The Resurrection , the third and final section of the Camino, but not the end.
Leon was a welcome break after the long hot days on the flat lands of the Meseta. I had walked 22 days, 543km , taken 736, 248 steps, but still had another 330 km and 14 days to Santiago.
It was also to be a farewell to Donna and Grace who were heading back to New Jersey. We had arranged to meet up in Leon and spend our last night and rest day together. Our group had grown in size, different age groups and back grounds. Ian and Lynne from Australia; Jim from Greenwood South Carolina and Ed from Rayleigh North Carolina, friends of over 30 years; Kathryn and Alex, both 26 and, friends since they were 8, from Reading California. Just walking together, sharing stories, supporting each other, having fun.. …. I can confirm that Americans love Hygienists, I cannot tell you how many times they tell me they have flossed!
We went went to Pilgrims’ Mass together on the Saturday night in Leon, then out for dinner. Our last supper . We all got up early the next day to wish them a safe journey before we set off from Leon to Villa de Mazarife.
To be honest, there was something lovely about seeing a service in a church where the same Pilgrims’ mass has taken place for over a thousand years. It was certainly the case for me, and I asked Ian, who is not religious, what he thought. His words struck a chord with me when he said that for him this walk, this pilgrimage, this experience, had opened him up and that he had seen “ all the best of human nature and none of the worst”. Such a poignant way to put it, we are all sad that it has to end.
The interesting thing about the word “ rest day”: you think long lie-in , put your feet up…..but now you have arrived you need to explore . Nothing prepares you for the beauty of these cathedrals and churches that you see along the way. Burgos Cathedral was one of the first to be built based on architecture from Notre Dame. It was built about 1220 and added to over the years, in fact in the next 100 years most of these big churches and cathedrals were built based on this architecture. Our own Winchester Cathedral was one of them.
So there are churches, plenty of them, architecturally phenomenal and with simplicity, as breathtaking as the scenery,whatever the weather. With every step you take you cannot help but think of the thousands of people who have walked before you, and of the people you have already met who are ahead of you.
The pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela started in the 9th century.It is believed that after Christ’s crucifixion St James sailed to Galicia and started his preaching amongst the pagans there. When he returned to Jerusalem he was beheaded by Herod. The martyred St James` bones are said to have been brought back to the coast of Galicia to be buried at World’s End Finisterre , but they were intercepted by Queen Lupa who conspired with the Roman League to destroy his body and his disciples. His disciples managed to escape with his body after the bridge of the river Tambre that they crossed collapsed, and his body was finally laid to rest in Santiago.
The Camino is predominantly a religious pilgrimage , so do you have to be Catholic to walk the Camino? Will people look down on you if you are not? That’s the question that went through my head before I came here. I am doing this for a purpose, to drive awareness for mouth cancer and support HPV vaccination for all men,but I am opening up , learning things about myself and others, as I walk this way.It’s become very personal for me.
Thirty years ago there were approximately 120 pilgrims per year, but those numbers have grown. I think the awareness of this pilgrimage route has grown. Most people I have met have asked me if I have seen the film “ The Way” . For some it’s religion, some want to find themselves. For others it’s an adventure or to lose weight, but many are trying to come to terms with something in their lives. Certainly along the Way of St James the positive influences of the church and the faith of the people here are all around you. You feel it in the air that you breath, you see it in the flowers , the hills, the Meseta, the people, the churches. It’s very hard to explain unless you have experienced it. Last year there were nearly 200,000 pilgrims, and the numbers grow every year. Ultimately it’s what you learn from it, and it’s tough, it’s not for the faint hearted. I sat in a church, a very simple beautiful church, in Rabanal del Camin the night before I climbed up to Puerto Irago Cruz de Ferro. It’s here you add your stone of love and blessing. It is so emotional. It’s captivating , there is just something about the tranquility and the peace, whether you have a faith or not.
After Leon I had a few days on my own again. Some some quiet reflection in the rain. I had not been well and needed to slow my pace. Ed, Jim , Kathryn and Alex had gone ahead and we arranged to meet after O’Cebriero. We had all been thinking about the climb up O’Cebriero since St. Jean.They were a day ahead of me and my days had to get longer in terms of kilometres so that I could still be in Santiago for June 24th .The change in the landscape after the flat hot Meseta is so uplifting and appropriately fits the “Resurrection”. The words of the Stone Roses whirl around my head ” I am the Resurrection and I am the Light” The terrain is tough with steep rocky climbs in the rain, but when I get to O’Cebriero I am rewarded with this amazing town. So high up, shrouded by mist and rain like the mythological Scottish town of Brigadoon. This is one of the steepest climbs of the whole pilgrimage as the way crosses into Galicia through the Valcare Valley, leaving behind the vineyards of Villafranca. The countryside is reminiscent of Scotland with the changing weather conditions , frequent rain and thunderstorms, adding to the the atmospheric character of this area.Thick,hot local soups are a must for supper after a long day walking in the rain. The hot sun breaks through and the forecast for tomorrow looks promising .
After O’Ceberiro our group is reunited, and we walk together to Sarria where Jim’s daughter Melissa has flown in from the States to join him for Father’s Day. The walk to Sarria and onwards is on lovely woodland paths high up above the clouds. Beautiful views await us over Portomarin. The Iron Cross in the rain, I think for me, was more emotional than it would have been in the sun. I think it fitted my emotions, but the welcome breathtaking views after Sarria have lifted me, resurrected me!
I have taken my million step and have only 66km to go till Santiago.