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University of California Press
Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago, Journeys Along an Ancient Way in Modern Spain / Edition 1

Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago, Journeys Along an Ancient Way in Modern Spain / Edition 1

by Nancy Louise FreyNancy Louise Frey
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Each year thousands of men and women from more than sixty countries journey by foot and bicycle across northern Spain, following the medieval pilgrimage road known as the Camino de Santiago. Their destination is Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of the apostle James are said to be buried. These modern-day pilgrims and the role of the pilgrimage in their lives are the subject of Nancy Louise Frey's fascinating book.

Unlike the religiously-oriented pilgrims who visit Marian shrines such as Lourdes, the modern Road of St. James attracts an ecumenical mix of largely well-educated, urban middle-class participants. Eschewing comfortable methods of travel, they choose physically demanding journeys, some as long as four months, in order to experience nature, enjoy cultural and historical patrimony, renew faith, or cope with personal trauma.

Frey's anthropological study focuses on the remarkable reanimation of the Road that has gained momentum since the 1980s. Her intensive fieldwork (including making the pilgrimage several times herself) provides a colorful portrayal of the pilgrimage while revealing a spectrum of hopes, discontents, and desires among its participants, many of whom feel estranged from society. The Camino's physical and mental journey offers them closer community, greater personal knowledge, and links to the past and to nature.

But what happens when pilgrims return home? Exploring this crucial question Frey finds that pilgrims often reflect deeply on their lives and some make significant changes: an artistic voice is discovered, a marriage is ended, meaningful work is found. Other pilgrims repeat the pilgrimage or join a pilgrims' association to keep their connection to the Camino alive. And some only remain pilgrims while on the road. In all, Pilgrim Stories is an exceptional prism through which to understand the desires and dissatisfactions of contemporary Western life at the end of the millennium.

"Feet are touched, discussed, massaged, [and] become signs of a journey well traveled: 'I did it all on foot!' . . . Pilgrims give feet a power and importance not recognized in daily life, as a causeway and direct channel to the road, the past, meaningful relations, nature, and the self."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520217515
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 12/30/1998
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 298
Sales rank: 1,080,321
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Nancy Louise Frey is an anthropologist and writer. She lives on the Galician coast in Spain.

Read an Excerpt

Pilgrim Stories

On and Off the Road to Santiago
By Nancy Louise Frey

University of California Press

Copyright © 1998 Nancy Louise Frey
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780520217515

Arriving at the End

. . . Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.
—Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

From the moment I entered the majestic Plaza del Obradoiro in Santiago de Compostela, I was surprised to see that far from having disappeared with the Middle Ages, the pilgrimage was alive and well. I could immediately recognize the modern pilgrims, who represented a mixture of the present and the past. Their backpacks and bicycles were adorned by the pilgrim's scallop shell, and many carried walking sticks. They ambled in the plaza—some alone, others in groups, all ages and nationalities—while some appeared to know where they were going, others seemed to be in their own private worlds. Their faces, tanned by many days of sun, registered a combination of joy, tears, disappointment, and fatigue. They seemed to be perfectly integrated into the animated scene. Occasionally a tour bus pulled up and middle-aged men and women got off, visited the plaza, and then moved toward the cathedral's double staircase. At the base of the granite stairs three or four women gathered, theirarms laden with silver charms and souvenirs, while former members of the tunas (university student singing groups), their long black capes flowing in the wind, tried to vend their music. In the plaza's center a group of ten teenagers flopped down to rest on top of their packs and staffs. A pair of cyclists, with shells tied to their handlebars, stopped in the middle of the square, looked at the cathedral's baroque facade, and hugged each other. Passing by them were what appeared to be businessmen and an occasional black-robed priest or nun. In the air was a combination of church bells and the sweet sound of a flute reverberating across the stone of ages.

Figure 1.
Plaza del Obradoiro and cathedral, Santiago de Compostela.

As I sat on one of the granite benches that line the plaza taking in this scene, a young woman with a camera approached and asked me to take a photo of her and her boyfriend with the cathedral as the backdrop. I asked if they were pilgrims, noting the shell she wore on a cord around her neck. With a smile they nodded and said that they had begun in Roncesvalles, on the border of Spain and France, and had walked for a month to reach Santiago in the northwest corner of Spain, a journey of 750 kilometers. I was impressed and asked them what it was like to arrive. They replied that they were disappointed the journey was over. They felt strong physically and hoped to come back next year. We spoke for a few more minutes, and then they said they needed to go. I asked them where they were going now. "To the cathedral," they replied. Did I want to come? Finding myself more and more curious about the modern pilgrimage, I agreed. They picked up their backpacks effortlessly (practice, I thought), and as we crossed the plaza, they explained that this was their honeymoon, that they both had made the Camino de Santiago (Road of Saint James) before but wanted to begin the marriage with a strong foundation forged by sharing the natural and human beauty of the Camino. I began to feel a bit confused.

It was noon, and the Pilgrim's Mass was starting. We sat down. The young woman caught someone's eye, and they exchanged a warm smile and small wave. It seemed that at least twenty other pilgrims were at the Mass. The backpacks mounted at the base of one of the massive Romanesque pillars probably belonged to the teenagers who now filled several of the wooden pews instead of the plaza. I recognized older northern Europeans: white hair, polypropylene clothing, bright colors. I found I could not listen to the sermon for the overwhelming impact of what I was seeing and feeling. After the Mass we left by the south entrance to the horse fountain plaza where the young couple rejoined some friends from the trip. With clear regret they said good-bye to their companions from the journey. They had to get the Compostela (the cathedral's certificate of completion, they explained) and then rush off to the train station. Both had to be at work the next morning in Barcelona.

I found myself with two other walkers who invited me to join them for a pilgrim's gastronomic tradition: lunch at Caps Manolo where the food was cheap and abundant. As we walked I was surprised at their openness to my questions. They did not seem to mind, and in fact one seemed to need to share his stories of the journey. He had walked out his front door in southern Germany two months previously, feeling an inexplicable loss and hoping that in walking things would become clear. Despite having had the trip of his life he was a bit worried about returning.

His companion, a Basque, felt energized and eager to return to his family and work. I did not have time to ask why, because we arrived and three other friends from the Camino were already in line—two men (one Spanish, the other English) and a Dutch woman.

It was a memorable lunch. Story after story in a mixture of Spanish and English tumbled out of the pilgrims. The Basque man had initially been accompanied by a friend who developed severe tendonitis and had to leave at Burgos, where he met the German. Shared moments and different versions of the same instances caused argument and frequent laughter. They asked about others on the way. What happened to the Frenchman with the donkey? This man, apparently, was also famous for his snoring, which they all recalled ruined a good night's sleep a week earlier in Cebreiro. Two were going to continue to the coast to Finisterre, the medieval end of the earth, the next morning by bus. They did not want to stop yet. I realized that the group had formed by chance; although they had started out alone, they had become friends as they walked. I mostly listened. As I had seen them all at the Pilgrim's Mass I assumed they were Catholic, but one explained that it was an ecumenical road, that one's religious beliefs were irrelevant. I was not a part of this group of "pilgrims," but I could see that I wanted to be. And so it was. The next summer I readied my backpack and took off for the Camino with two American professors and five other students. We also walked 750 kilometers. In 1994 I returned for thirteen months to study and live the pilgrimage for my doctoral dissertation in anthropology.1

When faced with the complexity of the contemporary Camino, the categories "pilgrimage" and "pilgrim" seem to lose meaning. Usually the words, especially in English, are associated with a religious journey, faith, or devout seekers, or for Americans, the Thanksgiving Day school plays that re-create the Mayflower's journey. The monopoly on confusion on this point, however, is not limited to the American side of the Atlantic. Before going to Santiago to study a young Italian woman was told that Compostela was similar to the Catholic healing shrine of Lourdes in France. Believing that she would find only "rain and religion," she was surprised by the inaccuracy of this stereotype.2 Although the Santiago pilgrimage has a religious foundation based in Catholic doctrine regarding sin, its remission and salvation, in its contemporary permutation these religious elements endure, but they also share the same stage with transcendent spirituality, tourism, physical adventure, nostalgia, a place to grieve, and esoteric initiation. The Camino can be (among many other things) a union with nature, a vacation, an escape from the drudgery ofthe everyday, a spiritual path to the self and humankind, a social reunion, or a personal testing ground. It is "done" and "made" as a pilgrimage, but what does that mean now? The glue that holds these disparate elements together seems to be the shared journey, the Camino de Santiago.3

Road Maps to Discovery

What is now commonly referred to as the Camino de Santiago is really a network of routes, many of Roman origin, extending throughout Europe that have been used regularly by pilgrims since the eleventh century to reach Santiago de Compostela.4 The various caminos are based on other historical pilgrimage roads to Santiago. The camino inglis (English way) led British pilgrims arriving by sea at La Coruqa south to Santiago, the camino portuguis (Portuguese way) brought pilgrims north, and the vma de la plata (silver way) was used by pilgrims from the south and center of the peninsula to join the camino francis (French/Frankish way) at Astorga.

The "Camino" now generally refers to the camino francis because it is and was the most popular for its infrastructure of pilgrims' refuges (hospitales , or hospices) and cities as well as monasteries, hermitages, and churches. The early medieval pilgrimage played an important role in the Christian repopulation of the peninsula fostered by the reigning political forces: kings of Navarre, Castile, and Galicia eager for control of lands and ecclesiastical powers seeking to expand reformed monastic orders south of the Pyrenees. The repopulation brought merchants and artisans, particularly Frankish ones, the development of an extensive infrastructure of villages, bridges, roads, and the construction of Romanesque and Gothic churches. Many elements of Spanish medieval art, literature, music, and architecture can be traced to Frankish influences of the same period, and vice versa. Much of this artistic traffic occurred along what was, by the thirteenth century, a well-developed pilgrimage and economic exchange route that touched all of early Europe. This route and the camino del norte (north way) along the Cantabrian coast brought pilgrims from the rest of Europe to Santiago. After crossing the Continent by one of the four French routes (Paris, Vizelay, Arles, Le Puy) pilgrims reached the natural frontier created by the Pyrenees.5

In the late twentieth century, as in the twelfth century, the camino francis enters Spain at two mountain passes, Roncesvalles and Somport. Both unite at Puente la Reina and continue via the stunning medieval stone bridge as one route that crosses Spain and a richly varied countryside—from the gentle mountains of the Pyrenees to the lush, rolling Navarrese

Pilgrimage routes to Santiago in Iberia and Francehills and the bull-running streets of Pamplona to the famous vineyards of La Rioja and the wild forests and ancient dwellings outside of Burgos through the often desolate, high plains of Castilian wheat (the meseta ) to the slow-rising mountains protecting Galicia and finally through the verdant eucalyptus-lined paths that lead to Santiago's door. The Camino also passes through large urban areas and villages whose formation and history coincide with its development. The pilgrimage routes are predominantly rural, open, and unpaved—just as modern pilgrims wish.

As I learned about the pilgrimage's reanimation, I discovered that these historical facts are important; modern pilgrims often want to travel the same routes as the medieval pilgrims who first ventured to Santiago, and to experience them in the same way. The emphasis placed on the journey and how one reaches the shrine at Santiago struck me as marking an important difference between other popular western European pilgrimage centers such as Fatima in Portugal or Lourdes in France. With these other centers, whose devotion is centered on the Virgin Mary by a Catholic majority, the pilgrims' essential ritual acts occur within the bounded sacred space of the shrine. The pilgrims' mode of transport, or way of arriving, at the shrine is usually secondary or irrelevant. It surprised me that unlike the pilgrims at Fatima or Lourdes, these white, urban, European, middle-class men and women made the pilgrimage—from a week to four months—on foot, bicycle, and horse. Rather than a healing shrine of short-term visits, the contemporary Santiago pilgrimage is not confined to the city itself but consists of a long physical and often internal (spiritual, personal, religious) journey. In many cases making the pilgrimage becomes for participants one of the most important experiences of their lives. Pilgrims want to feel and live the road step by step (or pedal after pedal). Non-Catholics, agnostics, atheists, and even seekers of esoteric knowledge go side by side with Catholics and Protestants.

The Catholic Marian-centered shrines (with devotion focused on the Virgin Mary) also lack the long-term infrastructure and the sense of community that Santiago pilgrims develop by forming part of an informal society whose membership goes back a thousand years and includes such notables as Charlemagne, Saint Francis of Assisi, and King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Marking the popularization and desacralization of the Camino on a wide scale, actress Shirley MacLaine joined the ranks of the famous by making her spiritual journey on foot in 1994 (finding out I was American, Spaniards often remembered her and commented on her presence in their villages). The majority of the Marian-centered shrines (Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, and Medjugorjein Bosnia) are based on miracles or apparitions (Church-confirmed earthly visitations of the Virgin Mary to a seer or seers) that occurred after 1850. The pilgrimage to Santiago is based on a tradition said to reach back to the foundation of Christianity.6

Beginning in the 1980s an infrastructure of pilgrim's refugios (hospices or refuges), run by hospitaleros (volunteer attendants) and based on the medieval model of charity, sprang up on the route, allowing pilgrims to journey knowing that shelter is available and affordable. The routes are marked with bright yellow arrows or scallop shells. Signs along the route explain the pilgrimage's numerous historical sites. Pilgrims also carry a credential, or pilgrim's passport, that is stamped each day and, in Santiago, presented at the cathedral's office of reception for pilgrims to receive the Compostela , a document certifying completion of the journey. Before or after the journey pilgrims sometimes join a confraternity of St. James or a Friends of the Camino association, found throughout Europe and with chapters in the United States and Brazil. The pilgrimage may begin with the decision to make the journey, but it rarely ends with arrival in the city.

A Passage to Spain

A perplexing question haunts the pilgrimage: How did the northwestern hinterlands of the Iberian Peninsula become the final resting place of an apostle martyred in Jerusalem? Other than notes from apocryphal texts there is no evidence that James ever set foot in Iberia, yet by the twelfth century the number of pilgrims visiting his tomb rivaled that of Rome and Jerusalem. The answer leads one into a maze of legends, political intrigue, and religious belief in medieval Europe. The pilgrimage's fame rapidly grew after the first millennium, drawing pilgrims from all walks of life and corners of the Christian world eager to be close to one of Christ's inner circle.7

Before becoming the fourth apostle of Christ, James the Elder (or the Greater) was a fisherman in Galilee with his brother John (the Evangelist) and his father, Zebedee. One day while they were mending their nets Jesus passed and called them to Him. They left the nets behind, took up their new work with a passion—they were given the nickname Boanerges, or Sons of Thunder, by Jesus—and became especially important among the apostles, appearing at moments crucial in the ministry of Jesus: the Transfiguration and the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Because of their apparently favored position among the apostles, they (or their mother) had the audacity to ask to sit eternally on the right and left sideof God and for their impudence received a decisive lesson in humility from Jesus. James's scriptural and mortal end comes swiftly in Acts: Herod Agrippa martyrs him (by beheading) in A.D. 44.8

At this point facts dry up and the rich legends begin. There is no mention of Iberia or James's postdeath whereabouts in the Gospels, but according to later texts and eighth- and ninth-century documents, Jesus sent James to proselytize in the west, to the end of the earth—Finisterre.9 After achieving only marginal success, James returned to Jerusalem, and while en route the Virgin Mary appeared to him along the banks of the Ebro River in Zaragoza, bearing a jasper pillar. This apparition of the Virgin not only provided literal and symbolic support to his mission, it also helped give birth to the popular cult and shrine of the Virgen del Pilar.

After his return to Jerusalem and his subsequent beheading James made his second and, arguably, most important coming to the Iberian Peninsula. His remains (including his head), collected by two faithful disciples, were miraculously returned to the northwestern corner of the peninsula in a stone boat that had neither sail nor oars.10 The boat, with the disciples and their holy charge, moored on the banks of Iria Flavia near Padrsn (16 km from Santiago). It was also in the return that the first miracle associated with his presence in Spain is invoked, linking him to the scallop shell, a key symbol of the pilgrim: "As the stone ship . . . neared the land at Padrsn, a horseman riding on the beach was carried by his bolting horse into the waves. Instead of being drowned, however, both horse and rider emerged from the deep covered with scallop shells."11 James's body was transported inland to the mount that is present-day Santiago de Compostela after having received hard-won permission from Lupa, the local pagan queen (who subsequently converted), to bury the apostle.

Santiago's tomb was forgotten for nearly eight hundred years until one day a religious hermit named Pelayo reported seeing a glowing light or star, which on cautious investigation revealed the apostle's resting place. Compostela is thus said to have received its name from compostium , burial ground, or campus stellae , starry field.12 Pelayo went to Bishop Teodomiro, who immediately called an investigation and ordered the construction of a church on the site with the financial support of the Asturian king Alfonso II. Thus began Santiago's patronage of Spain, his miraculous postmartyrdom presence in the Iberian Peninsula, the alignment of Church and civil authority, and the beginning of a thousand-year history of pilgrimage calling the faithful from the farthest reaches of the Continent.13

The ninth-century rediscovery of the tomb filled a political-religious

Figure 2.
Santiago's translation from Jerusalem and the legend of the drowning 
bridegroom on the granite wall of the Plaza de las Platermas, Santiago 
de Compostela. Note the horseman with a scallop shell (bottom right) 
and the little fish (left).

need linked to the Reconquest of the peninsula from the Islamic Moors and reflected the importance of sacred relics in the Christian worldview of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. What Santiago was unable to do during his lifetime through nonviolent preaching was rectified in his ninth-century incarnation as Santiago Matamoros, or Caballero (Moorslayer, or Knight). At Clavijo (La Rioja area of Spain) in 844 his legendary appearance to King Ramiro I launched the first decisive counter-Islamic victory. In the dream Santiago told Ramiro, "Our Lord Jesus Christ . . . gave Spain for me to watch over her and protect her from the hands of enemies of the Faith. . . . And so . . . tomorrow will you see me go into battle, on a white horse, with a white standard and a great shining sword in my hand ."14 Thus Santiago Matamoros was born, and his appearance at other crucial Reconquest battles astride a white horse continued to urge the holy drive south.15 This iconography of Santiago as Moorslayer, found almost exclusively in Spain, played an important role throughout the Reconquest, and it has been a recurrent theme in violent aspects of Spanish politics and piety since16 In 997 the Islamic military forces of the mighty Almanzor swept down on the nascent Santiago de Compostela, razed the city, and, according to legend, carried off the church's bells to Csrdoba (where they were inverted and used as lamps for the Mezquita). Despite this destructive foray the Moors never established themselves strongly in the Northwest, chilly and isolated behind a natural mountain barrier. Santiago was the ideal symbolic tool, though, to unify and rally Christian forces against the Islamic majority (711–1492) in Iberia.

Belief in the apostle's presence in Compostela bolstered the Christian drive south and the repopulation of the peninsula, which ultimately led to the expulsion of non-Christians from Spain in 1492. Compostela's status as a major pilgrimage center was definitively launched in the tenth and eleventh centuries when the political powers of Aragsn, Navarre, and Lesn realized the political expedience of aligning themselves with the French kings and abbots through marriage, military alliances, and monastic reformation. The Benedictine Order of Cluny was the favored religious body in the monastic push south, and the many monasteries located on the route bear witness to its ecclesiastical influence. In addition, the sharp political maneuverings of Compostela's mastermind bishop, Diego Gelmmrez, positioned Santiago favorably with Rome.

Another dominant feature of Santiago's multidimensional character and iconography is that of Santiago Peregrino (Saint James the Pilgrim). Uniquely, Santiago appears in the iconography as a pilgrim to his own shrine.17 He is often depicted wearing a three-cornered hat and a long cape

Figure 3. 
Saint James/Santiago as Moorslayer/Matamoros (left) and Pilgrim/Peregrino 

laden with pilgrim shells and carrying a staff with a gourd for drinking and a small pouch. The pilgrimage flourished within a religious worldview that regarded it as a means to achieve salvation of the soul and remission of sin through penitential acts (sometimes through physical sacrifices).18 During the first centuries of the second millennium it was believed that through touching and seeing sacred relics, or earthly remains, of holy people and things they were in contact with (beginning hierarchically with Christ and extending to the Virgin Mary and the apostles and finally the saints), including hair, hands, feet, and, of course, the whole body, the pilgrim could transfer part of the sacred to himself. The faithful sought to bring themselves closer to the divine through physical contact with the relics. The Catholic church encouraged this belief by instituting penitential pilgrimages and granting indulgences to those who visited sacred places. In effect, one could be assured a place in the afterlife if money, time to journey, and fortitude were plentiful. This worldview was reinforced by Romanesque art, nicknamed the Bible in Stone for its didactic success with a largely illiterate population. The sculptures and frescoes both inside and outside the churches graphically depicted the horrors awaiting the sinful, the promise for the good, scenes (primarily) from theNew Testament, and so on. Romanesque art (and later, Gothic art) helped to promote the cult of the saints and is found extensively along the pilgrimage roads throughout Europe (which were fundamental in its expansion and in making it the first international Christian art style). The confirmation of the presence of one of Christ's most important apostles in Galicia made Santiago de Compostela and the hundreds of churches along or near the route with their own relics new important destinations for medieval pilgrims and an important alternative to Rome and Jerusalem, the latter closed to pilgrims in 1087 by Muslim occupation.

The early popularization of the Camino, thanks to papal support from Rome, was cemented through authority vested in the written word. Success came quickly for those pushing to increase Santiago's prestige: Pope Calixto II conferred the coveted Jubilee, or Holy Year, status in 1122 to the shrine, allowing pilgrims to receive plenary indulgences.19 A key factor in the cult's early spread throughout the Christian world was the twelfth-century appearance of the Liber Sancti Jacobi (Book of Saint James), whose letter of introduction, attributed to Pope Calixto II, also makes it the Codex Calixtinus . This remarkable text consists of five chapters, or books, that provide a wealth of detail on the history, music, and liturgy of the cult of Saint James, the translation story, and a polemical account linking Charlemagne's campaigns to the Reconquest and his success to the apostle's influence. Curiously, the twenty-two miracles attributed to Santiago in the second chapter take place away from the shrine, before or during the journey to Compostela—an indication of the importance of the road since its founding.20 The final chapter, the Pilgrim's Guide, is one of the first guidebooks of the Christian West, generally attributed to Aimery Picaud, a cleric from Parthenay-le-Vmeux in the Poitou. The guide gives detailed descriptions of the hospices, relics and reliquaries, landscapes, routes, rivers, and peoples of the way as well as a primer of the Basque language and vivid examples of twelfth-century Frankish chauvinism. The purpose of the Liber seemed to be a combination of proving the authenticity of Santiago's presence in Galicia, bolstering the importance of Compostela as a pilgrimage destination, and linking the French Cluny to the promotion of the pilgrimage.21

The journey to Santiago in the tenth through the thirteenth century was not easy, but nonetheless the pilgrimage flourished. The roads were dangerous and wild; besides disease and animals such as wolves, bears, and boars, the pilgrim had plenty of thieves to contend with. Traveling in large groups, unlike today, pilgrims sought safety in numbers. Unless they were wealthy, they carried little and relied on the religious charity oralms of hospices and monasteries to maintain themselves as they attempted to cross the north. All classes of people went to Santiago, but the majority were sick, old, and poor. The medieval pilgrims, like their contemporary counterparts, went to Santiago for a variety of motives, which were subject to change over time. Though it is hard to discern motivations across the centuries among the illiterate majority, devotion to Saint James (including prayer and hope for future health and betterment) was probably the most prevalent motive. Penitents were sent to atone for minor sins and serious crimes. Civil sanctions could also be paid through the journey. And some pilgrims went for the adventure, out of curiosity, or to free themselves from rigid social norms.22 Others capitalized on the economic benefits to be gained from the pilgrimage's growing status as a well-traveled road. Death was an anticipated outcome of the journey, but one that ensured safe passage to the heavenly Jerusalem. In leaving home the pilgrim set off on a long journey with an uncertain return, often leaving kith and kin behind. In spite of the hazards millions of pilgrims flocked to Compostela believing and hoping in the efficacy of Santiago and his shrine of stone. Then, as now, it was inevitably an adventure.

After the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century pilgrimages to Santiago declined significantly. A number of entertaining pilgrims' accounts survive from the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries, indicating that pilgrims braved the way despite the Spanish Inquisition and, later, the wars in the Pyrenees and southern France.23 Writings critical of the pilgrimage began to surface, and pilgrims became mistrusted.24 To make matters worse, the saint's relics were lost (hidden) in 1589 with the threat of Sir Francis Drake's arrival on the coast; they were found during the 1879 excavations in the cathedral. And in the seventeenth century Santiago's status as the patron saint of Spain was threatened to be replaced by the mystic nun Saint Teresa of Avila. In the nineteenth century the numbers of pilgrims arriving in Santiago again dwindled significantly but never completely ceased. The general decline continued into the twentieth century until after World War II, when attention began to focus on rebuilding Europe through a collective past.25

Reanimating Santiago

In 1986 the late Father Elmas Valiqa Sampedro, a man deeply devoted to the pilgrimage, commented that the resurgence of the Camino "was a European social phenomenon that had been put into motion which nobody could detain."26 And so it is. The reanimation of the Camino27 began at a political moment in European history serving well the interests of Church, state, and the individual. The breaking down of political and social borders on a pan-European scale helped to facilitate this process. The relative peace in Western Europe since the late 1940s, the increased mobility of middle-class Europeans seeking leisure opportunities, and the continuous transnational publicity of the Camino brought it literally to the front doors of many Europeans.

Despite a decline in church attendance across Europe since the 1960s, an aging membership in religious orders, and a general secularization of public society, a noted resurgence of interest in alternative spiritual and religious movements also influenced the pilgrimage's reanimation. "A growing number of people are on a 'pilgrimage for spirituality'" notes the author of a best-selling guide to reading the Bible. Not only are metaphorical pilgrimages popular, but an increased interest in travel to European pilgrimage centers is noted and even confusing to religious leaders: "The chase for material goods has left them with more toys and less satisfaction, the culture assaults their sensibility and politics seems stale. So they are looking for something more for themselves and their families—something they hope to find in a new inner life."28

The grassroots work of the Friends of the Camino associations, return pilgrims, energetic and historically minded people along the Camino, astute politicians, and academics of medieval studies have also helped to launch the Camino definitively into the cultural and political limelight. Within an ethos of political and cultural nostalgia individuals in greater numbers began to take up the call of the Santiago pilgrim and head west with the sun to Santiago de Compostela. What fin-de-sihcle pilgrims find in the image of Santiago Peregrino goes beyond the obvious political overlay and leads us to a more personal view of what moves people to journey, like their ancestors, to Santiago. In the medieval pilgrimage and pilgrim modern pilgrims find a direct link to the past, an authenticity based on sacrifice, endurance, and austerity imagined to have been lived by the medieval pilgrim, and a community of souls united by the rhythm of their feet as the second millennium comes to a close.

Organization of this Book

In my initial introduction to the Camino in 1992 the pilgrimage's reanimation as a personal experience and social phenomenon of visible import intrigued me. The issues that shaped my subsequent research into pilgrims' lives and the pilgrimage's aftermath began to unfold during thisfirst encounter with the Camino and its participants. What are modern pilgrims saying about the world by walking and cycling? What kind of dialectical relationship is there between the development of the inner and outer journey across space and time? What happens when pilgrims go home? I knew from my own experience that going home is not always easy. I wanted to find out in a general way what others experienced. Why has the pilgrimage and the idea of being a pilgrim become popular once again for both the nonreligious and the devout?

Chapters 1 through 4 focus on the contemporary Camino within Spain and the pilgrims who course its ways. Through contact with nature, the routes, and others pilgrims often open themselves to potential personal and social transformation. These experiences of the journey influence the participant's sense of becoming a pilgrim. It becomes apparent that the journey becomes meaningful through movement and contact with the natural landscapes and people along the way. Chapters 5 through 7 focus on the physical journey's end and what happens to pilgrims as they reach Santiago de Compostela. Once there pilgrims begin to make the transition back to daily life within the city but sometimes opt to continue to other sites associated with the pilgrimage. Endings are made on various physical, psychological, and spiritual levels both during and after reaching Santiago. Instead of ending in Santiago, like most accounts, the focus shifts in chapter 8 to the journey home. How do participants understand their experiences? And how do these experiences continue to influence their daily lives, if at all?


Excerpted from Pilgrim Stories by Nancy Louise Frey Copyright © 1998 by Nancy Louise Frey. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations, ix,
Acknowledgments, xi,
Introduction: Arriving at the End, 1,
Chapter 1. Pilgrims to Santiago, 17,
Chapter 2. Journey Shaping, 47,
Chapter 3. Learning New Rhythms, 71,
Chapter 4. Landscapes of Discovery, 87,
Chapter 5. Arrivals and Endings, 137,
Chapter 6. Santiago, 153,
Chapter 7. To the End of the Earth, 170,
Chapter 8. Going Home, 177,
Conclusions: Arriving at the Beginning, 217,
Appendix A. Fieldwork on the Road, 232,
Appendix B. The Twentieth-Century Reanimation, 237,
Notes, 255,
References, 277,
Index, 297,

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