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interview #2 Tracy Saunders: Pilgrimage to Heresy


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Pilgrimage is of all people, faiths, sferes and ages - for hunters, gatherers and smorgasbordians:

[published on 08-08-08 at 08:08]

interview by mail -2- with Ms Tracy Saunders
writer of Pilgrimage To Heresy
Born in Wroughton, Wiltshire, England.
After 23 years in Canada, she now calls Spain (Marbella) her home.

The full title of the book is:
Pilgrimage To Heresy
Don't Believe Everything They Tell You
A Novel of the Camino

What´s New?
Listen to Tracy Saunders with Hannah Marshall on REM.FM], Marbella (2 radio interviews) and TV International Mijas 3.40 at 2:00 June 19th 2008 and a later sequel. (News and Views - more news on a tv interview follows asap) (3)

I learned to know Ms Saunders while she and Mr Gareth Thomas made a big success of my post The Santiago Enigma (TSE) on this Forum (4). Then I read the chapters of Pilgrimage To Heresy (PTH) offered on the internet (1)(2) and I even more admired her style and passion. She writes so 'fresh' that my first thought was that she would be a junior, but seeing her professional cv (5)(6) made it clear that she is a senior in her business and talented in many fields too I would think. A perfect background for exploring one the greatest mysteries of our time: what did Saint James and Priscillian do in Galicia? That tantalized me to ask her for this interview by mail which she graciously granted.

My questions circle around these big seven WHY's, WHERE's, HOW's and WHAT's:

1. Why Priscillian?
2. Where and how did you fall for him?
3. What fundament under the story?
4. What about the big fish in Santiago?
5. What is happening at Cabo Fisterra?
6. What about your former and following books?
7. What is your comment on TSE?

Q1: Why Priscillian? I read about Priscillian a quarter of a century ago but he did not capture my imagination like Ms King did with The Way of Saint James (TwoSJ). Recently I was asked to put my fascination for Ms King and her book into a few words and all I could say was: "Look at her picture; what you see is what you get!" Could you say in a few words why you are so drawn to Priscillian?

A1: They say: "You don´t choose the Camino: the Camino chooses you". I sometimes feel that Priscillian "chose" me. After all, there are many intriguing personalities associated with the Camino, some historical, some very much alive. But the very idea that a "heretic" might be buried in that hallowed spot in Compostela was just too intriguing, scandalous even, to ignore and I began to do some digging, so to speak. The modern day parts of the book, following Miranda and her pilgrim friends, came from my own experiences although naturally I have amalgamated them and some - Felix for example (is he my animus?) - are completely from my own imagination. As for the Priscillian chapters: I sometimes wrote until five in the morning only to get up the next day to edit and wonder: "Where on earth did that come from!" I'm not sure I believe in "channeling" but there are some parts which surely couldn´t have come from me?

Q2: Where and how did you fall for him? Could it be that the stage of the camino you were walking at that magic moment you got curious has anything to do with the way the story got to you? Do you remember where it happened and what kind of day it was? Or did most of it come later?

A2: I like your expression: "...fall for him". I guess I did too. I was walking between Ponferrada and Cacabelos beside the slag heaps, on into the grape fields. It was early October. My pilgrim companion was Lance Owens, a medical practitioner, and as it turned out, a Gnostic priest from the Ecclesia Gnostica in Salt Lake City, Utah. We had been walking together for two or three days. I guess I didn't really question the authenticity of the remains in the cathedral; in fact, I hadn´t really paid it much attention; I was having too much fun! Lance dropped into the conversation that there was every possibility that St. James' remains were elsewhere and the most likely candidate so far for those found in the 9th century were those of Pr......ian. I use this quite deliberately because at the time the name itself didn´t register. But the idea most certainly did. It was like a bubble in the mind that compelled me.
What I did remember was that Professor Henry Chadwick´s name was also mentioned (and this one I did remember) and that he had written a book making just that suggestion: "Not really for the lay reader", I was told. Well that´s a challenge! When I got back to the south of Spain, I tried to order the book from my local English language bookshop, but the order came back "out of stock" time and again. In the meantime, I began looking online, but there was such a paucity of material (not so now) that, had I not become so fascinated with the idea, I might have given up. Most was either in Spanish (which I read - slowly), or German (which I don´t at all!).

Finally, a friend in Canada managed to get hold of a copy and sent it to me (even Amazon didn't have it). I read it, as you can imagine, with great fascination and as I read I thought: this is a story that has to be told. A noble Roman of Senatorial rank, wealthy and erudite, who is visited by a man and a woman coming from Egypt. Whatever it is that they brought him, or told him, it certainly changed his life. Gradually he began to attract followers from all over the north of Spain and even into France and northern Italy, but not surprisingly, he also attracted the ire of several of the Catholic bishops (and remember this was at a time when Catholicism was become the state religion and had already been somewhat "whitewashed") who did their best to shut him up.

The story contains elements of scandal - bishops accused of sexual improprieties, others being thrown bodily out of cathedrals, a charge of abortion, others of practising pagan rituals in farmers' fields, meetings in private houses where women were just as encouraged to speak as men... what a scandal: ordinary people being told that they could commune with the Divine without the intervention of the Deacons, Priests, Bishops of the Roman church. And all through this, Priscillian's message of simplicity and vegetarianism - the need for direct and intimate communion with God - all of this seemed to me so relevant to the world today with its alarming lack of regard for human dignity and impoverishment of spirituality.

The tragic consequences of Priscillian´s end at the hand of the secular arm of the Romans showed a man only too human and fallable and I felt that I had to tell his story. The emerging success of "Pilgrimage to Heresy" shows that pilgrims are willing to set aside what their guidebooks and the Official Websites tell them and consider other possibilities. That this doesn't seem to take anything away from the Pilgrim Experience is perhaps a case in point.

Q3: What scientific fundament has the story? Tracy, I haven't studied Priscillian like you did, but what I read about him in a few books was supported by only one serious source. In The Messianic Legacy (TML) the trio of writers of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (HBHG) which much influenced Dan Brown and others, and whom we can trust to do their homework, say: "At least one authority on the subject, Professor Henry Chadwick of Oxford, argues that the shrine of Santiago is in fact Priscillian’s grave": "argues"; not "proves"! [Geert] Our 3 heroes state on p148 of TML: "As we have said, at least one modern authority maintains that the mausoleum in question is Priscillian’s, and this is widely accepted by the local populace as well. In fact the major pilgrimage route to Santiago is said to be that by which Priscillian’s body was brought back for burial from Trier." Their most interesting note 17 on p474 of TML claims: "We owe this information to the Spanish writer and researcher Juan G. Atienza, whose speciality is the heretical and mystical past of Spain. He is a fine source of information on the Templars in the Iberian peninsula and the Balearic Islands." [Geert] Now your book PTH is a novel so you don’t have to prove anything but do you feel that there is enough scientific evidence on the matter?

A3: I have read "The Messianic Legacy", and found it, like all Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln´s books riveting stuff, but to your question concerning proof... the simple answer is no. During the 50´s some archaelogical work was carried out but the consensus in the scientific community was that it was amateurish and very badly reported. Today we might even consider it a cover up. Carbon dating, of course, would help to establish that the remains are 4th century not 1st century but the Vatican is not overly enthusiastic about doing this, not surprisingly since the Cult of St. James is so firmly established and entrenched as the whole (religious) purpose of the Camino.

The trouble is that there is no evidence for the remains being those of St. James either. Many chroniclers of the time fail to mention St. James. It is only after the 9th century that this idea takes hold, and there were overwhelmingly political reasons for having St. James as a figurehead to unite Spain against the Moors. What is interesting is that other remains have been found in the general vicinity dating from the late 4th and early 5th centuries: Priscillian's time and shortly after. They are buried facing the east, as the Priscillianists were, and there are a great many of them.

Could it be they wanted to buried close to some "holy" person, someone for whom they had reverence? We don't read anything about them. If we want to ask the question, we find that there are three "sets" of cadavers in that beautiful silver casket (which is from a later date, by the way), but not much more unless you really dig around in several languages. In Spain, the name of Priscillian is, if not a household word, at least known. And as you quote, many Gallego's claim him as their own. The problem is, the authorities (and you may interpret that as you wish) would really rather we didn´t talk about it!

Q4:What about the big fish in Santiago? Tracy, Forgive me the comparison but looking at the same time at Priscillian and Saint James I see the latter as the big fish I would like to catch as meant in Q5. Do you have any plans in that direction after your next book or do you feel tempted?
A4. Not really. I have been reading an excellent book sent to me by Robert Hodum entitled "Spain´s St. James and his Way", (Seaburn Books, 2005). Robert and I come from somewhat opposite ends of the spectrum regarding the Tomb in Compostela so I contacted him and we swapped books. It´s a fascinating read and I have learned a lot. It even has a chapter devoted to Priscillian. But I still remain unconvinced that St. James' impact on Spain (9 converts at most) would have lead to his disciples bringing his remains back to Spain (why?) when it is far more likely that they remained in the Holy Land and one church in Jerusalem makes the conflicting claim that his remains are there.

Of course, the Cathedral is dedicated to St. James (which raises questions in and of itself) and there are fascinating stories to be had about the building of it, most especially the story of the Bishop Diego Pelaez who was charged with treason in the late 11th century, and arrested despite being overwhelmingly supported by the people of Compostela. He was, as you know, eventually replaced by Diego Gelmírez with whom we tend more to associate the building of the Cathedral (and later, the Pórtico).

By all accounts, he was a power-hungry man who maintained his own "armada", and in one popular uprising the people of Compostela burned his house to the ground so that even the bells melted! The Bishop´s Palace is beside the Cathedral and you can visit it and even get to walk on the roof of the Cathedral. But what is overwhelmingly obvious is that Gelmírez was a man who took himself very seriously... even set himself up to rival the Pope! How can any writer worth her salt ignore that as a possible continuation of the "Priscillian story"? Watch this space!

Q5: What has happened and is happening now at Cabo Fisterra?Tracy, After all is said and done on Priscillian, Saint James, the Holy Land, Santiago and Trier it is my feeling that there is something else of far greater importance to us all. Could that be what has happened and is happening now at Cabo Fisterra? If I had to mention one theme in The Way of Saint James that is repeated most often (or impresses me most) I would mention death and Santiago’s psychopomp function. In that respect it is not relevant whose bones are buried there, whether it was Jacob, Yacoub or James, but it seems more important that especially Fisterra is the place where not only the sun sets, that long -not winding but straight- Way ends and more things concerning people of present and past -and times before churches got organised- come to a halt. Could you comment on that?

A5: Oh I do so agree! Since writing "Pilgrimage to Heresy" I have been overwhelmingly gratified to see that most people realise that it is not the story of a "heretic" which is the mainstay of the story: it is that of Miranda, and Kieran, and Felix as they fumble their way along the Way. Only a few years ago, the Compostela was only given to those with "religious" reasons for making the pilgrimage. Now, most will give their reasons as "spiritual" or "cultural". And last year for the first time there were more people from outside of Spain than from within it.

The Camino touches all of us, and gives us what we need, though not necessarily what we set out to find. A friend of mine, Mark Shea ("The Overlander"; see YouTube for his video or visit my website for the link) made a simply wonderful and personal video of his own pilgrimage. One question he asks himself on camera is "Is what I am looking for the same as what I am going to find?"

That´s the beauty of the Camino - it surprises you and sometimes leaves you awestruck with that surprise. With the opening of more and more refugios between Compostela and Finisterre more and more Pilgrims are seeing Santiago de Compostela as only one more waystage. We go to seek the end of the earth; the place where the sun that sustains us, disappears, only to be reborn in the east the next day. (Dying and rising gods permeate mythology long before Jesus.) The ancients did that long before St. James, long before the Romans, and long, long before Shirley MacLaine. Pilgrims are burning their boots and clothes there: what a lovely Pagan thing to do!

Q6: What about your former and following books?

A6: In 1996, I was living and working in a remote part of the coastal rainforests of Costa Rica. It was in many ways "paradise", but the death of a close friend in Canada (who was only 47) brought me to the edge of a lot of self-searching and I decided to return to England where I was born, and to see my mother whom I hadn´t seen in many years. It was another pilgrimage: "Digging in the Dirt" by Peter Gabriel was to become a theme song. The journey ended in a way when I got to Granada in southern Spain, fell in love with the city, got a job within five days and quite literally tore up my return ticket. I was writing my experiences by then but it was not to be my story which became the focus of the book as just as I thought I was settled I received a phone call to say that my mother was terminally ill. I was on the next plane back to England and for the next six weeks my mother and I talked. The book is entitled "The Indalo Quest", not now in print, but slated for publication (after some changes and updates) for 2009.

Q7: What’s your comment on The Santiago Enigma and its hit-count slowly growing towards 4.000 without anybody guessing it? Do you expect too that the scaffolding in the Pórtico de la Gloria will sadly be the end if this beautiful enigma?

A7. Perhaps the fact that few have commented is significant in itself as what you are looking at is an enigma to be sure and enigmas can be interpreted in many ways. As Pilgrims we are rather fond of our "sacred cows" and perhaps actively deconstructing the Pórtico is one of them. I agree the faces are enigmatic. I have also wondered why St. James is seated as I have never seen him that way anywhere else. Master Mateo may have had certain mysteries he wished to impart but whether we will ever know them remains to be seen. Anyway... what are mysteries for?

The faces in question - John, Daniel - show an inner light, a "state of grace" if you like. Perhaps, like the Buddha, they are unwilling to try to put into words the ineffability of Joy? I have a beautiful card given to me by a nun in retreat in Naspinals, on the Chemin de St. Jacques. Along with a poem in French there is a photo of the statue of St. James in the little church there. His face shows the most complete, inexpressible, Joy! It´s like the poem in Nájera says about why do we walk the Camino: "Only He above knows." Lao Tse says: "He who speaks, does not know. He who knows does not speak". The Gnostics are "Knowers". Also, the look on the Buddha´s face exhibits the same expression, don´t you think?

Thomas is said to have gone to India, and in the "Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ", (which I am hoping to re-read: it was ages ago) it says that Jesus too went there during the "lost" years. Who knows? I can remember my own feelings of joy when I first completed the pilgrimage in 2000. I put those experiences into Miranda´s thoughts and words in "Pilgrimage to Heresy" when, having stumbled into the Cathedral not even realising she was at her destiny´s end, she comes down the steps, turns around and bursts into tears. I did the same. I wrote (to Lance Owens whom I mention at the beginning of this interview): "Am I in a State of Grace? I can´t seem to get this silly grin off my face!" Perhaps it is that joy of inner knowing which is the true Enigma, and perhaps it is there for all of us, whether we are Pilgrims or merely, pilgrims.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to write about "Pilgrimage to Heresy" and my own reasons for writing it. I hope your readers enjoy it also and I welcome their comments, as always:

Thank you for this interview; you're a gem too!

(1) ... 124&page=4 - selected pages of Pilgrimage to Heresy
(2) - Pilgrimage to Heresy - Excerpt: Priscillian 4th Century CE & Excerpt: 2000 CE Aragon
(3) and - 2 radio interviews
(4) miscellaneous-about-santiago/topic3794.html - The Santiago Enigma
(5) - cv Tracy Saunders
(6) home page about the author
Also: type "Pilgrimage to Heresy" into Yahoo, or any other search engine and you can read more of Tracy's comments/reviews for Pilgrimage to Heresy.
(PTH) Pilgrimage to Heresy by Tracy Saunders
(TML) The Messianic Legacy by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln
(TSE) The Santiago Enigma on the Santiago Forum (4)
(TWoSJ) The Way of Saint James by Georgiana Goddard King
See the flip book for easy reading or the txt version for quick browsing: ... 01kinguoft - Volume I; ... 02kinguoft - Volume II; ... 03kinguoft - Volume III;

Also see the first interview in this series with Mr Gary White: interview -1- on The Way of Saint James by Georgiana Goddard King by PILGRIMSPLAZA on July 30th, 2008, 8:06 pm on post24842.html#p24842.
And see the first of a new series on Georgiana's Gems on post24842.html#p24842.
The first of a new series of King's companions is now posted on pilgrim-books/topic4519.html.
About Priscillian:
About Tracy on worldwide tv: Priscillian, Tracy Saunders, and Supreme Master TV -
posted on this forum by Priscillian on August 11th, 2008, 6:46 pm (see
below on this page) and miscellaneous-topics/topic4534.html#p25230.

26-09-08: News on pr, reprints and interviews in Re: Evidence for St. James, or lack of evidence? by Priscillian on September 25th, 2008, 10:56 pm on post26442.html#p26442 .


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Time of past OR future Camino
Frances 1999, Aragones 2000, Desde Le Puy 2002, Portuguese 2009, hoping RDLP 2014
Priscillian, Tracy Saunders, and Supreme Master TV

Dear Geert and Fellow Forum members:
Thank you all for your overwhelmingly positive response to this interview. A great number of you have shown interest in my website and in Priscillian so I thought it would not be out of line to share the following:
I was contacted some weeks ago by representatives of Supreme Master Television which is based in California. They wanted to do a programme about Priscillian in their Our Noble Lineage series. I was happy to do the interview which was conducted at my agent´s office in Madrid, and, to learn something about the humanitarian efforts and gentle message of Supreme Master Ching Hai, about whom, I have to admit I had never heard. As it happens, the Lady, as she is affectionately called, has simply millions of followers all around the globe. The programmes are available in over 40 countries and no less than 16 languages!
The interview will be shown in three parts beginning this Sunday the 17th, with subsequent parts on the 24th, and the 31st of this month. Supreme Master Television is a satellite station so you may have to do some scanning through to find it. It is on the Galaxy 25 satellite in the USA and the SKY satellite in the UK. Here in Spain it is shown on channels 417 and sometimes on 487. You can also watch online.
For more information and times please see:

Tracy Saunders

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