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The Nature of Pilgrimage

BobM

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances; Via Podensis; Via Francigena; Via Portugues; Via Francigena del Sud; Jakobsweg.
#1
Before my Camino I had difficulty articulating in a few words just why I wanted to do it. My motivations and reasons were a complex, shifting mixture of specific purposes and half-understood desires that really only took recognisable shape after I had reached Santiago, and, more importantly, Finisterre.

So I thought it might be helpful to give some thought-starters for others who may be grappling with the same difficulty.

My first insights came from a leaflet in the little chapel (San Nicolas de Flue) next to the big albergue at Ponferrada.

Many pilgrims do the camino to give thanks to God. Very late in my camino I met a lady who was walking to give thanks for all the good things life had given her and this insight helped me greatly.

Others walk to fulfil a promise, or to do penance. One man I met had walked the Camino Frances 3 times previously. He was walking for someone else, which struck me as a very significant way to focus.

The Pilgrim Museum in Santiago provided another very helpful leaflet that discussed the concept of pilgrimage in general and from which I quote below.

“Every major religion has a tradition and practice of pilgrimage.

Pilgrimage is a ritual journey, either alone or in a group, with the aim of achieving purification, perfection or salvation; a religious experience in which a series of bonds are established between a place of this world and a higher sphere, between an individual traveller and a community, between a flesh-and-blood pilgrim and he who is reborn, purified by the consummation of his goal. These bonds are what distinguish pilgrimage from other types of journey or travel.

Pilgrimage requires a sacred journey, a sacred place and a sacred goal. The sacred place may take many forms – a tree, a spring, a mountain, or a place where holy relics are revered. On the journey – a metaphor of earthly life – a personal transformation is initiated and effected through a series of rites that culminate in the moment of arrival. Here, his goal attained, the pilgrim is reborn, a new man.”


All the above refers to pilgrims in the traditional sense. Of course, many people do the camino for other reasons – they may be keen walkers who want to do a truly long walk, they may want to walk on Roman roads or see famous places or whatever.

But even such “tourists” may have a vaguely-sensed spiritual or religious drive that may be difficult to articulate at the beginning, but which becomes clearer as their journey progresses. They no doubt feel some comfort and satisfaction when they place a stone on a cross, attend the noon Mass at Santiago or carry out some small personal ritual at Finisterre.

I hope this is helpful to others who are trying to clarify their own thoughts in relation to the camino. In my case, this clarification and transformation occurred as my camino progressed. Indeed, it may still be occurring.

Regards

Bob M
 
#2
Although I am a very non-churchy Christian I think the various Churches have lost out greatly by not hanging on to the pilgrimage tradition.

I feel that one gets far more from a pilgrimage to Santiago or Rome etc than regular church attendance. Sil mentioned in a recent post, I think, that the pilgrimage itself was becoming the objective rather than the desination and I know what she means but without the destination having some spiritual value the pilgrimage becomes a long hike.

There are many "walkers who want to do a truly long walk, they may want to walk on Roman roads or see famous places or whatever," in fact one Jesuit I know started a walk to Rome with those sentiments and realised as he got closer to his destination that his walk had turned into a pilgrimage and I suspect this happens to many.
 
#3
William Marques said:
I think the various Churches have lost out greatly by not hanging on to the pilgrimage tradition
The RC Church (and, for that matter, the Orthodox) has never lost the 'pilgrimage tradition': thousands, if not millions, still participate regularly in major pilgrimages, to Lourdes, Fatima, Rome, etc., and more minor local ones. Santiago ceased to be a major destination (some historians doubt that it ever was), but that's an advantage for some people who are not part of the Catholic tradition and would never dream of going to somewhere like Lourdes - in fact, are put off by it.

William Marques said:
without the destination having some spiritual value the pilgrimage becomes a long hike
but many of those who go on long walks in the mountains or wherever do so for spiritual reasons - because they get something out of it, find it uplifting. There is no destination; just being there is enough. Is their motivation all that different from those who take a long walk to Santiago? For me, the main difference between the two is not the spiritual, but the historic/artistic/cultural aspects of the old pilgrimage routes.
 

sillydoll

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
2002 CF: 2004 from Paris: 2006 VF: 2007 CF: 2009 Aragones, Ingles, Finisterre: 2011 X 2 on CF: 2013 'Caracoles': 2014 CF and Ingles 'Caracoles":2015 Logrono-Burgos (Hospitalero San Anton): 2016 La Douay to Aosta/San Gimignano to Rome:
#4
Christian pilgrimage destinations

I know what William is referring to - the Reformation made pilgrimage unpopular and sometimes even unsafe. We know what Luther, Erasmus et al were protesting against but it is a pity that pilgrimage journeys lost their appeal with Christians. Nobody would then undertake a long hike to nowhere just for the sake of it!
thousands, if not millions, still participate regularly in major pilgrimages, to Lourdes, Fatima, Rome, etc., and more minor local ones
Of course they do. But Peter, except for Rome, don't you think that there is a difference between the ancient pligrimage destinations and the more modern Marian shrines you mentioned, where aparitions of the Mary were authenticated by the church? It doesn't matter how you get to Lourdes or Fatima - by car, train or tour bus. As with visits to the Holy Land and Rome, millions of pilgrims continued visiting the tomb of St James on his feast day even though walking the 'camino' was just a dim memory.
If there is no difference between a long hike in the mountains and a pilgrimage destination, why do you and others have a website devoted to pilgrimage, pilgrimage routes and pilgrimage destinations and not a Hiking/Backpacking website for ramblers and mountain backpackers? :?
 
#5
Liked very much the various thoughts about pilgrimage. When I did the pilgrimge a year and some months ago July August 06 I did it to clear my head and wanted direction - where to go next.. I guess pilgrimage means many things but what is common is a recognition that physical/ mental bonding often leads us to recognise what each of us may call the spiritual. Certainly pilgrimage shoudlbe encouraged all over teh world - Santiago is somehow simply so magnificient! I wd like to do it again and I look forward to when that might be,
 

BobM

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances; Via Podensis; Via Francigena; Via Portugues; Via Francigena del Sud; Jakobsweg.
#6
I am also thinking about doing the Camino Frances again in 2008. During and immediately after my camino in May/June this year I felt it would be a "once-off", experience.

I met one person who had completed the entire Camino Frances 4 times, and others who had done multiple smaller caminos (and several who had walked from Holland and Germany), but I could not (at the time) understand why they would want to return.

Now I understand such motivations better. The Camino is never far from my mind, and fresh insights often occur to me, creating a desire to do it all again.

For more details of my camino, see: http://bob-m-blog.blogspot.com/

Best wishes to all.

Bob M
 
#8
Pilgrimage is an important part of Christain development. It provides a focused worked example of the large whole, which is the pilgrimage of life. Life is bewildering and we need help to get a right view. And lets face it, it takes a very long time to get life into focus, the focus of a pilgrim to the heavenly city. By walking to Santiago we learn how to travel through this world in a light way, making the links to home ( heaven). For me the most wonderful part of the Santiago pilgrimage is the 24 hours after arrival in Santiago. That arrival is heavily pregnant with the future arrival in the city of God. The renewing of friendships, having done it and got there, meeting not statue of S. James, but Jimmie himself and more importantly Jesus.
As to the loss of pilgrimage as spiritual discipline, it must be recovered as quickly as possible. I am an Anglical priest working for that goal. I take a few friends with me each time I go ( 5 times now). In every case it has been a major life re-focus for those with me. More spiritual growth happens in those short weeks than happens in 10 years in parish work.
Pilgrimage as a major force in Christian Spiritually~ bring it on.
 

sillydoll

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
2002 CF: 2004 from Paris: 2006 VF: 2007 CF: 2009 Aragones, Ingles, Finisterre: 2011 X 2 on CF: 2013 'Caracoles': 2014 CF and Ingles 'Caracoles":2015 Logrono-Burgos (Hospitalero San Anton): 2016 La Douay to Aosta/San Gimignano to Rome:
#9
One of my favourite spiritual writers said:
"Sitting at home and meditating on the divine presence is not enough for our time. We [must] come to the end of a long journey and see that the stranger we meet there is no other than ourselves - which is the same as saying we find Christ in him."
 

sillydoll

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
2002 CF: 2004 from Paris: 2006 VF: 2007 CF: 2009 Aragones, Ingles, Finisterre: 2011 X 2 on CF: 2013 'Caracoles': 2014 CF and Ingles 'Caracoles":2015 Logrono-Burgos (Hospitalero San Anton): 2016 La Douay to Aosta/San Gimignano to Rome:
#12
He is my favourite (along with the Dalai Lama!)
Here is his prayer for pilgrims.

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end....
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does
in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
You will lead me by the right road, though
I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem lost in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
 
#13
I'm an atheist, so most forms of religion are to me at best an irritant. The Camino (and by that I mean the Camino Frances) is unusual in the numbers of people who do it. Without doubt many parts of the walk are very beautiful, but the additional feature is the gradually growing esprit de corps of those who set out, and they will almost certainly be people who are very assorted in language, culture and background.

Most of the people I met expected the Camino to be therapeutic in some sort of way, not necessarily religiously. I think it probably does do you a bit of good, beyond the fact that several weeks of fresh air and exercise is undoubtedly beneficial. It is healthy to have a measure of confidence restored in the basic decency of one's fellow creatures, no matter what part of the planet's surface they come from. The great majority of pilgrims are not specialist walkers - many have never done a long walk before the Camino, and will never do another unless it's the Camino again, so they will probably have to overcome an unaccustomed degree of physical discomfort to get to Santiago. This shared discomfort exerts a bonding effect - you need help to get along, and you will have to give help in your turn.

Although it is only 100 miles long the West Highland Way in Scotland has a little of the same ambience, so the 'Camino Effect' is not entirely unique. As the Breton writer Xavier Grall has it (quoted in the Randoguide to the Chemin de St Jacques in Brittany) 'Tout marche est spirituelle' - all walking is spiritual.

Unquestionably the pilgrimage is a metaphor, but each pilgrim decides what it represents. Just for fun, here is a Zen view:

Just before Ninakawa passed away the Zen master Ikkyu visited him.
"Shall I lead you on?" Ikkyu asked.
Ninakawa replied: "I came here alone and I go alone. What help could you be to me?"
Ikkyu answered: "If you think you really come and go, that is your delusion."
 
#14
Hi, Sil,

That's an incredible prayer; I'm not Christian or otherwise religious in any sense, but I love it! Maybe it's true whether a person believes in God or not - if you put yourself fully into going the right way, for yourself as well as others, eventually you'll get it. So thank you very much!

Erin
 

vinotinto

Active Member
#16
Re:

William Marques said:
I that the pilgrimage itself was becoming the objective rather than the desination and I know what she means but without the destination having some spiritual value the pilgrimage becomes a long hike.

There are many "walkers who want to do a truly long walk, they may want to walk on Roman roads or see famous places or whatever," in fact one Jesuit I know started a walk to Rome with those sentiments and realised as he got closer to his destination that his walk had turned into a pilgrimage and I suspect this happens to many.
A little ways into my trek on the Camino Frances, I stopped at a cafe to relax. There, I encountered a Scotsman with heavily bandaged feet. It seems he had initially tried to run the Camino, like it was a sporting event. He would get up at the crack of dawn and hit the Way at a rapid pace. At first he covered 40+ kilometers a day, but then the trail began to take its toll on his feet. Soon, he was forced to stop and take some time to mend.

While he was healing, a peregrina he had met early on the Way bumped into him, and they began to catch up. She pulled out her digital camera, showed him a number of pictures, and asked him questions along the lines of, "do you remember this church, or that person?" He confessed that he didn't - it was all a blur to him. He'd been too busy running to take time and smell the flowers.

At that moment, the deeper aspects of the Camino hit him full on and he realized that his athletic approach to the Camino was all wrong (not to mention harmful). So, he decided to abandon his plan in favor of a more laid-back trek. He began to walk (gingerly), taking in the sites and meeting pilgrims and locals. When I left him, he was laughing and enjoying the company of some fellow pilgrims over a beer.

I was impressed with his honesty and humility. But I was also struck by the life-changing power of the Camino. To me, this incident shows how the Way is bigger than we are, and the ability it has to alter our perspectives and sharpen us in ways we can't imagine. That's why I walked it - to be a part of something ancient and larger than life. I know I'll never forget it... :arrow:
 
Camino(s) past & future
May to July, 2014
#17
"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." A pilgrim is a person who is trying to come home for the first time.
 

BobM

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances; Via Podensis; Via Francigena; Via Portugues; Via Francigena del Sud; Jakobsweg.
#18
"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." A pilgrim is a person who is trying to come home for the first time.
Craig might also like this quote I put at the end of my first pilgrimage (SJPDP to Santiago):

Here is a quote from "A Journey to Portugal" by Jose Saramago, another of the great writers I have quoted from time to time, that beautifully sums up how I feel:

"The end of one journey is simply the start of another. You have to see what you missed the first time, see again what you already saw, see in springtime what you saw in summer, in daylight what you saw at night, see the sun shining where you saw the rain falling, see crops growing, the fruit ripen, the stone which has moved, the shadow that was not there before. You have to go back to the footsteps already taken, to go over them again or add fresh ones alongside them. You have to start the journey anew. Always".
 

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