One of the constants of my walk along the Camino de Santiago was the presence of stones.
They were in the walls of many of the buildings I slept in and the the old churches I visited. In some places, they made up the walls that lined the trail. Sometimes the stones were the road itself, in the form of gravel or cobblestones.
Then there were stones people left—often in heaps on crosses and memorials to fallen pilgrims, and sometimes near way marks. Occasionally they were piled into little towers (Inukshuks, as we’d say here in Canada), or assembled into arrows on the ground.
And of course there was the pile at the Cruz de Ferro. The tradition of bringing a stone from home to leave there may be a recent one, but every tradition has to start somewhere.
Especially in France, where I walked alone more, I’d sometimes pick up a stone and hold it in my hand as I walked. I’d leave it at the next pile of rocks I came across—usually on or around a wayside cross.
It seemed like the right thing to do, though I’m not really sure why.
In part, I suppose, it was because the other stones were there already. People had left them in the past and would leave more in the future. Leaving my own stones made me part of that.
There’s something about stones.
We use them to mark graves. Some of the earliest altars were stones piled on top of each other in sacred places. And of course there’s Stonehenge, and the Easter Island moai, and so many other examples of sacred art or architecture, built up or hewn from stone.
In Cambodia, Angkor Wat and the other temples in the area are all that remain of a once-thriving city because only sacred structures could be built with stones. And when all the wood buildings turned back into jungle, the stones remained.
Maybe it’s the seeming immortality of stones that makes them sacred. Compared with living things, they seem to last forever.
And so we use them, perhaps, to represent the eternal.
Or maybe not. I don’t really know. I just know they were there, and they mattered.
I couldn’t take any with me, for obvious reasons, so I did the next best thing: I took photos. Here are some of my Camino stones.