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PostPersonal Update; Walking the Camino de Santiago (Leonor Anthony Cohen, USA, 09/18/14 4:00 pm)
I have been meaning to check in with WAIS, but I am now in an all-time war with time. It appears 24 hours are not enough, but I am doing what I can to keep up. No complaints here; my career could not be doing any better. I will fill you in on everything in the next e-mail.
In 2011, Just having finished my Masters in Theology and not really sure which direction or path to follow, I decided to do the 1,000-year-old pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela to give myself time to reflect. My life completely changed after that.
It was one of the most fulfilling and deeply transforming experiences of my life. I wrote a small article that was published in Nocturno magazine's Travel section last year which I would like to share that with my fellow WAISers as a coming-home piece. The photographs are also mine.
The Road to Santiago de Compostela
By Leonor Anthony
"...It is about a road which begins many miles before I could come into its traces and ends miles beyond where I had to stop." Edward Thomas (1913)
The road that began with the name La Via Lactea (The Milky Way), for even at night one could follow the path west, has been a spiritual walk long before Christians, Pagans, Goths, Celts and other non-Christian groups followed its paths. Their destination was not Santiago but Finistere (End of the Earth). It is the westernmost part of Europe and was a mystical place of obsession long before an errant hermit found the bones of Saint James, which is where our story begins.
The Road to Santiago de Compostela, terminating in Galicia in the Northwest corner of Spain, has been traversed by pilgrims for the past eleven hundred years to visit the tomb of the Apostle St. James, the Galilean brother of John and one of the original Apostles. The Saint's relics lie in the crypt of the beautiful Gothic Cathedral that bears the town's name. This religious tradition started in the 9th century when an unnamed hermit followed a star, a sign from heaven, which directed him towards the remains of Jesus's apostle. A Cathedral was built to house the relics and the town of Santiago de Compostela was born. The road to Santiago has been utilized for various purposes throughout hundreds of years, including to recruit armies to resist the Moors as well as to fuel a religious pilgrimage economy established by the Cluniac monks in the late Middle Ages. It is littered with relics, stories of miracles, and the echoing footsteps of its famous and infamous pilgrims, from Charlemagne, Saint Francis of Assisi, and Henry VIII to Paulo Coelho and Shirley MacLaine. Pilgrims walked this route for the forgiveness of their sins, the healing of their illnesses, and for the special dispensations granted at the end of the pilgrimage facilitating entrance into heaven. This indulgence is a special pilgrim diploma called a "Compostela," and it is granted to those who have walked at least the last 120 kilometers of the pilgrimage. Today, pilgrims walk for religious reasons, spiritual journeys, physical exercise, or simply for a chance to walk on hollowed ground and to experience the stillness and magic that lives on this road.
I learned about the Road to Santiago de Compostela in a class titled "Ancient Pilgrimages" while obtaining my Masters degree in Religious Studies. A few years following my graduation, I found myself making solid plans to do the pilgrimage with my daughter and my cousin in tow, as well as a respectable amount of apprehension and curiosity. There are five main Spanish pilgrimage routes to Santiago. The most commonly traveled is known as the French Road, which starts in France and crosses into Spain through the Pyrenees mountains and Roncesvalles in the Basque region. It is 650 miles (about 1,046 kilometers) long! After doing some research on the Camino, I decided to book a loosely guided tour in late September that would take us on the last 120 kilometers of the French Road (the minimum amount needed to receive the Compostela). Our trip started in the small Galician town of Sarria and ended seven days later at the cathedral in Santiago. The tour included hotels in every destination, breakfasts and dinners, maps, pilgrim shells and passports, and most importantly for me, transfer of luggage from one location to the next. Having asthma, the thought of carrying everything I owned on my back for 120 kilometers was not something I looked forward to.
We arrived in Madrid and took an overnight train to Sarria to meet the rest of the group and begin our seven-day journey on foot the following day. Our group was comprised of people from all over the world, including a classical violinist from Japan (and yes, he brought his violin). Our journey started with a beautiful rendition of Ave Maria and a prayer for a safe journey as the group set out to walk our first 17-mile day. The road is marked very clearly with large yellow arrows, meandering through castles, former Knight Templar buildings, Romanesque churches, and forests. Although our group started the walk together, we each soon settled into our own pace, some walking alone in silence, others together chatting along. It was on this first day that I decided to take it slow and enjoy every second, from playing with my shadow in silence until the sun rose high in the sky, to talking to the large number of pilgrims from all over the world that passed me by. My fellow pilgrims included the new graduate class of the Norwegian military, who taught me that 8:30 in the morning is not too early to start drinking beer.
Every day brought new insights, new friendships, and new revelations about others and myself as we walked step by step to our new destination. Walking became a new way of thinking, and even though we all had blisters by the second day, it got surprisingly easier as we went along. On the last day, we made our way together into the city of Santiago de Compostela and to the square where the magnificent cathedral that bears the city's name is located. Once in front of it, some of us were overtaken with emotion as its beauty and significance took our breath away. The building is a Romanesque structure with later Gothic and Baroque additions and is the reputed burial place of the apostle James the Greater.
Construction of the present cathedral began in 1075 and, according to the Liber Sancti Iacobi; the last stone was laid in 1122. But by then, the construction of the cathedral was certainly not finished. The church became an Episcopal see in 1075 and, due to its growing importance as a place of pilgrimage, it was soon raised to an archiepiscopal and the university was added in 1495. The cathedral was expanded and embellished with additions in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
Even though our destination was the breathtaking cathedral and the bones of Saint James, I was actually sad that my journey was over. I can honestly say that the days I was walking the Way of St James were among the happiest and most peaceful days of my life. I discovered a love of walking and a lot about myself. As Hansel and Gretel, dropping a trail of white stones behind them, the Road to Santiago left pebbles in my soul, which yearns to make its way back to this ancient magical place.
JE comments: This is a great homecoming for the multi-talented Leonor Anthony--back to a spiritual center, and also on the secular level, to her friends at WAIS. We've missed you, Leonor! In a future post I hope she will tell us more about her artistic endeavors. I've enjoyed a peek at http://leonoranthony.com/leonoranthony.com/Home.html , and Leonor's work is extremely impressive.
WAIS had a good conversation on the Camino de Santiago in 2010. To my knowledge, Roy Domenico is the only colleague (besides Leonor) who's a veteran pilgrim, although several WAISers, including Yours Truly, have the trek high on their Bucket Lists. John Heelan (http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=51923&objectTypeId=46173&topicId=39 ) opted to go by plane.
Here is the published version of Leonor's travelogue, from Nocturno magazine:
Also, I presume this is the Japanese violinist?