by Nancy Louise Frey
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.
Only children know what they are looking for.
It becomes apparent that the journey becomes meaningful through movement and contact with the natural landscape and people along the way.
The internal space is in some way already in flux before the journey begins - anticipatory, eager, confused, exhausted, open.
There is not destination to which I am rushing. There is only this earth that I touch in many ways.
...one's 'spiritual equipment' ought to include faith in oneself and those around you, hope that your ways of being are susceptible to change, love towards yourself, others and nature. Being strongly motivated to make a true pilgrimage. Being ready to let down all of your defense mechanisms, and having a good sense of humor.
Through reflection, the journey is given shape and meaning in the return home.