Depending on demeanour, the Camino may feel at times, less a pilgrimage, than a very social shared experience. Maybe pilgrimages have always been this way. Chaucer’s and Boccaccio’s pilgrims were frequently less than pious. For some people, it is a religious experience, a place for prayer, silence, and contemplation. For others, religion is completely absent, or only of historical curiosity, or an abstract contemplation of the universe. The connections with other pilgrims are often more open, and easier than what they would be with people at home. Confession sometimes just seems to happen, whether religious or not. And, along the way, while walking alone, or when they stop talking, the buried memories surface. Some are processing grief, regret, or fear. Others, the beginning, the end, or the deterioration of relationships. Or, all the other stories that exist everywhere else in the world: a son was killed, an incurable diagnosis, a spouse deserted, they lost their job, or the future seems uncertain and they don’t know what else to do. Perhaps searching for something intangible, that they wouldn’t be able to articulate, even to themselves. Or, they feel some darkness in themselves, and feel that by walking the way over and over, from different routes, they will feel somehow purified, ending in Santiago, or in Finisterre, with their feet in the sea. Frequently anti-climatic, maybe it is less some kind of life-changing experience, than a signal that a change is coming, or something is missing, or needs to be processed by walking, and that the Camino is the place for that.
Symbolized by the scallop shell, the Camino de Santiago is one of the most historically important pilgrimage routes in Europe, after Jerusalem and Rome. Although pilgrims can start at nearly any point they wish, many pilgrims on the most common way, the Camino Frances, start in St. Jean Pied de Port, in southern France, and continue over the Pyrenees almost 800 kilometers to Santiago de Compostela. Other potential routes include the Camino de Norte, the Camino Primitivo, the Camino Ingles, the Camino Portugues, the Camino Aragones, and the Via de Plata. Many pilgrims also continue onwards to the sea, at Finisterre.
About the author:
Matthew Thompson was born in California, in 1977, but he has been primarily based in Europe since 2003. He currently lives and works in Ostrava, the Czech Republic, but is frequently traveling, primarily in Europe. He has recently published a book on the Camino de Santiago, and is currently working on several long-term book projects. His frequent use of black and white, is primarily due to his color-blindness, rather than any deliberate aesthetic choice. However, more and more, he has been working in color.