous. Lush woods and verdant fields climbed up and down endlessly, bending me at the waist to a point where I tucked my thumbs into my pack’s shoulder straps and heaved. The land was like a bed of giant swells, rolling the pilgrim through the landscape and into small country villages where fountains (or eau potable) permitted one to quench his or her thirst.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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