Stones on the Camino: A Photo Essay

[Stones in the Pyrenees]

On the Route Napoleón in the Pyrenees.

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.

[Stones in the wall]

Stones in the wall of the lovely Gîte Dubarry, on a farm between Nogaro and Aire-sur-L'Adour.

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.

[Cross and rocks on the Chemin de Saint-Jacques]

On the Chemin du Puy, between Bessuéjouls and Estaing.

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.

[Stone walls on the Chemin de Saint-Jacques]

On the Chemin du Puy, between Chapelle de Bastide and Nasbinals.

[On the Chemin de Saint-Jacques]

Markers on the Chemin du Puy. A) A wayside cross between Chapelle de Bastide and Nasbinals. B) A modern pilgrim sculpture on the way into Aubrac. The inscription reads (in my translation from the French): "In the silence and the solitude, we hear no more than the essentials."

[Way mark on the Chemin de Saint-Jacques]

A Chemin du Puy (GR-65) way mark, with stones.

[Bible verse]

People also left notes, poems and Bible verses in piles of stones. This one was around a cross just past Labastide-Marnhac on the Chemin du Puy.

[Roman mosaics]

A Roman mosaic at the Villa Gallo-Romaine at Séviac, just off the Chemin du Puy. The gîte d'étape was right at the historic site, so I got to wander around the ruins in the morning before any tourists arrived.

[Cross and rocks on the Chemin de Saint-Jacques]

Past Uhart-Mixe on the Chemin du Puy, with the Pyrenees in the background.

[The Route Napoleón]

On the Route Napoleón in the Pyrenees.

[Arrow and rock piles on the Camino Francés]

Stones on the Camino Francés. A) Before Villatuerta. B) Between Navarrete and Ventosa.

[Pilgrims and arrow on the Camino Francés]

Pilgrims between Castrojeriz and Itero de la Vega.


Before Astorga.

[Cruz de Ferro]

The Cruz de Ferro.

[Sonya at 100 km]

Sonya at the 100 km marker.

[Stone hermitage near Ferreiros]

Stone hermitage near Ferreiros where pilgrims leave messages.

[Galicia on the Camino Francés]

Walking in Galicia on the Camino Francés.

[Plaza del Obradoiro]

Pilgrims in the Plaza del Obradoiro, in front of the Santiago cathedral.



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Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 12:35 pm
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2 Responses to Stones on the Camino: A Photo Essay

  1. kelsey mason says:

    Interesting story, and we love the photos

  2. Patrick Sayer says:

    Loved your photographs…they bring back so many memories.
    I will return to this site again!