The Camino Francés. El Camino de Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage

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Leaving St Jean-Pied-de-Port and all the luxuries that come with a big village. I say goodbye France and hello Spain, as I cross the pyrenees on one of the biggest ascents of the Camino.

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Crossing the Pyrenees into Spain was an uphill effort felt by all the pilgrims. A day of meeting new people who I would cross paths with again and again on my journey to Santiago. Besides being eclipsed by the beauty  of this wondrous landscape. I was thrilled to be walking in the footsteps of history, and most notable Roland a knight of Charlemagne (king of the Franks) and embossed in the 11th century poem , The Song of Roland who was defeated by the local Basque people on the road I know traveled.

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Built in the 13th century, the church of San Nicholas of Bari in Larrasoaña . St Nicholas of Bari is also the figure that is known by children the world around as Santa Claus. I was annoyed that the church was locked as it denied me time to sit down and contemplate the day and give thanks, but that became an all too familiar sight in Spain. I found Larrasoana to give the impression of medieval beginnings, but the church was not at the center of town; the town was structured around the commercial aspect of commerce.

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The world knows Pamplona for its annual event of running of the bulls, but I arrived there almost one month late for the event. I was there on a national holiday for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15th. The energy of the place spoke of festivity with most commercial businesses closed and a up-beat mood to the people. The Pamplona cathedral  or the cathedral of Royal Saint Mary was crowded with local, tourist, and pilgrim alike bustling for room to witness the sermon.

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One of the most recognised scenes on the way to Santiago, Alto del Perdon. Erected in 1996 as a monument to pilgrims on their way to visit the tomb of St James. It is engraved with the words, “Where it crosses the wind path with that of the stars”. A contemplating moment for me as the fact that I am here sinks in.

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In medieval times this was one of the main gates to the village of Obonos and the church of Saint Mary of Eunate.With my imagination getting carried away I pictured two roman soldiers standing at either side and collecting admission taxes for the city. Hundreds of years later they may not stand at attention, but they anticipate the hungry and thirsty pilgrim.

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Leaving Puente La Reina you cross the historical Romanesque bridge which spans the Arga river and dates from the 11th century; when Queen Dona Mayor ordered its construction for use by pilgrims on their way to Santiago.

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Walking across Spain means cutting through a lot of rural areas, and seeing olive trees that must be on steroids is a common site.

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Church of San Juan Bautista in the plaza de los Fueros of Estella. I sat here watching the Spanish lifestyle roll out before me; with a competitive game of kick to kick amongst the children, while mothers’ gossiped and completed the shopping, and an older generation huddled together, and watched life go by.

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Bodegas Irache or better known as the wine fountain is one of the tales a pilgrim will speak of with fond memories. I took my fill there one morning and gloried in my new found strength to go onward and forget my tired limbs.

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Bicycle pilgrims cycling the Meseta. Over such a flat section was more determination then joy. This is where pilgrims boast about the km they have done for the day.

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Antiguo hospital de perigrinoes, (Ancient hospital for pilgrims) Hospital De San Juan de Acre. The hospital was founded in 1185 and flourished until 1568 and fell into disrepair until a war finished it off.Today it sits as a reminder of the past that this quiet peaceful place once attended to sick or injured pilgrims during their quest for Santiago.

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Forgetting the particulars of my time here my research turned up two names for the church  Virgen de la Calle (The Virgin of the Road) and  the parish church of Nuestra Senora de la Calle in Redecilla del Camino.  In this church I was to discover a 12th century romanesque font called the Mozarabic baptism stone; it is described as the jewel of  the Camino.

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Viloria de Rioja, a small and welcoming town towards pilgrims has many hidden surprises for the wandering pilgrim and the surprises are located in and around the church. Having come from the Cathedral del Santo Domingo Calzada and become learned in Saint Domingo, I was cheered to witness the baptisimal font Santo Domingo was baptised in 1019. The lady volunteering as tourist information for the church Viloria de la Rioja told me babies are still occasionly christened in the font. I was then directed outside to see the home (ruins) of Santo Domingo she also told me it had stood whole until the 16th century till it crumbled from its foundations. While telling me that it was her wish to see the home of Santo Domingo restored in her lifetime. I also learned that the Spanish government is trying to reroute the Camino away from this town, and steer it in more commercial directions. This saddened me as the Camino is a religious pilgrimage and a visit to this village is in accordance with the theme of the Camino. The locals are putting up a fight to stop the government from implementing this travesty.

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Cathedral del Santo Domingo Calzada  was originally built over nine years between 1221 and 1230. The cathedral was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO on October 31, 1984. Majestic is the word to describe my feelings on seeing this cathedral. Dwarfing me in size and presence I stared transfixed for quite sometime, the age, the aesthetics of the building, and the sheer joy everybody I saw smiled with pleasure.

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Inside the Burgos cathedral I felt I was a child in a middle-ages playground rushing around taking photos and thrilling over the artistry. The tools pictured above are said to have been the building implements to construct the cathedral and my mind boggled at the crude implements that were utilised to create heaven on earth. There was also The Magdalan,  created by a student of Leonardo da Vinci’s,  called Giampietrino, who imitated his master’s style, and I believed anybody that was mentored by Leonardo is a master in his own right. I stared at the painting and I had a true feeling it was staring back at me with the life in her eyes.  Then there is equally important Madonna in Majesty with the child, painted by an anonymous artist in the 15th century.

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Castrojeriz and the church of Saint Juan in the background. I arrived on a fretful day for the community as there had been a fire i the church overnight, and upon inquiry they said it was started by the prayer candles and despite the black smoke there was no damage done.

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Iglesia de Santiago de los Caballeros in the town of Castrojeriz and the  carved skulls warn passers-by to heed the inevitability of death.

Alburgue and 12th century hospital Saint Nicholas in Itero del Castillo was one of the highlights of my Camino journey. Welcomed by the Saint Nicholas this donativo struck at the true spirit of the compostella.  Welcoming pilgrims, sharing food, prayer, and ancient traditions enacted by the Italian hosts. I left here with good memories that I revisit from time to time.
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The long winding trail of the Camino gives a pilgrim many chances to reflect on life and pilgrims walk the Camino for many reasons, religious, spiritual, tourism and soul searching, etc. I had many reasons, and I just conveyed them. The religious pilgrim was looking for absolution, and be rewarded with half-time in purgatory, rediscovering my worldview with Jesus, seeing and experiencing the nature and culture of Europe, and think about my life in general .
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Like an oasis in the desert I stared  into the distance watching the skyline and the dominating church take on shapes that became the reality of the church, Santa Maria la Blancha in Villacazar de Sirga.  Another architectural achievement that  stood over a prospering town that dwindled away with time.  I love moments like this contemplating the age, the history, and the human endeavor  that reflected on what heaven on earth should represent.
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The ruinas Monasterio de San Facundo y San Primitivo  of Sahagun was originally crafted in 1080 and fell into decline in the 15th century.  The Arco de San Benito (above portal) was crafted in 1662. It is a construction of the 12th century Romanesque type of Mudejar. These ruins I knew nothing about at the time and as usual I was gobsmacked. Wandering around the ruins  taking photos of every  conceivable  angle, and trying to construct in my mind what these ruins would have looked like.

El Burgo Ranero was another memorable stop for me and again made possible by the Alburgue hosts of Albergue de Peregrinos Domenico Laffi. They invited us and walked us down to the local lagoon (a short walk). There, about 15 pilgrims  sat in a circle and spoke of ourselves (introduction) and our journey on the Camino. We then recited the lord’s prayer in our own language, and listened while a few of us sang songs of the Camino. We finished with a group hug, and it was an emotional experience felt it different ways by the entire group, tears, joy, nervousness, and elation is how we departed our little circle on the Camino. In the early morning all the pilgrims departed to experience one of the longest isolated sections of the Camino, and we were all elated to to be blessed with a sunset that swept over us in colours of the rainbow and heraled the new day towards the town of Reliegos.

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Puerta Castillo o de Santiago or the door of St James in Mansilla de las Mulas. It is through this doorway in the 12th century pilgrims would pass into the village and being the first stop in the kingdom of Leon.

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The León Cathedral  or the House of light was dedicated to Santa Maria de la Regla. Built in the 13th century over ancient Roman baths  it was declared of cultural interest in 1844. I had heard about this cathedral a long time before arriving ; the relics, the artistry, the history and the stained glass windows casting colourful tinted shadows in the cathedral. I was not disappointed the hype that was attached to this building is well deserved.

The Parador de Leon  was another surprise for me the 16th century building that resembled a palace started life as a convent, during the Spanish civil war between 1936 and 1940 it was converted to a dungeon with jailers, and it is now a luxury hotel and museum called the Hostal de San Marcos that gives discount rates to pilgrims on their way to Santiago.

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, a nice town to slow down and experience the local culture.

Cruce de Ferro or better known as the Iron cross. Pilgrims carried a rock the size of their sins and left it at the cross. This in part was their penance for their sins and leaving it at the cross absolved them. My rocks of burden were collected from various locations around Australia for reasons I don’t remember, but to leave them at the Iron cross felt worthy of rocks I had kept for the past twenty years.

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Passing through Ponferrada the Castle of the Knights Templar in the 11th and 12 century is a fascination to behold. In 1178, the city was placed under the protection of the Knights Templar, charged with the protection of pilgrims traveling to St. James tomb. As I was saying to other pilgrims this is the first time I’ve ever seen a real castle, but thinking back I had seen many. This castle was well restored and resembled everything I understood to look like a castle. The castles I had seen while in Spain or France were classed as ruins and that is what I saw; a  mesmerising ruin.

 

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The street art honoring The Way to St James.

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A commemoration to St James and the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in La Portela de Valcarce.

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Leaving the town of Vega de Valcarce is the beginning of a very long climb, but the scenery makes it an amazing moment on the Camino.  Staring back at the way you come and judging the direction and the hills you have already climbed is an awe struck moment.

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Welcome to Galicia  and the doorstep of Santiago de Compostela.

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I arrived at O Cebreiro in in a sea of mist heraled by the church bells that traditionally ring to guide the pilgrim to this hilltop village. When I heard that the village had in its possession the holy grail I started imaging Christ’s last supper and the fact the holy grail held the power to end our world. Luckily, it just held the power of a god-sent miracle. In the 14th century while the parish priest was conducting mass, the bread and water were  miraculously turned into flesh and blood, and the chalice is on display toady. The church of St Mary was originally built in the 9th century, but fell into ruin until it was restored in 1965.

 

The village of Samos was another step back in time to the middle ages with the Monastery of San Xulian de Samos.  This monestry has been held in importance since the 9th century  by kings and queens, middle age professors and classed as one of the worlds first universities where the study of theology and philosophy were comprehended. In 1558 and 1951 the monastery suffered fires that meant a complete rebuilding.  My respect for these ancient buildings is profound they have sat on this earth a long time before me, and I’m sure they will be here a long time after I go. I’m just a set of eyes amongst the multitudes before me.

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A sub-milestone on my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. A sense of excitement washed over me when I saw this trail marker, I had walked all the way from Geneva and now I was so close to my destination that I could almost taste it.

Strolling across the bridge to Portomarin I never realised the history right below my feet. The Minho river that I was staring at and watching it lazily winde its way along its path towards the sea; had a hidden secret. That was the old town of Portomarin before the Spanish moved the village up to its present knoll and flooded the area to make way for a dam. As I breathlessly climbed the stairs to Portomarin I was walking on the old bridge constructed by the knights templar.

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Author: footprints_1

Paul Adams, I’m an Australian in his final year of a journalism degree. A degree that I plan on utilising with concern to the world's environment both above and below the seas. I have been studying at Open Universities Australia (O.U.A) for four years and structuring my knowledge around professional and creative writing/journalism/information technology. In my spare time I work as a P.A.D.I dive instructor and travel the world completing long distance hiking trails creating a passion to see, experience, and learn from the land and cultures that confront me. Amen.

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