Why the Camino?
An Ancient History
What we know as the Camino de Santiago today, and more particularly, the Camino Frances, was considered a sacred path, millennia before any Christians made their pilgrimage to the magnificent Catedral de Santiago de Compostela. For centuries Celtic/Iberian tribes traveled to the Atlantic Ocean, following the course set by the Milky Way. The Romans continued the tradition along the via Janus, as they called it, to Finisterrae, the end of the world.
Tradition teaches that the bones of Saint James, the apostle of Jesus, miraculously found their way to Spain after his martyrdom in Rome and were discovered in a Galician field sometime in the 9th century. Once Pope Leo XIII verified the bones as authentic, Santiago soon became a destination for Christian pilgrims. By the middle ages the Camino had become the third most important pilgrimage in Christendom, next to Jerusalem and Rome.
A Powerful Experience
Pilgrims once walked the Camino to pay penance for their sins, or even for the sins of others. Today many view the Camino not so much as a sacred endeavour as simply a fine walking holiday. And a fine holiday it can be; however, many others continue to experience the journey as profoundly spiritual. In fact, it’s been my experience that virtually all who walk the Camino get drawn up into a reality beyond themselves, however they might understand it. Along with the ubiquitous, “Buen Camino,” or “Ultreia,” one just as often hears, “The Camino provides…”
Are there alternatives to the Camino? Certainly, there are many. However, the spirit and history of the Camino create a unique space where many continue to experience the healing, life-giving power of God. They might not be out to gain forgiveness, but for many the air between earth and heaven is somehow thinner along the Way, and making the arduous trek engenders a rare moment of truly embodied spirituality.