Pastoral Letter from the Revd Jan Moore
When our editor asks the worship leadership team every December for dates that they can offer when they will write the Parish Link opening letter, I was late replying. Only ‘Hobsons choice’ was left: May and July - and, of course, I said Yes.
In December I hadn’t realised that this would result in me writing to you just before and just after my husband, Pete, would be walking a pilgrim route from the French side of the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in Northwest Spain. My May letter described him setting off. He came home on 8th June. I have assembled some objective stats, which follow on from this Letter. But, given that it was a marathon challenge for him on many levels, he needs more time to reflect at a personal level, before committing his own responses to paper!
I, on the other hand, stayed at home for 6 weeks, undertaking my own pilgrimage experience. On 1st June it was a privilege to fly out to Santiago to greet him in The Cathedral Square on 2nd June, after his last day walking the Camino Frances: Day 44. We subsequently spent 5 days together in Santiago, and 2 days on the coast at Finisterre, enabling me to be immersed in all things “pilgrimage”.
Santiago is a swirling, simmering, steaming hotpot of pilgrim experiences. The city is characterised by its role as the final resting place of the bones of St James the Great, towards which pilgrims have travelled since before Medieval times. The ancient city of narrow cobbled streets, steep in places, bears the marks of centuries of history. The Museum of Pilgrimage, housed in an old building, is modern, light, airy and spacious, providing 3 floors of intriguing insights into the phenomenon of Pilgrimage.
I met a number of international companions Pete had shared time with on his route: from Colorado, California, South Africa, Denmark, The Canary Islands and Germany and listened to his stories about others who had already returned home to Chile, Israel, Massachusetts, Holland, New Zealand etc. I tried to discern what these pilgrims, and the swirling mass of others in the street or queuing at The Pilgrim Office to receive their Compostela Certificates of Completion or constantly arriving in Cathedral Square, had in common. Very little. Pete’s answer was that they all carried a visible scallop shell on their rucksacks and carried a Credential for collecting stamps. And that seems to be the sum of it. Even I now have a pair of Scallop Shell earrings and a mug displaying lots of stamps!! I found no common ground in pilgrims’ reasons for doing the minimum of 62 miles to a maximum of however many miles they wanted to make it. Very few seemed to desire a religious search or intention. Many were simply on a physical and mental endurance test. And many were walking to reflect upon, and mentally sort out, tough issues in their lives.
I had spent my 6 weeks at home walking every step with Pete via text, photos and video chats. I had my own intention for my 6 weeks of grace time. Part sabbatical from some regular pressures, lots of silence, peaceful space, creative gardening, reading, writing and ring-fenced prayer and reflection time: a pilgrimage with no physical challenges or communication struggles or uncomfortable sleeping quarters!
When I went to the English Mass with Pete in the Chapel in the Santiago Pilgrim Centre, I was an interloper: there only by virtue of accompanying him. At the start of the service the Filipino priest and several Irish Volunteers attached to his Chaplaincy, instigated introductions from each person present: name, where was home, where had they walked from? I felt like an interloper. The service was beautiful: relevant in every detail to the international English speaking pilgrims present. But I felt that I didn’t belong to the cult, even though privileged to have witnessed it. The service closed with open prayer. I prayed for all those who the congregation would be going home to. I was emotional. As was Pete, when he prayed for all those who had supported him along The Way.
So, I have one overwhelming reflection to share with you all. Each of our long or short lives can be a single pilgrimage without embarking on a physically rigorous and structured period of time out. But as each of our lives of pilgrimage unfold, they inevitably present us with forks in the road, struggles and challenges a-plenty, choices and decisions. Times of doubt and times of faith. We are dependent upon others, and we try to support others. But in all this life-long process we need to spend daily time in quiet reflection and prayer, based on scripture and our experiences, of ourselves and others. It is an essential characteristic of the pilgrim journey of life itself: from cradle to grave.
And I learned the over-riding truth that each of us must do the Camino which is right for us, and not try to do the Camino to which others are called.
Some facts about Santiago de Compostela Pilgrims
For those who like stats! All figures relate to May 2022.
There are 36 recognised & signed pilgrim routes converging on Santiago.
The one called the Camino Frances starts in St Jean Pied de Port with an initial climb up and over the Pyrenees: thereafter it runs East to West across the Northern Spanish territories of Navarra, La Rioja, Castilla Y Leon and Galicia - the distance is 482 miles. Stamps on Compostela Credential can be gained from many places along the way as evidence of the route covered. The shortest distance which qualifies for a Certificate of Completion from the Santiago Pilgrim Office is 62 miles. In reality, the actual distance walked will be more, because pilgrims must also daily find a bed, a breakfast, a lunch, liquid refreshment and a dinner, or a medical centre(!) and, maybe, a special place to visit alongside the route.
Pete actually walked a total of 417 miles in spite of having to cover 56 miles of the Camino Frances on 4 bus hops, because infected foot blisters and detaching toenails medically banned him from walking on 6 days out of a final total of 44. Counting only the walking days, his daily average was 11 miles/day.
In May 2022, 48,254 pilgrims received a Compostela Certificate from The Pilgrim Office. Some had walked the minimum obligatory 62m. Some had cycled the distance, including one whom we spoke to, who had cycled from Edinburgh, crossing to Northern Ireland and cycling south to catch a ferry to Brittany before cycling on through France and crossing into Spain. Some had spent overnight stops in hotels, others had experienced the most basic accommodation in large dormitories of bunk beds. Pete was in the latter group.
Less than 19% of pilgrims had English as their mother tongue.
56% of pilgrims were women
15% were under 30
53% were between 30-60
32% were over 60
Huge numbers of women and men embarked on their pilgrimage alone, including very many of the over 60s. Pilgrims from all over the world undertake this activity. In descending order of proportion, stats for May were:
And many other nationalities who each had less than 240 pilgrims ie less than ½% each