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A Personal Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela



By: Tom Malone

The sun rose over the Spanish cathedral as we walked the end of the famed pilgrimage trail.  Tired groups of people who had traveled for months celebrated in front of their final destination. Sounds of the church bells rang through the brisk morning air, signaling to the crowd in the plaza that Pilgrim’s Mass would start soon.

Map of El Camino

El Camino de Santiago stretches 769 km from the France/Spain border to the northwestern corner of the Iberian Peninsula.  Pilgrims have walked this trail for more than 1000 years in hopes of heightening spiritual awareness and gaining insight into their own person.

While studying abroad in Northern Spain last fall, my friends and I took a day trip to Santiago de Compostela, the medieval city that has gone through little change since the Renaissance. Its cathedral is home to the bones of St. James, the oldest working clock in the world, and the largest incense vessel in Catholicism.

Roof view from the cathedral

After a tour of the cathedral’s roof and a meal, we wandered the slender cobblestone streets of the city. We found candy shops, street performers playing Spanish guitar, and a traditional dance performance in one of the city’s plazas. Hours of wandering led us back to the city’s focal point, the cathedral.

Though we missed the early-morning mass for pilgrims, we decided to check out the inside of the building.  I worked my way through the shoulder-to-shoulder traffic caused by the mass of people standing in the beautifully decorated interior.

Pilgrims wait for Pilgrim's Mass to begin after their completion of El Camino

As we exited the church, we saw more pilgrims entering the city, tiredly excited about their accomplishment. I sat and watched these pilgrims and recalled the group I saw earlier that morning. They inspired me.

I had never seen such dedication to faith with my own eyes. I had never seen a display of self-exploration like this. The journey that these people endured impacted me in a way that made me feel as if I had made my own pilgrimage.

The end of the road

The hardships and struggles that one must experience during a pilgrimage must be immense. The fun and lasting memories that come from this adventure with friends and family must bond people together like few other experiences can.

Inspired by Catholics from the opposite side of the world, my friends and I made a goal: to return to Spain within five years and travel across El Camino. Whether we accomplish this goal or not remains to be seen, but the Catholic inspiration that we received from these people’s experience will last. Hopefully our pilgrimage in five years will inspire others to continue the tradition of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela: The Way of St. James.

This article originally appeared in the Catholic Sentinel on Aug. 3, 2011 as Pilgrims Were Inspiring.



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