Internationally bestselling author Paulo Coelho said:
"My turning point was my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. It was then that I, who had dedicated most of my life to penetrate the 'secrets' of the universe, realized that there are no secrets. Life is and will always be a mystery. Life is a constant miracle, and this miracle manifests itself in encounters with other people. After the pilgrimage, I simplified my spiritual search a lot, and instead of searching for answers, I started to understand that life itself is an answer."
Santiago de Compostela has been a famous pilgrimage place since the middle ages and it continues today. They say it is where the remains of the apostle, Saint James are buried. Santiago means James in Spanish and Compostela means "field of stars". Famous people like Saint Francis and Pope John (before he was pope) walked the long way from France, through the Pyrenees to this sacred place. I was surprised to learn that the Catholic Church considers only three cities Holy; Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela.
Today, many do the pilgrimage by bike tour (funny to see them piled in special vans with trailers), a few by horse, some by foot, but most do it by bus or car. Some do part of the journey, some do all of it and there are quite a few routes, including some from Portugal, but coming from France is the most common.
The scallop shell symbol is seen every where in Santiago and they were used as proof of ones pilgrimage long ago as they are typically found on the shores of Galicia and there is a legend about a resurrected St. James as Moor-slayer on horse, covered in sea shells (clearly used as a symbol to incite the masses during the reconquest).
I love the metaphors related to this shell. All the grooves in the shell come to one point, so this symbolizes the many routes a pilgrim can take, but all leading to a the tomb of St.James in Santiago. It also represents the pilgrims and their inner journey; just as the waves bring the shells to the shores of Galicia, God's hand guides the pilgrims path to Santiago de Compostela.
Give me my scallop-shell of quiet,
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of joy, immortal diet,
My bottle of salvation,
My gown of glory, hope's true gage,
And thus I'll take my pilgrimage.
(Sir Walter Raleigh, 1604)
We too, feel like pilgrims in our own way, as a family can not take a journey like this without great dedication and trust or without learning more about one's soul. We do not need to walk or bike to Santiago or around the world, to connect to the essence of such a journey. We had hoped to make it to Santiago during the beginning of our trip in 2006, but soon realized that it was too ambitious of a plan and we had to go to plan B. Thus, it felt a little like we have been on a very long journey here and have finally arrived!
"A pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela is the finest journey in Spain"
James Michener, Iberia
The energy is very special in Santiago de Compostela, perhaps because so many have been so happy and grateful when they arrived. Perhaps it is from Saint James' bones or all the prayers that have been said here. Perhaps it is one of those light vortex points on the planet, or because it is a University town or something else. Maybe we were influenced because we were there around midsummer, the weather was idyllic and light of day so long. I don't know what it was, but the energy sure felt very sweet to me.
We felt a wonderful mix of blissful joy, gratitude and sacredness. Discovering the lone bag-piper during the day, reading a kid's book about Santiago together near the cathedral, lazily basking at an outdoor cafe on a gorgeous day that seemed to go on forever with the sun setting after ten at night, or Tunas singers later in their colorful costumes added a soundtrack and visual delights to our memory banks. We could not resist buying some music to take home with us and used it in the car while doing deeper explorations of Celtic Spain. Here is the video that we made to capture some of the essence we felt:
One does not tend to think of pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela as "family travel", especially with a young child, but it was an extraordinary way to experience it together, that I can highly recommend. Seeing things through a child's eyes opened my heart in ways that I would have missed if we did it alone. We will always cherish our family pilgrimage to Santiago and Galicia.
I have entered this post into a contest and group writing project at Problogger. Darren is a great guy with lots of savvy advice. This is something totally new to me, so we will see how it goes. It is about "killer titles" for blogs, but our travelogue format & travel adds some limits. Hopefully I will learn something and meet some other interesting people.