Monthly Archives: February 2011

Walking Revelations—Or Not


[Celena and Glory]

My sister Celena, who for some unfathomable reason would rather ride horses than walk. But there may be hope for her yet.

My sister Celena didn’t used to be interested in walking pilgrimages.

I once called her from a phone booth from somewhere on the Chemin du Puy—I think it was St-Côme d’Olt. I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but it must have been about the gîte d’étape accommodations or how far I’d walked that day.

“I’m so glad it’s you there and not me,” Celena said.

“Me, too.” The sincerity in my voice must have impressed her, because she still tells that story today. But it didn’t make her any more interested in pilgrimage.

For the past few months, though, Celena has been proof-reading the majority of my blog posts, and even allowing me to interrogate her afterwards. (“Does it really make sense?” “Are you sure it’s not too long?” “Are you absolutely completely positive I don’t sound whiny?”)

And finally, after reading my interview with Brandon Wilson, she announced that she would like to go on a pilgrimage with me someday.

The blog posts must have got to her. I hardly had to proselytize at all.

Last week, Celena told me I should write about pilgrim revelations. She wanted to know what walking pilgrims learn along along the way.

“It isn’t really like that,” I said. “I didn’t meet anyone who’d discovered the meaning of life, anyway.”

“I know that, ya hoser.” (She really talks like this.) “Write about the small revelations.”

I gave her my best don’t-you-ya-hoser-me glare. But I thought about what she’d said.

“I don’t know if I had any revelations, exactly. It was more experiences that really mattered, but I’m not sure exactly why.”

“But you must have learned something that could help other people in all that eternity you’ve been writing about.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I mean, in some ways that’s what my blog is about—trying to figure out why the Camino was so important to me. But I can’t just wrap up ‘my Camino lessons’ in a tidy box and hand them over. It’s something you have to experience.”

But Celena wanted to know more about those experiences—not just mine, but pilgrims’ in general.

I directed her to All the Good Pilgrims. Robert Ward does an amazing job of describing those little moments that are somehow important, I told her.

“Is there an audiobook?”

“Not as far as I know.” And that was the end of that. Celena is raising a two-year-old and running a horse training business. She doesn’t have time to read books these days: she listens to them while doing other things.

“You should talk to your blog readers,” Celena said. “Ask them what they learned while they were walking.”

So, what say you, gentle readers? Do you have any answers for Celena? What revelations, large or small, did you have while walking, or on some other adventure? What experiences mattered?

(If you’re reading this in your e-mail or a feed reader, please click through to the post to answer and/or see other responses.)


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 3:38 pm
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This Week in Pilgrimage: A World Heritage Site in Danger?


[Scarecrow]

Photo of the Week
Karin took this photo took this photo on the Camino Portugés in May 2008. She writes: 'We had so much rain! According to the newspapers on arriving in Santiago de Compotela, as much rain in that one month as the entire previous year! SO ... even the scarecrows wear raincoats! Or as we discovered, the rain in Spain does NOT fall mainly on the plain!'
Submit your photo for Photo of the Week.

It’s been a great week in pilgrimage for me. I finally have almost all my plane tickets, got a wonderful sleeping bag and am almost committed to my boots.

But of course that’s not quite all that’s happened in the world of walking pilgrimages this week.

The usual disclaimer: I’ve done the best I can to ensure accuracy, but a lot of this information comes from Spanish sites and my Spanish is a long way from perfect.

Yesa Reservoir Update

The city council of Artieda, the Asociación Río Aragón Contra el Recrecimiento de Yesa (Aragón River Association Against the Regrowth of Yesa), and the organization Apudepa are planning to appeal the Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Aragón ruling that the regrowth of the Yesa dam is compatible with the preservation of the Camino Aragonés route of the Camino de Santiago.

If the ruling is upheld, then as I understand it, about twenty kilometres of the Camino Aragonés route will be changed, and I believe several heritage sites will be flooded, or interfered with in some other way.

It seems the ruling was justified on the grounds that the Camino no longer follows the exact route that the government of Aragón laid out in 1993, the year the route became a World Heritage Site.

The Asociación Río Aragón says that the judge was “bowing to political decisions.” The association is not mincing words. In a statement, it accuses Jaime Vicente, the Aragonese director general de Patrimonio, of putting (in my translation) “his political career ahead of the ethical commitments that should go along with a job like his.” It calls the Yesa reservoir “a systematic attack on the route of the Camino de Santiago.”

The Camino Francés as a World Heritage Site in Danger?

The Yesa reservoir discussion brings me to something I’ve been reluctant to discuss because I don’t understand all the nuances and don’t have time to investigate right now—but it keeps coming up in Yesa discussions.

In December 2011, more than eighty Camino associations signed the Manifesto de Santiago, which asks UNESCO to add the Camino Francés to its list of World Heritage in Danger. The Yesa reservoir is one of the reasons behind the request. It seems that for UNESCO, the Camino Aragonés is considered a branch of the Camino Francés.

Among other problems the organizations cite are the industrial zone that crosses the Camino at Coruña O Pino and the wind farm at Triacastela.

The request seems to be an attempt to shame the Spanish government into taking better care of the Camino de Santiago.

Pilgrimage Bits and Pieces

  • A dispute over the route of the Camino Sanabrés (which connects the Vía de la Plata directly with Santiago) is being settled. It seems there were two options out of San Cristovo de Cea: the original route went through the town of Piñor, while a variant led pilgrims to the Monastery of Oseira. During the Holy Year, an innkeeper from Piñor kept changing the signage so it only pointed to Piñor, leading to confused pilgrims who had intended to visit the monastery but instead found themselves in Piñor. It sounds like now the the Xunta de Galicia is going to way mark both routes. The official route will pass through Piñor, and the Monastery of Oseira can be visited by way of an 18-kilometre detour. Informational signs will explain the two routes.
  • For cycling pilgrims, Caminosantiago reports that the bike shop in Puente la Reina has closed due to the owner’s retirement, leaving no bike shops between Pamplona and Estella.
  • Caminosantiago also points out that there is an error in the basic map in the Spanish credenciales. The map shows the Vía de la Plata passing through Gerena and El Ronquillo, when in fact it doesn’t go through either of those towns.
  • There will be a three-day Catholic group pilgrimage to Chartres starting June 10, 2011 with a bus trip from England. Learn more or register on the Catholicism Pure and Simple blog. (via Rebekah Scott)
  • The Xunta de Galicia has recognized the Camino de Invierno/Camino del Sur (which connects the Camino Francés with the Camino Sanabrés) as being of cultural and historical interest. The Asociación Camiños a Santiago pola Ribeira Sacra is still working to make the route an official pilgrimage route. Its one hundred members are also trying to way mark the Camino de Invierno better, persuade municipalities to keep it clean, and promote it.
  • The refugio of Muslera, on the Camino del Norte, re-opened last Saturday.
  • The Ministry of Culture recently gave Castilla y León €45,000 for the “promotion and consolidation of the Vía de la Plata as a cultural itinerary.” The money will go toward various architectural and way marking projects.
  • Aragonese author Javier Sierra’s new thriller El ángel perdido mixes history and magic. One of the main characters is a woman who is working on restoring the Pórtico de la Gloria on the Santiago cathedral. The story soon leaves Santiago de Compostela, but the author picked Santiago as a setting because (if I understand this correctly) it’s a place people come to see beyond the here-and-now.
  • The Asociación Tradiciones Esquinas Añoranza of Los Monegros (this means something about nostalgic traditions—I wonder if it’s something like a Society for Creative Anachronism)—is organizing a pilgrim caravan with six to eight carriages and several riders. They will travel from Sariñena (near Zaragoza) to Santiago this coming July. They’ll be travelling with support vehicles, and it sounds like they’ll have to skip a few stages. The whole trip—including the purchase of carriages, shoeing of horses, food for people and animals, trailer rental costs, and more—Is going to cost around €25,800, so they’re getting sponsors, and will have advertising on the roofs of the carriages. (Which will rather spoil the medieval look of the thing, I would think. Oh, well.)
  • An ugly development of some kind near the Camino del Norte in Reicastro has been given the green light, but it will be lined with trees so as not to visually affect the Camino.
  • Organizers of a new project, Acogida Christiana en el Camino (ACC, or Christian Welcome on the Camino) will be holding a weekend conference, starting on February 18 in Ponferrada. The project aims to help interested hospitaleros give the welcome already offered to pilgrims “a spiritual dimension, and to [help bring pilgrims] to a real encounter with Jesus Christ.”
  • El País has a great “tour” of Santiago with wonderful bits of history and legend. You can get the gist of it using an internet translator.
  • I just learned that you can take tours of the Santiago cathedral roofs, where pilgrims used to burn their clothes after walking to Santiago. I’m definitely going to do that when I’m there.
  • The Spanish movie Finisterrae (directed by Sergio Caballero), about two ghosts who walk the Camino de Santiago, recently won the Tiger Award—the highest honour given at the Rotterdam International Film Festival.

Pilgrim Roads

Coming up next week: the history of early medieval Spain/al-Andalus as I currently understand it, with, of course, a focus on the development of the pilgrimage to Santiago and the factors affecting it.

If you missed my post on musician/composer Oliver Schroer and photographer Peter Coffman and the art they created out of their Camino, do check it out. I’ve loved the story since I first heard it several years ago on the radio, and was (and am!) so excited to have a chance to tell it myself.

Ultreïa to all, and to all a wonderful weekend!


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Music and Life, the Road and Photography: Oliver Schroer and Peter Coffman on the Camino


[Camino cover image]

The Pyrenees from the Route Napoleón.
Photo by Peter Coffman.

  this album is the record of an intersection,
the story of a line…

un Carrefour entre la musique et la vie,
le chemin et la photographie…

es la combinación de música e imagines que
nacieron de un paisaje y tiempo especiales…

…music born of a particular landscape and time.

—From the liner notes of the album Camino

The story begins, fittingly, with a pilgrim musician in a French church.

Architectural historian Peter Coffman was on vacation in Moissac with his wife, Diane, when he walked into a church, and found a man playing a flute wandering the aisles. The man, it turned out, was a musician walking an ancient route to Santiago de Compostela, stopping at churches to play and sing along the way.

That brief encounter stayed in Peter’s mind, and after he and Diane returned home to Toronto, Canada, he mentioned it to his longtime friend, fiddler and composer Oliver Schroer.

I said, “Isn’t that a great idea, doing a musical pilgrimage, where you stop in these places which are so acoustically amazing, and you make music?” And I said, “We should do this sometime.”

And Oliver said, “Yeah, let’s do this sometime.”

“So naturally,” Peter says, “nothing happened for several years.”

Five years later, in 2003, the two friends were living on opposite sides of the country, but they met up at Oliver’s family home for his father’s wake.

As they sat on the couch talking, the idea of a pilgrimage—something they hadn’t discussed in years—resurfaced.

But now, Peter says, the timing was right.

We decided at that moment, “Let’s do it next year. Let’s book off May and June. And we’ll promise to each other now that we won’t make other commitments.”

And that’s what they did.

Full Backpacks

[Backpacks on the Camino]

At a rest stop in O Cebreiro.
Photo by Peter Coffman.

Oliver and Peter didn’t see each other again until May 2004, when four of them met up in the small French town of Entraygues-sur-Truyere to begin walking: Peter, his wife Diane, Oliver and his wife Elena. They didn’t have time to walk the entire Chemin du Puy and Camino Francés, but they planned to walk a significant portion of each: more than a thousand kilometers altogether, from Entraygues-sur-Truyere to Pamplona, and then from León to Santiago.

The contents of the two men’s backpacks differed from the more usual pilgrim gear.

Oliver described his extra burden in the liner notes of the album that was to emerge from the journey:

                 in my backpack,

I carried my violin like a wooden chalice,
like my own precious relic,

carefully packed in its reliquary of socks and underwear and
waiting to work a miracle.

my pack also contained a portable recording studio.

But Peter’s pack was heaviest. When the four pilgrims met up in France, he says, Oliver wanted to see what he was carrying.

“That’s not a backpack,” Peter remembers Oliver saying, after he’d looked inside. “That’s a camera bag with a little bit of clothing in it.”

[Peter Coffman with his backpack]

Peter (and his pack).
Photo by Diane Laundy.

The pack held Peter’s Nikon F3 (a brass-bodied camera), three heavy lenses, a bag full of film, and a tripod. Socks and underwear were crammed into a few small compartments. As near as Peter can remember, the whole thing weighed 13.5 kilograms (30 lbs).

Peter had thought long and hard over his decision to bring the camera gear.

Lugging it around wasn’t, as he points out, the most practical thing to do. And besides, he had burned out in the past working as a professional photographer. Since then, he’d done a bit of architectural photography for his job, but no more than that.

In the end, though, he decided to bring the equipment, and to shoot black-and-white film.

I did it black-and-white because in some way that seemed to suit this sort of romantic notion I had of the pilgrimage being an opportunity to shed all extraneous things, and just focus on essentials.

Before doing the Camino, he’d noticed there weren’t any books that fully documented the route photographically.

“And of course,” he says, “once I started walking along carrying this backpack with camera gear, I realized why.”

Art on the Camino

[Eglise de Sensacq]

Eglise de Sensacq.
Photo by Peter Coffman.

While they were walking, neither Oliver nor Peter knew they were creating music and photography they would end up sharing with others.

In the on-line journal Oliver kept for his family, friends and fans, he wrote that “the main plan is really to walk a huge amount and to concentrate on that. I may do some playing or some recording of things along the way, but the focus is most definitely the walk.”

Peter says he felt the same way about his photography.

The trip itself is challenging enough, both physically and psychologically in some ways, that I found it had to be my main focus. I couldn’t put anything other than the actual experience of walking … at the centre of things.

He brought his camera gear hoping to get some good shots, but because he was shooting film rather than digital, he didn’t know how the photos had turned out until he got home.

I didn’t know what I was capturing. I didn’t know whether or not I could do anything with it afterwards. I just thought, I’m going to go out, I’m going to shoot whatever I can—as much as I have energy for and so on—and I’m just going to gather raw material. And I’ll worry about what, if anything, all this stuff amounts to later.

Asked if he ever considered sending the camera gear home, Peter responds immediately in the negative. He didn’t enjoy carrying the gear, but he was having too much fun using it to send it home, he says.

Photographing the Camino brought back his love of photography, “this joy of going out and experiencing the world and responding to it by making these images of it.

It’s something I had always loved, and kind of lost touched with. But I was reconnecting with that, and it was great.

As Peter rediscovered photography, Oliver was fiddling in churches and cathedrals.

When the pilgrims walked into a building, Peter says, the first factor that would determine if Oliver would play was whether or not he had the energy. If he did, he’d walk around clapping his hands and making noises to test the acoustics.

And if both the energy and the acoustics were there, he’d take his fiddle out of its backpack cocoon—removing everything else in the process (“I was prone to strewing underwear or socks in the general area if I was not careful,” Oliver remarked in his journal)—and play.

Oliver described the experience in the liner notes:

in some churches I played for many people, in others for a single listener.

j’ai joué quelques unes de mes vieilles
pièces fractales et spirituelles…

improvisé mucho.
a través de semanas andando,

new pieces came

– one hill, one valley at a time.

Peter is a longtime fan of Oliver’s fiddling and would have loved to hear it anywhere, but the old buildings added another dimension to the music.

They were unlike anything Oliver was acoustically accustomed to, Peter says.

[As Oliver played in churches,] he started to understand his own music as something, in a sense, that exists in three dimensions—something that has to travel through space as well as extending through time. I could see him playing and listening to himself at the same time, and thinking, okay, what happens if I do this? What happens if I change my timing here?

Conques

[Fiddling in Conques Cathedral]

Oliver playing in the Cathedrale Ste-Foy de Conques.
Photo by Peter Coffman.

The four pilgrims reached the medieval valley town of Conques a few days into the journey.

Oliver, Peter says, had not had a good day. He hadn’t broken in his walking boots ahead of time, and was suffering because of it. The steep, rocky descent into the town was particularly tough on his feet.

But then they reached Conques, and he—like so many pilgrims—was entranced.

Peter had been there already. “But when you emerge in that town, it’s so staggeringly beautiful,” he says.

“It’s an amazing feeling.”

They settled in, and soon headed for the cathedral, where Peter so much wanted to hear Oliver play.

But there was a musical event on, involving the cathedral organist and some school children. The pilgrims waited around for a while, but the event dragged on, and there was no chance for Oliver to play.

“We began to think, is this actually going to work?” Peter says.

But he knew the cathedral doors were often open well into the evening. Much later, the group return to the cathedral, and found it empty. So Oliver gave a private concert to his three companions—his first time playing on the trip.

It was an evening to remember, as Peter describes it in the liner notes:

may 6, 2004.    a lanky figure in muddy boots enters through the west door of conques. out of his backpack he pulls a violin, gently disentangling it from the socks, underwear, and yards of sleeping bag that have protected it from the wear and tear of the road. it is hopelessly small in his large hands, in this huge building.

l’homme commence à jouer.
les notes et l’espace s’embrasent
comme s’ils avaient attend cet instant depuis toujours.

“I was not just playing my violin in this church; I was playing the church itself with my violin,” Oliver wrote.

It felt like the largest instrument I had ever played. Playing a note was like sounding a gong. The sound bloomed out of the first attack, and then subsided only slowly.

In the morning, Oliver had a chance to improvise with the cathedral organist—another amazing experience.

“We were in Conques less than 24 hours,” Peter says, “but it was a very, very rich part of the pilgrimage.”

The Journey

[Peter Coffman and Oliver Schroer]

Peter and Oliver (with cow) in France.
Photo by Diane Laundy.

And so as pilgrims do, they walked, and walked some more.

Peter, asked if there are any stories he wants to tell, says, “For me to pick any particular story seems almost arbitrary in a sense. Because there are just so many. Where would I begin?”

Oliver’s journal relates some of these stories: the first day, when they started out walking nine kilometers in the wrong direction; the time the shops were all closed and they were out of food, but a local man befriended them and offered them a feast; the day Oliver lugged a bag full of cooked pasta—soon dubbed Fred’s brain—around in his backpack; an impromptu concert for a large group in a church in the woods; the evening Oliver and Peter scared local cult members away from the town hall where they were spending the night; an improvised, very moving ceremony at the Cruz de Ferro; the accidental eating of pigs’ ears; the joy of being able to dash over mountains once they’d were finally in good walking shape (“Mountains. HA! I laugh out loud at those puny hills!”); and tales of all the pilgrims and others they met along the way.

Oliver didn’t downplay the physical effort, either.

“I thought that somebody could make a tourist attraction called CAMINO!” he wrote from France.

It would be a theme ride in the tradition of Disney. On the ride you would be on a treadmill, with a 360° movie of beautiful landscape playing all around you. Fans would blow the most amazing medley of smells in your direction, while somebody repeatedly hit your feet with a 2×4. You would be under heat lamps the whole time, but every once in a while, someone would throw a bucket of cold water on you. CAMINO! EXPERIENCE THE WONDER! FEEL THE PAIN!

Peter said the other day, “Actually, the Camino is really easy, apart from the walking and carrying your pack!” That about sums it up.

When Oliver fiddled in churches, he didn’t always know if he’d be allowed to stay—he might be kicked out after half a minute, or have a chance to play for over an hour.

He couldn’t take the time to warm up, since he might only have time for a single song. So he would launch straight into the music he wanted to play.

“And I’d have to just put heart and soul into it,” he said in Silence at the Heart of Things, a documentary about his life.

The frustrating times when Oliver got kicked out of churches brought home to him how much his music meant to him.

“At home I can play any time,” he wrote. “But when I can’t [play] it bottles up inside me and I become very sad … it is a deep hunger that needs to be fed.”

Santiago de Compostela

[In front of the Santiago Cathedral]

Peter, Diane, Oliver and Elena in front of the Santiago Cathedral.
Photo by Peter Coffman.

After seven weeks’ walking, the pilgrims arrived in Santiago de Compostela, where Oliver was asked to play his violin at the pilgrims’ mass.

At first, he just wanted to say no. Peter never did figure out exactly why.

I think he was perhaps afraid of the responsibility of being an integral part of this event at which he’d expected just to be a spectator, in a sense. Although having said that, it was never like him to shy away from the stage, or the spotlight. I sensed that for some reason it was an emotionally complicated thing for him. He was very resistant to it.

But the sacristan at the Santiago cathedral had given Oliver permission to play at the cathedral whenever he wanted, so fiddling at the mass seemed like the right thing to do, Peter says.

He just realized that it wasn’t about what he wanted. It was about other things that needed to take priority.

And so Oliver played at the mass, and “of course it sounded fantastic and was such a great thing.”

Peter wrote in the liner notes about the pilgrims’ mass at the cathedral, and the point when he heard the words “cuatro de Canadá.” Four from Canada.

there was a time in our lives before the camino, and there is a time after it.

those three words mark the transition.

at the climax of the mass a giant censer roars past us,

a massive arc, leaving a sweet trail of smoke.

it is joyful, celebratory, and incredibly exciting.

The botafumeiro had a big impact on Oliver, too, which he described in his journal.

The effect of this HUGE object hurtling directly overhead was astounding. At the apex of its swing, it almost touched the ceiling of this very large cathedral on either side. When it came overhead, it barely missed us. It was dramatically cathartic, releasing all of this kinetic energy along with the incense. It was like a joyful leap into the air, the end of the journey.

Camino: The Album

[Camino: the album]

The cover of Camino. Peter Coffman won the 2007 Independent Music Award (Album Photography) for his Camino photos.

Peter started developing his film immediately after returning to Canada, and began scanning and printing the photographs soon after—”just because it was exciting to see this stuff,” he says.

At the same time, Oliver was going through his recordings. As the two sent photos and music flying back and forth across the Internet, Peter says, they realized they had a potential album on their hands.

[Oliver] had all this music that sounded great. I had all these images that in certain ways, in their sensibility, seemed to fit the music—partly because they were black and white. There was this sparseness to the images that seemed to work with the sparseness of the music. That’s when we began to realize, we’ve got some interesting stuff here. People might like this stuff.

Two years after walking, Oliver released the album Camino. On it, his playing mixes with the sound of bells, of children playing, of pilgrim footsteps. The cover and liner notes are full of Peter’s photos, and writings by both men about their Camino experience.

In the documentary, Oliver described Camino as “an album of duets between violins and buildings.”

And the liner notes are another duet, this one between images and words.

Epilogue

[Oliver]

\’On June 5, 2008,\’ Peter writes, \’Oliver played what he knew would be his final concert to an absolutely packed house at Trinity-St. Paul\’s Church in Toronto. It was a sweltering, intense, beautiful, and unforgettable night.\’
Photo by Peter Coffman.

Oliver Schroer was diagnosed with leukemia in 2007, about two and a half years after walking the Camino. He passed away in July 2008.

A month before his death, he threw a concert, Oliver’s Last Concert on his Tour of this Planet. At one point during that evening, he spoke about the Camino, and played one of the pieces he composed along the way. It’s obvious, watching the footage, that the walk was important to him.

Peter was at the concert, of course, and recorded parts of it with his camera.

He’s kept up a connection to the Camino since the walk, through an exhibition and talks about his own photography, and by attending Camino-related events.

The Camino never really ended for him, he says, while he was working on his photographs and listening to Oliver’s music.

In a way, it kept us on the road; it kept the road with us. And that’s been the case ever since.

Every year, Peter says, he meets people “who connect to this [Camino] story in one way or another.

It’s one of those things that, for me anyway, once you’ve done it, once you’ve got it … you carry with you everywhere.

* * *

To hear some of Oliver’s music on-line, try a YouTube search. It’s bound to leave you wanting a copy of Camino, which you can purchase through Borealis Records (where you can hear parts of every Camino track) or Amazon.ca.

For more about Oliver Schroer, his music, and his experiences on the Camino visit his website, read his Camino journal, and/or check out my previous post on Camino (which has an excerpt from the documentary Silence at the Heart of Things embedded into it).

To learn more about Peter Coffman and his photography, visit his website. He has three wonderful galleries: the Camino de Santiago, Oliver Schroer, and historical architecture. (Use the bar at the bottom to slide sideways through the galleries.)

2017 update: Peter Coffman just published Camino, a book of his gorgeous photos.


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Stained Glass on the Chemin du Puy: A Photo Essay


[Saint Michel d'Aiguilhe Chapel]

Saint Michel d'Aiguilhe Chapel, Le Puy-en-Velay.

I don’t normally spend a lot of time in churches—or any other buildings dedicated to religion—but when I walked the Chemin du Puy, I stopped at just about every church and cathedral that was open along the way.

In some cases, they were true places of refuge: they let me escape the heat—and later the cold—of the walk. When I walked into my first city and was overwhelmed by the traffic and general busy-ness, I fled to the cathedral with its shafts of stained glass-tinted light.

The churches and cathedrals I stopped at were places of beauty, somewhere to sit and think, and maybe even pray.

I liked the oldness of them, and the simplicity. And I loved the windows with their stained glass.

These photographs—arranged in geographical order—are my celebration of those buildings and their wonderful windows.

[Saint Michel d'Aiguilhe Chapel]

Saint Michel d'Aiguilhe Chapel, Le Puy-en-Velay

[A church in Saugues]

St. Peter at a church in Saugues.

[Windows in Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole]

Modern stained glass in Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole: 1) Mary; 2) A detail of the same window;
3) Joseph and Jesus.

[Church in Saint-Côme-d'Olt]

Crucifix in the church in Saint-Côme-d'Olt.

[In Saint-Côme-d'Olt]

The same church in Saint-Côme-d'Olt.

[Stained glass abstract]

Also at the church in Saint-Côme-d'Olt.

[Church of Sainte-Radegonde]

The Church of Sainte-Radegonde in Saint-Félix.

[Saint-Jean-Mirabel]

The church in Saint-Jean-Mirabel.

[Abbatiale Saint-Sauveur]

The Abbatiale Saint-Sauveur in Figreac—where I fled to escape the city.

[Abbatiale Saint-Sauveur]

The Abbatiale Saint-Sauveur in Figeac again.

[Cahors Cathedral]

The Cahors Cathedral.

[Organ pipes]

Organ pipes at the church in Lauzerte.

[Stained glass in Lectoure]

A church in Lectoure.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 8:54 am
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This Week in Pilgrimage: The Camino Aragonés in Danger?


[Pomps]

Photo of the Week
In Pomps, on the Chemin du Puy.
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It seems I’m really committed to walking the Vía de la Plata this spring. I have finally have tickets! They’re from Toronto to London, which might seem odd, given that I live in British Columbia (three time zones away from Toronto) and am going to Sevilla. But I’m visiting friends near Toronto and Oxford on the way, so it actually makes sense. I just need to book a few more flights.

Anyway, here’s the news I’ve found this week.

The usual disclaimer: I’ve done the best I can to ensure accuracy, but a lot of this information comes from Spanish sites and my Spanish isn’t perfect.

An Aragonese Court Ruling Could Lead to the Flooding of a Portion of the Camino Aragonés

The Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Aragón (Aragón High Court of Justice) recently ruled that the “regrowth” of the Yesa reservoir is compatible with the protection of the Camino Aragonés, which passes through the area. It sounds like the development of the reservoir will mean modifying the current Camino route.

I would like to look into this issue more in the future when I have time to struggle through the Spanish, but here’s what I know. I’m being as accurate as I can manage, but can’t make guarantees.

According to the cleverly named YESA NO site (scroll down for English), in addition to displacing local residents and causing social disintegration, the growth of the reservoir will threaten a number of archaeological and architectural sites along the Camino. I can’t tell if they’ll definitely be flooded, but the site seems to say so.

Then again, the court ruling suggests a judge thinks otherwise. If anyone knows more about this, please do comment.

Camino Bits and Pieces

  • The Mundicamino website now has a section on the Via Francigena pilgrimage to Rome, which is under construction. They’re asking for information and photos. The Spanish pages currently have the most information, and English pages just seem to be the Spanish pages run through an on-line translator.
  • The new Libro de Piedra (Book of Stone) website gives visitors a virtual tour of the cathedral, its museum, and a few surrounding squares, with some information in Spanish. I thought it would be completely gimmicky, but it’s actually kind of fun. A little slow, though—at least with my computer.
  • French statistics show that numbers of pilgrims/walkers on the Chemin du Puy are increasing. Numbers of pilgrims staying at the gîte communal in Arzacq-Arraziguet have risen from 2,147 in 2000 to 5,135 in 2010. According to the same statistics, 1.5 percent of pilgrims staying in that gîte walked for reasons of faith; 50 percent for the physical challenge; 30 percent to face a challenge with others (my translation may be a bit off on this one), and the remainder to live a new life, find companionship, change their outlook on life, or to meditate. It seems they’re asking different questions in France than in Spain. There’s definitely no “live a new life” box at Roncesvalles or at the Cathedral in Santiago.
  • The Camino de Levante will soon be way marked as the GR-239 (an official European long-distance path) in Castilla y León. The route is already marked with yellow arrows, but local Friends of the Camino associations believe the GR designation will help get support and protection for the route at various levels of government.
  • Burgos just celebrated its patron saint, San Lesmes Abad, a Frenchman who devoted much of his life to caring for pilgrims at the Monasterio de San Juan, where he was abbot. The celebration, which involves a religious ceremony, partying, concerts and other events, is always held on the Sunday closest to January 30.
  • Several towns near Mérida on the Camino Mozárabe (from Granada) now have special signs for pilgrims. The signs give information on population, monuments, important phone numbers, and more. Streets along the route also now have ceramic tiles with arrows pointing the way to Santiago, and the towns have pilgrim information centres, usually located in the local town hall.
  • Ángel Luis Barreda, the director of the Centro de Estudios del Camino (Centre for Camino Studies), and a Camino expert, talked about the Camino in a recent interview. He says now, like the Middle Ages, is a golden age for the Camino, with vast numbers of pilgrims. “The Camino belongs to everyone and no one,” he says (in my translation). “It is a space of liberty, and that is precisely its great advantage and its large problem.”
  • Two sites on the Vía de la Plata—the “Country House” at Mérida and a Roman bridge over the Aljucén River—received funding for archaeological work through the project Alba Plata II. Some fragments of Roman milestones have been found in the area.

Pilgrim Roads

I just had a great conversation with Canadian photographer Peter Coffman, who walked substantial parts of the Chemin du Puy and the Camino Francés with some serious camera equipment. He travelled with the late fiddler Oliver Schroer, who fiddled in churches and cathedrals along the way.

I’ll post the interview next week, but if you’d like to learn a little more now, I’ve already raved about the album that resulted from Oliver’s fiddling and Peter’s photos.

And … Cows on the Camino

Just for fun, because it brought back memories, I’ll leave you with a video of cows on the Camino.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 6:14 pm
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Comments Off on This Week in Pilgrimage: The Camino Aragonés in Danger?

Walking Time


[Candles]

In the church at St-Alban-sur-Limagnole, along the Chemin du Puy.

A little while ago, I described two months on the Camino as “an eternity.” It made so much sense to me at the time that I didn’t consider the words. But a little later, I started thinking about them.

In non-Camino life, two months fly by the way cars speed past walkers.

But when I was walking, two months felt like forever.

I’m not talking about the dragging, glance-at-the-clock-ever-few-seconds time that’s so familiar to students in a dull class or employees in an endless meeting. Some might associate that sort of boredom with long walks—but those are rarely, I suspect, the people who’ve gone out walking.

A few years ago, I spent a fair bit of a summer reading about time. Not scientific time—that Stephen Hawking stuff goes over my head—but the human experience of time.

And one of the things I read was that when you experience the same things over and over each day, time feels like it’s moving more quickly. The science behind this idea had something to do with the circuits in our brain. If we use the same ones all the time, our brains stop really paying attention.

So in a weird way, we live shorter lives if we never break out of our routines. Because when it comes right down to it, it’s our experiences that count, not the readings on our clocks and calendars.

* * *

Eternity isn’t some later time. Eternity isn’t a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time cuts out. This is it. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere.
—Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

One of the reasons children experience time as moving more slowly is because they’re always encountering new things.

I heard an interview with psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik on one of my favourite radio shows the other day. Gopnik said young children are much more conscious and aware of what’s going on around them than we adults tend to be.

Adults’ attention, Gopnik explained, is like a spotlight: we look at what we think is important and tune out everything else. Young children don’t know what’s important and what’s not, so they notice everything.

It is, in many respects, a wonderful way to be in the world, but it’s not efficient. Young children spend a lot of time sleeping and crying as they try to process all they experience. They’re not so good at getting important things done.

But, Gopnik said, adults can recapture some of that feeling through travel. When everything is new and different, we notice so much more. We become more alive. Travel isn’t the only way to reach that state, of course, but it can really help.

And I suspect that’s a big part of why time slows down on the Camino.

But it’s not only that, at least for me. I’ve done a fair bit of non-Camino travel, and time, then, didn’t slow to the same extent. I think the speed of Camino time also has something to do with the slower pace, the way life shrinks when you’re rarely thinking more than 30 kilometres ahead.

Maybe that’s part of the reason some of us get addicted to walking pilgrimages. We’re more awake when we’re walking. We live more deeply. And time stretches out toward eternity.

* * *

What do you think? Did you experience time differently while you were walking, or at any other time in your life?


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 12:31 pm
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4 Comments