Sunday, July 13, 2008

Vacationing the Medieval Way

      Summer is beginning to take ahold of my brain and I am starting to feel lazy about writing even though I have been reading more of Gregory of Tours and Procopius.  So this seems like a good time while everyone is in vacation mode or looking for cool ideas for vacation to suggest a vacation that was very popular in the Middle Ages:  The pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella
     According to Clifford Bachman, "in the mid-ninth century Christians discovered in Santiago what they believed to be the body of St. James", the apostle.  This quickly became a popular pilgrimage site.  Santiago is Spanish or Latin for Saint James and Compostella is Latin based meaning 'field of stars'.  Interestingly, it appears to be what the Spanish call the Milky Way.
     There were several rallying points for pilgrims undertaking the walk.  Some of the more popular ones were Vezelay and Le Puy, where there were famous cathedrals.  The path takes you near Roncesvalles, where Roland died,  and past many sites that were pagan shrines before they were Christianized.  According to the entry on Wikipedia, Santiago was supposed to be the place where the souls of the dead gathered to follow the sun across the sea in Celtic legend.
    From St. Jean Pied de Port it is 780 km to Santiago, so it is not a vacation for the faint of heart.  People undertook the walk as penance for their sins.  The walk has become popular again as people want to do something different for vacation besides lounge around at a beach and to prove that you did walk the whole length, people brought back local items that they could only have gotten in Santiago or in towns along the way.  This is the origins of the souvenir.   These days, you can buy a passport and get stamped along the way. 
    This website,  has all the routes mapped out with photographs submitted by people who have walked the entire distance.  It has tips and more to get you excited or interested about doing something different like this.  I hope to do the pilgrimage myself someday.


Anonymous said...

Hmm, Santiago is another Avalon, then? The gathering place of the souls? Even more interesting that they associate it with the Milky Way in an Egyptian sort of way.

That sounds like a lot of fun!


The Red Witch said...

I was just looking at the website and it looks like it takes about 32 days to walk from Jean de Puy to Santiago but what a walk! I love the tons of photos along the way. Did you see all the sundials?
It can be a spiritual experience even if you are not particularly Christian but don't tell the Brothers that if you are staying at their hostels. LOL

Anonymous said...

Two of our ex-staff did the pilgrimage a few years ago. I'll have to ask them how long it took them. I remember watching a TV programme which followed a group of people doing the walk (but it was many years ago, before my son was born) - but it looked good.
So this is how holiday souvenirs started!