Tag Archives: Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela: A Photo-Essay

When I was in Santiago less than a month ago, I spent a lot of time wandering the streets taking photos.

It wasn’t the best time to be in Santiago, from a photographer’s perspective. There was lots of (very necessary) restoration work going on. The Portico de la Gloria was covered up, as was the clock tower. And the Praza do Obradoiro was overflowing with tents—as I understood it, people were protesting against poverty.

But there was still lots to photograph. Here’s a small selection of my results.

Praza do Obradoiro/Plaza del Obradoiro

[Pilgrims arriving]

[Bicigrinos arriving]

[Relaxing in the Praza do Obradoiro]


[Pilgrims hugging]

[Selling CDs]

[Pilgrim with pack]

[Pilgrim's bicycle by the cathedral stairs]

[Praza do Obradoiro]


[Street artist]

[Entering the cathedral]

[Pilgrim with shell]

[Pilgrims at the cathedral gate]

[Photographing the cathedral]

Santiago Cathedral

[Santiago de Compostela Cathedral]

[Cathedral roof]

[Saint James]

[Angel on the Santiago cathedral]

[Santiago cathedral detail]

[Portico de la Gloria]

More Cathedral Plazas

[From the roof]

[Praza de Fonseca]


[Sleeping pilgrim]

Pilgrim Office


Museo do Pobo Galego/Museo del Pueblo Gallego

[Museum with very cool triple spiral staircase]

[Museum - fire]

[Museum - baskets]

In the Park

[Las Dos Marias]


[Cathedral from the park]


On the Streets

[Two packs]


[Santiago cakes]

[On the street]


[Guy in red]

[Modern street]

[Man walking]


[Santiago street]

[Pilgrims on the streets]



[Santiago arches]



[Girl and spout]


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 10:51 am


[Praza do Obradoiro]

The Praza do Obradoiro/Plaza del Obradoiro from the cathedral steps.

I’ve now been in Santiago for about six days. I can’t decide if it feels longer than that, or shorter.

In my first 24 hours, I ran into more friends than I had any right to expect, given that a) I was relatively slow compared with them and b) the majority of pilgrims in Santiago have come, of course, from the Camino Francés. So I hung out with some of them for a while (and one absconded with my chocolate bar—you know who you are). But since those first few days, I’ve only seen one person I know.

I’d planned to walk to Finisterre, but as with last time, when I walked into Santiago I felt like my journey was over. I thought about changing my ticket and visiting my English friend again, but I couldn’t get hold of her and when I finally did, it turned out she was busy. I decided I should just go to Finisterre, but lagged in making preparations because I didn’t really want to do it.

(If anyone is actually planning to go to Finisterre, here’s a helpful tip: You can leave anything you’ve accumulated in Santiago in the pilgrim office for €1. Anyone can check their bag for any amount of time, but I didn’t know until I asked that they’ll hold it for days at a time.)

I arrived on Sunday, and by Tuesday afternoon was wandering around watching happy pilgrims and feeling friendless. I told myself I was being ridiculous, but it didn’t help. I kept thinking I saw people I knew out of the corner of my eye, but when I turned to look, the person would look nothing like the friend I thought I’d recognized. At one point, I was even hallucinating friends from my previous Camino.

I was staying at Mundoalbergue, which is on the expensive side but less than five minutes from the cathedral, and has a wonderful hospitalero. I went back there on Tuesday afternoon, planning to read the English book I’d bought for the plane. That would, of course, have been bad. I haven’t read a book in a while, and if I’d started reading, I wouldn’t have been able to stop. And then of course I would’ve been book-less for the trip home.

So when the hospitalero invited me to share his lunch, I jumped at the distraction. And I told him that I’d like to find something useful to do in Santiago until my flight.

And that’s why I’m still at the same albergue, helping out in general (I’m finally learning to mop properly) and especially with English matters. It’s not the end to my journey that I was expecting, but it’s quite nice seeing Santiago from a slightly different perspective.

I still feel part pilgrim, sleeping in a dorm room and living out of my backpack, but mostly not. After all, I bought some underwear, so I no longer have to do laundry every day, and of course I’m not doing any serious walking.

When I was walking, I kept hearing that Santiago would be crowded and awful. It is crowded, but even though I’m not a crowd person, I rather like it. It’s fun to be back wandering streets I remember.

There’s also a fiesta on at the moment, with a big fair and concerts and entertainers roaming the streets. It makes things even more crowded than usual, but is rather fun.

So … here are a few things I’ve done that you might want to consider doing if you find yourself in Santiago. It’s really not so much since I mostly just amble around taking random photos.


[Pilgrim feet]

Sometimes you don't have to look above the knees to recognize pilgrims.

Of course, it’s fun to watch pilgrims arrive at the cathedral. But once they’ve taken off their packs and boots, they’re somewhat harder to spot. So one of my favourite pastimes is playing spot-the-pilgrim.

Ever since someone recognized me as a pilgrim in Salamanca solely on the basis of my pants (that’s trousers to the British) with the zip-off legs, I’ve noticed them as a probable indicator of pilgrim-hood.

Not that all pilgrims have zip-off pants, but anyone who does have them is likely to be a pilgrim.

Boots and backpacks (or bicycles) are also a good indicator, of course, but most pilgrims get rid of their packs and bikes as soon as possible and put on sandals, so that’s not terribly helpful after the initial arrival. Polar fleece, quick-dry t-shirts and broad-brimmed hats are also likely signs, and anyone who winces as they walk or sports a serious beard is particularly likely to have walked to Santiago.

[Santiago cathedral]

The Santiago cathedral, complete with protesters' tents.

The Cathedral

I suppose this goes without saying. There’s the Pilgrim Mass at noon every day, and hugging the apostle, and visiting the crypt where his bones theoretically rest. And the rest of the cathedral is pretty impressive too.

And I suppose I think of the Praza do Obradoiro/Plaza del Obradoiro as an extension of the cathedral&mash;it may be full of protester’s tents, but it’s a great place to people-watch.

Cathedral Roof Tour

[Santiago roofs]

The view from the top of the cathedral.

It’s on the expensive side (€8 for pilgrims), but for me at least, very worth it. The history was fascinating, and the photo opportunities are marvellous. And you can peer through windows to see inside the cathedral from the very top.


Photos by Jacobo Remuñán on display at the Pilgrimage Museum.

Pilgrimage Museum

I’d been here before, so I skipped the (very interesting) regular exhibit and went to the photography exhibition. It’s currently displaying Emocions e Rostros Peregrinos, an exhibit featuring Jacobo Remuñán’s photos of pilgrims who’ve just arrived in Santiago. The emotion on the faces is wonderful.

And the whole thing is free.

Museo de Pobo Galego

[Spiral staircase]

The triple spiral staircase.

I went here kind of randomly today. The staircase alone made it worth the €3, and I’m not being facetious. It’s actually three spiral staircases, one on top of another, and seriously cool.

Apart from that, of course the information is in Gallego, but the artifacts are interesting, and there’s currently an interesting photo exhibition with photos by Alberto Martí of emigrants leaving Galicia.

* * *

If you’ve enjoyed this, you may want to read more of my Live from the Vía de la Plata posts.

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 2:28 pm

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Who Were the Moors Anyway? (Part I)

[Great Mosque of Córdoba]

The former Great Mosque of Córdoba, now the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption.
Photo courtesy Nathan Wong through this Creative Commons license.

My sister Celena, who kindly agreed to read this post even after she realized how long it is, gave it the following ringing endorsement: “History’s got a bad rap, but people will probably find this interesting if anyone actually reads it.”

* * *

If you read a lot about the Camino de Santiago, at some point you’re going to come across references to the Moors—Muslims of Arab and Berber origin who ruled much of the Iberian Peninsula in medieval times.

There’s the Camino del Norte, which is said to have developed when Muslim raids made the Camino Francés too dangerous. There’s the Camino Mozárabe from Granada, named after the Mozarabs (Christians who lived in Moorish Spain, or al-Andalus). There are various legends related to battles between Christian and Muslim armies. And then, of course, there’s Santiago Matamoros, or Saint James the Moor-Slayer, whose image decorates many Camino churches.

So who were the Moors, and what were they doing in Spain? It’s a long but fascinating story. Just sit back, relax, and join me on a journey back to the Iberian Peninsula in the year 711.

The Invasion

At the beginning of 711, most of the peninsula was ruled by the Visigoths, a Germanic tribe that had been Romanized and become Christian before arriving in Spain. They were busy fighting a civil war because some noblemen opposed the new king.

At the same time, Muslims in North Africa were casting covetous glances across the Strait of Gibraltar. Throughout much of its history, Southern Spain has been more closely linked with Africa than with the rest of Spain, because the mountains that divide the peninsula are more of a barrier than is the narrow strait. Thus, Spain was a logical next target for the Muslim armies that had recently conquered, and at least nominally converted, the African Berbers.

An army of Berber tribesmen under Arab leadership swept into Spain in 711. Within a decade, the Muslims had killed the Visigothic king and taken over most of the peninsula.

Parts of the conquest were bloody, but others were relatively peaceful. Many local noblemen signed treaties with the Muslims that would allow the lords to continue ruling their lands as long as they paid tribute to their new rulers. By 720, all the regions previously under Visigothic rule were controlled by Muslims.

Living Together

Any look at the medieval history of the Iberian Peninsula is complicated by the fact that the history is incredibly political today.

For more than seven centuries, Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in medieval Iberia. Some scholars and others see this as a period of convivencia, a term that means “living together.”

As anyone who’s lived with another person knows, living together is not all sweetness and light, but convivencia advocates tend to see it that way. They emphasize the positive relationships between people of different faiths—which certainly did exist—and downplay things like religiously-motivated massacres and religious intolerance—which are also easy to find in the historical record. Al-Andalus, they say, proves that harmonious relations between the three great monotheistic religions are possible.

There’s a lot we don’t know about the first few centuries of al-Andalus, because of a lack of surviving documents from that period. We do know that Christians and Jews were allowed to keep their faiths, because by Muslim tradition they were considered dhimmi, or Peoples of the Book.

But we also know there were religiously motivated conflicts—although the extent to which the conflicts were based on religious beliefs is debatable.

The Beginning of the Reconquista?

And this brings us to the other tradition of medieval Iberian history: the Spanish nationalist myth.

Originally, the Muslim conquest reached as far as the Asturias region in northern Spain (as well as far into Septimania, or Southern France). Muslim troops soon withdrew from the Asturias, and their departure was linked in some way to a local rebellion led by a Christian nobleman called Pelagius (also known as Pelayo).

According to the Spanish nationalist myth, the uprising was the first blow struck against the Moors in the Christian Reconquista (Reconquest) of Spain.

In reality, it seems the uprising was quite small. There’s even a possibility it didn’t cause the Muslim troops to leave, but rather was triggered by their departure. The Muslims seem to have deliberately left the area, which was so different from their desert homelands.

But whatever the reasons for the Muslim departure, that small enclave of Christians in the Asturias attracted other Christians who fled from al-Andalus, and it eventually became the kingdom of Castilla y León.

The Umayyad Dynasty

Back in al-Andalus, the Muslims weren’t particularly worried about the Christians in the Asturias. They were too busy fighting each other. The Berbers, whom the Arabs had only recently conquered and converted, were treated as second-class citizens by the minority Arabs. A revolt in the Maghrib (North Africa) spread to al-Andalus, where Berbers were particularly incensed at having been given the worst lands. Civil war swept through the land.

Meanwhile, in the Muslim capital of Damascus, the ruling Umayyad dynasty was facing similar problems. More recent converts, upset at being subordinate to the Arabs, rebelled, slaughtering the Umayyads and bringing in the Abbasid dynasty.

One Umayyad escaped and fled to al-Andalus, a far-flung corner of the Muslim world, and in 756 established his capital in Córdoba. At first, this Umayyad, Abd al-Rahman I, and the followers he brought from Damascas made up just one of many Andalusi factions. But by the time of his death thirty-two years later, he’d brought much of al-Andalus under his control.

His successors, the Umayyad emirs, maintained a tenuous hold over the peninsula. They managed to rule a land fractured by ethnic and religious differences by, historian Roger Collins argues, making the disunity into a strength. They cynically but intelligently played adjacent racial or religious groups off one another, to check the ambitions of each group. In some cases, rebel leaders couldn’t stage an effective rebellion because their potential supporters were too busy feuding with their neighbours.

But between rebellions, revolts, bandits and Viking raids, the Umayyad emirs sometimes lost control of vast stretches of territory. Abd-Allah, who ruled from 888 to 912, had the worst of it. At times he didn’t rule anywhere beyond the city of Córdoba.

And rulers in the developing Christian kingdoms took advantage of Umayyad weakness.

Pelagius’s nephew Alfonso I and his own son Fruela I ravaged a large stretch of land between their Asturian kingdom and the area the Muslims controlled more firmly. They forced its inhabitants to move north to the Asturias and Galicia.

For several hundred years thereafter, the peninsula was made up of Muslim-controlled lands in the south, lands under Christian control in the north, and a fluctuating no-man’s-land between them, the tierras despobladas.

Christians in al-Andalus

A number of Christians emigrated northward around the time of the conquest and for centuries afterward, but a much larger number stayed in the south.

Many—although certainly not all—appear to have converted to Islam. This was not, it would seem, because of any overt pressure (Muslim rulers weren’t allowed to tax other Muslims to the extent they could tax non-Muslims, so they relied on the dhimmi for revenue) or even strong religious convictions. Rather it seems likely the conversions came about as the result of intermarriage, and the social pressure that probably followed the conversion of prominent local families. Conversion also meant fewer taxes, and—at least in cities—more job opportunities.

Some Christian converts, like the Berbers, may have rebelled against their second-class status as non-Arab Muslims. The series of revolts known as the muwallad revolts (converts were called muwallads) seem to have been led by men from convert families. But it’s not actually clear if they revolted because of their treatment as converts, or because they wanted more independence and, during the times when emirs were losing control, thought they could get it.

Not all Christians converted, and in fact a mid-ninth-century martyrdom movement in Córdoba encouraged Christians to publicly condemn Islam and suffer the penalty—death. But at the same time, other prominent Christians encouraged moderation among their followers.

The Umayyad emirate became a caliphate and reached what many consider its peak under Abd al-Rahman III, who ruled from 912 to 961. Because of the emirs’ habit of taking Christian slaves as concubines and marrying Christian princesses, Abd al-Rahman III was genetically three-fourths Hispano-Basque, and is said to have dyed his reddish hair black to look more like an Arab.

Muslim Raids on Christian Lands

Among his many other activities, Abd al-Rahman III led raids on the Christian lands to the north. These were usually successful, but the caliph stopped leading his armies himself after suffering a serious defeat to a Leonese army.

Abd al-Rahman’s raids don’t seem to have been motivated by religion. He certainly wasn’t an intolerant man: he sent the Christian bishop Recemund on diplomatic missions, and the Jewish physician Hasdai ibn Shaprut became one of his chief advisors.

One major motivation behind his raids on the Christian kingdoms (including his relatives, as his mother had been a Navarran princess) may have been partly motivated by keeping an eye on his marcher (border) lords, who were inclined to be rebellious.

And there were strong financial motives as well. Like other European rulers at the time, Abd al-Rahman could replenish his coffers by looting and taking captives. Both Christians and Muslims sold captives of lesser rank as slaves, and high-ranking captives were ransomed to their families. Generally captives were only killed by one side or another if they considered their opponents to have broken the conventions of war.

The Muslims had the upper hand during this period, and could have expanded into Christian territories by settling the lands they raided, but they don’t seem to have been interested in conquering the north.

Later, al-Mansur (known as Almanzor to the Christians), who controlled Abd al-Rahman’s grandson, the puppet caliph Hisham II, escalated the raids.

His raids are often cast in a starkly Muslim versus Christian light. The reality, insofar as historians have been able to read between the lines, may have been somewhat different.

Al-Mansur’s most notorious raid was on Santiago de Compostela in 997, when his troops sacked the city, destroyed the cathedral, and stole its bells.

The event is often seen as an example of the religious basis of his raids, but while that may be partially true, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

It’s true that al-Mansur’s many raids attracted volunteers who were interested in jihad, or holy war—in much the same way, as historian Richard Fletcher notes, that Christian knights several centuries later would spend a few years on crusade. In Islamic countries, Spain was informally referred to as Dar Djihad, the Land of Jihad.

Al-Mansur himself made a show of extreme piety and portrayed his raids as jihad, but it’s hard to be sure how much of that was sincere.

He used large numbers of Christian mercenaries in his armies, something he probably wouldn’t have done if he were an extreme religious fundamentalist. He allied himself with disaffected noblemen from the northern kingdoms who—as was common at the time—made their alliances based on politics, not religion. Without guidance from these noblemen, al-Mansur wouldn’t have found his way to Santiago in the first place. The Christians received their share of booty for their trouble, and don’t appear to have suffered any severe moral qualms about their participation in the raid.

Also, while al-Mansur destroyed the cathedral, he didn’t touch the remains said to belong to St. James—a surprising omission, as Collins points out, if he were truly a religious fanatic.

There’s no question that al-Mansur’s raids were many and bloody, and the Christians had good reason to believe he’d bargained with the devil and to rejoice at his death.

But Fletcher argues that al-Mansur’s raids, while framed as jihad to keep religious leaders happy, were more like Abd al-Rahman’s earlier raids for wealth than like religious warfare.

Al-Mansur had a lot of expenses. He had to keep his supporters happy, and pay off his enemies. He built both a huge palace complex outside Córdoba for himself and his family, and an expensive extension to the city’s Great Mosque. He increased his popularity among the citizenry through tax cuts, and enlarged his armies because of political developments in Africa. He needed some serious money.

Monasteries acted in some ways like medieval banks, where the local nobility would deposit gold and other valuables.

And so, if asked why he really plundered monasteries, al-Mansur might well have given the same answer Willie Sutton gave when asked why he robbed banks.

“Because that’s where the money is.”

* * *

The information here largely comes from Moorish Spain by Richard Fletcher (a wonderful, very readable book) and Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity, 400-1000 by Roger Collins (it’s more academic, but if you ever wondered about how the Visigoths fit into Spanish history, this one’s for you). If you know something about the history already and want to read excerpts from some original sources, Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources, edited by Olivia Remie Constable, is a fascinating read.

Be sure to come back next week for the riveting conclusion to “Who Were the Moors Anyway?” It will address such scintillating topics as the rise and fall of the party kings (who really did have a good time when they weren’t being conquered and exiled), the invention of Santiago Matamoros, and whether the Reconquista was actually just a conquista with good PR.

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 10:48 am
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This Week in Pilgrimage: A World Heritage Site in Danger?


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!'
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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!

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 5:31 pm
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This Week in Pilgrimage: The Camino Aragonés in Danger?


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.

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This Week in Pilgrimage: A New Italian Route?

[Cross at Carrión de los Condes]

Photo of the Week
I took this photo in Carrión de los Condes. As a photographer, I'd love to say I planned this, but I have to admit the symmetry of the birds is a total fluke.
See your photo here! Learn more at the bottom of this post.

And today …

… the second instalment of my weekly pilgrimage summary. If I’ve missed anything of vital (or not so vital) importance, please don’t hesitate to comment.

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, alas, far from perfect.

A Potential New Italian Pilgrimage Route: The Way of Saint Paul

A Way of Saint Paul, or Cammino di San Paolo, is almost under development in Syracuse, Italy. It will visit places the saint is said to have stopped, and finishes in Rome. The plan was apparently inspired by the Camino de Santiago and the Via Francigena, and aims for similar greatness.

I don’t know any Italian, and Google Translate is a bit unclear here, but important people have just signed a memorandum of agreement saying they’re really going to do this.

If you’re interested in Saint Paul, there’s also a Saint Paul Trail in Turkey.

Update: According to renegadepilgrim on the Camino forum, a number of walking pilgrimage routes have been and are being developed in Italy. I guess I’ll have to add a wander around Italy to my list of pilgrim goals.

The Camino del Norte Aims for World Heritage Status

Friends of the Camino associations in Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia are working together to get the Camino del Norte named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To this end, they are apparently improving the physical path and the way marking, and above all, adding albergues. They have already taken the first steps by submitting a formal proposal to UNESCO, and hope to receive World Heritage status in 2012.

A year ago, there was some controversy about the idea of the Camino del Norte as a World Heritage Site.

The publication Cien razones para detenerse (One Hundred Reasons to Stop By) details some of the highlights of the route. It’s available as a PDF file (all Spanish), with some gorgeous photos that almost tempt me to abandon the Vía de la Plata and head for the Norte.

Camino Bits and Pieces

  • On Monday, the ETA (the organization that caused 800 deaths as it fought for an independent Basque homeland) announced a cease-fire. For more details, read the Time magazine story.
  • Valdeviejas, a hamlet on the Camino just outside Astorga, will bring its new Virgin Peregrina (Pilgrim Virgin) on her first procession when the Bishop of Astorga visits the town this Sunday. The statue (I think) will stay in the ermita del Ecce Homo, a common stop for pilgrims to Santiago. If you’re interested in the idea of la Peregrina, Robert Ward talks about it a bit in his book Virgin Trails: A Secular Pilgrimage, which includes a Camino journey.
  • Within less than a month, pilgrims on the Camino Aragonés passing through Huesca should be able to stay in its new Hospital de Peregrinos. The Asociación de Amigos del Camino de Santiago has recorded more than 5,000 pilgrims passing through the city in the past three years.
  • Santiago de Compostela will have international flights again soon, as the difficulties with RyanAir seem to be sorted out. (Via Sil.)
  • The Xunta de Galicia is going to invest €153,000 in San Paio—a cluster of houses grouped around a church a bit before Lavacolla on the Camino Francés. One focus will be on eliminating negative “visual impacts” in the area of the church. The funding will also go toward cleaning up vegetation, installing a new awning (or possibly roof), building a new sidewalk, and installing benches and street lights. The aim is to make it nicer for pilgrims and the general public.
  • The first two buildings of the Ciudad de la Cultura de Galicia (City of Galician Culture) were recently inaugurated in Santiago de Compostela. An ABC article compares it to the Santiago Cathedral a lot: “If the Cathedral of Santiago is a centre of spiritual pilgrimage, the Ciudad de la Cultura … aspires to turn itself into a beacon of cultural pilgrimage” (my translation). Eventually, the Ciudad de la Cultura will be made up of six buildings.
  • A Spanish cooking site has published a history of food on the Camino. It’s quite interesting, and sort of readable with Google Translate. The conclusion? “The pilgrimage was never at odds with good food” (or possibly, “fine dining”).
  • The latest issue of Arqueología Navarra revealed new archaeological findings about pilgrim deaths on the Camino de Santiago in an article by Mercedes Unzu, Carmen Jusué and María García-Barberena. The authors seem to have been interested in the pilgrims that died (in my translation of their words), “without glory, without epitaphs, and without stories to immortalize them.” They found what appear to be pilgrim skeletons in churches and pilgrim cemeteries on the Camino Francés, some with whole or crumbled scallop shells, some with old silver English coins. One cemetery contained pottery sherds decorated with shells.
  • On January 28, Ángel Luis Barreda, ex-president of the Federación Española de Asociaciones de Amigos del Camino de Santiago (Spanish Federation of Associations of Friends of the Camino de Santiago) and current director of the Centro de Estudios y Documentación del Camino de Santiago (Centre for Studies and Documentation of the Camino de Santiago), is going to give a talk in Jaén. The title is El Camino de Santiago: Ayer y Hoy (The Camino de Santiago: Yesterday and Today). (Via The Camino Documentary.)
  • If you happen to be in Golden, Colorado on the evening of January 22, you should consider stopping by a pilgrim gathering. The event will include a screening of The Camino Documentary‘s 23-minute fundraising trailer, a Q&A with director Lydia Smith, and much more. It’s free and open to everyone. Learn more on the Facebook event page.
  • The Solitary Walker just completed a thoughtful ten-post series (heres the introduction) on the philosophy of walking.
  • If you feel the need to escape the medieval ambiance of downtown Santiago on May 7, L’Extraordinaire Uchronie 2011, a steampunk event, may be for you. According to the Wikipedia, “steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, alternate history, and speculative fiction that … involves an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century and often Victorian era Britain….” From what I understand, people at the event will be expected to make their own outfits that look like they come from a steampunk universe. It would definitely make a change from the Camino.
  • The Federación Española de Associationes de Amigos del Camino de Santiago has a beautiful map showing all the Camino routes in Spain. You can buy it, or just click on the smaller picture to see the details, and look at it, and dream….

Pilgrim Roads Photo of the Week

Since I like photos and I don’t seem to have anything appropriate for Friday’s roundup post, I’ve decided to post a random pilgrimage photo every Friday.

If you have a photo you’d like to see here, please get in touch. I’ll give you full credit, of course, and include a link to your website/blog if you have one.

I’ll soon set up a form so you can send an attachment. It’s not that I don’t trust you, gentle readers—I just don’t want to give out my e-mail address here because of past experiences with horrendous amounts of spam from e-mail harvesting bots.

What’s Coming Up on Pilgrim Roads

I just had a great conversation with James March, a teacher at Springfield High School in Oregon, USA, and Sabrina Ehler, one of his students, about their upcoming Camino journey. I’ll be writing about that for the week of January 24th.

This coming Monday, I’ll be posting an interview with SlowCamino blogger Robert Townshend, who figures he’s set a slow record by walking the Chemin du Puy in about 60 days—and not losing any weight in the process.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from his blog:

At a large table of French and Swiss pilgrims, I distinguished myself by my short étapes and slow walking—naturellement—but also by pouring crème anglaise on my salad, in the belief that it was a substantial vinaigrette or sloppy mayonnaise. I was quick to cover my tracks by explaining it was an old Aussie way of eating salad.

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