Walk all the way to destination, Santiago de Compostela 800km Long Journey, for 30 days                       サンティアゴ・デ・コンポステーラの巡礼路

  Camino de Santiago is the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, the celebrated Christian holy ground registered as a World Heritage site. In the spring of 2015, this writer walked along the route to the relic that has a history longer than 1,000 years.



  Santiago de Compostela, the capital of the western Spanish state of Galicia, is known as one of the three sacred places along with Rome and Jerusalem. The body of St. James (Santiago in Spanish) is deified there, drawing a constant flow of pilgrims from all over the world. Registered as World Heritage sites are Santiago (old town) and Camino de Santiago. The old town still retains much of what it looked in the Middle Ages. Visitors today will feel as if they were medieval pilgrims.



  There are various routes to Santiago. The most famous among them is the "French route" which I took. This route extends over 800 kilometers to the west from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a town located near the border between France and Spain. It takes about 30 days to finish the foot procession. I just devoted myself to keep walking.


Where St. James preached Christianity



  James was one of the apostles of Jesus who appear in the New Testament. He was one of Johns disciples. After Jesus was crucified, James proceeded to engaged in missionary work in Spain, then called the State of Hispania belonging to the Roman Empire. He built churches there and did all he could to covert people from Islam to Christianity. But his mission was not quite successful.



  James returned to Jerusalem later. But Jewish King Agrippa ordered him decapitated for fear that his return might lead to a further spread of Christianity. Agrippa knew of the resurrection of Jesus and did not allow the body of James to be buried in his kingdom for fear of his revival. Jamess two disciples, Theodore and Athanasios, deplored his death and put his body aboard a ship to land it in Galicia, Spain.



  They asked the Queen of Galicia for permission to bury the body there. She initially turned down their plea but eventually gave in to their persistence and gave her permission. She even converted her faith to Christianity. The body of James went missing as the rulers of Galicia changed one after another in the sixth and seventh centuries. However, it was rediscovered all of a sudden in 813. A shepherd, led by star light, found it at a grave in a cave located in the corner of a field. The legend has it that Alfonso II, then Spanish king, built a church dedicated to James and named the place Compostela after campo (field) and stela (star).


Registered as Heritage site 30 years ago



  It was in the eighth century that James became a Christian patron saint in Spain. In the late 10th century, the town of Santiago de Compostela was heavily destroyed by the resurgent Islamic power. Jerusalem was occupied by the Islamic Seljuk dynasty in the 11th century, rendering the pilgrimage there hard to make. People in Europe began to pay more attention to Santiago. Old records say that as many as 500,000 pilgrims annually visited the new holy ground in the 12th century.



  In the late 19th century, the body of St. James was discovered beneath the altar of the Santiago church during the excavation ordered by Cardinal Paya y Rico, the archbishop of Toledo and Primate of Spain. Pope Leo XIII admitted that the body was authentic. The damaged altar was refurbished, allowing pilgrims to pray at St, Jamess grave again in the same way they do today. It was in 1985 that the old town of Santiago and Camino de Santiago were registered as World Heritage sites. It is only 30 years since people from all the world over began to pay their attention again to the places.



Walking on and on



  Throughout my journey, I made it a rule to get up at 7 a.m. The day at an albergue (pilgrimage hostel) begins early in the morning. Guests are advised to check out early so that they can start their walk at 8 a.m. An albergue is not a comfortable place to stay at. A typical one looks like a garage packed with many bunk beds. It was not too uncomfortable when I made my trip because there were fewer pilgrims. But I felt somewhat unnatural to find an utter stranger sleeping within one meter of me. Guests take their breakfast on their own.



  When I resume walking, I find my previous days fatigue still handing on. I feel depressed the moment I think I have to walk another 30 kilometers. I found my daily routine quite awful especially in the first week because my body hadnt been fully prepared. On Day One, I had to clear the most demanding course across the Pyrenees that has a difference in height of some 1,500 meters. I took a 10-ninute break every hour. Unless you can get to the next town, you will find no hostels and restaurants. You cant do any shopping.



  However, the landscape you will see while moving from town to town is nothing but stunning and magnificent. You will walk through a vast unobstructed stretch of vineyards and wheat fields. Thats something you can never experience in Japan. On rainy days or sunny days, I was moved by the great landscape beyond all description. At the end of your tough day, you will arrive at the destination, healed by the marvels of nature.



  Pilgrims walk into the next town around 4 p.m. every day. That is in the midst of the siesta from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. when all shops and restaurants are closed. They tolerate their hunger and ran into restaurants as soon as they open. Paella is well-known among Spanish dishes. But most restaurants serve a course dinner for pilgrims. It costs about 10 euros (about 1,300 yen) and is gorgeous with good wine. I sometimes dined and toasted with a glass of wine with some of the friends I me at the alberdue. I really felt I had walked all the day for that purpose. Pilgrims make many foreign friends during their walk. They enjoy themselves every evening. As soon as their pleasant time is over, they go to bed early to prepare for tomorrow.


Tears at end of pilgrimage



  While spending such days, I felt it was still a long way to go. But as I came closer to my final destination, I wanted this life will not end. With that feeling, I finally walked into Santiago on my 30th day.



  Pilgrims were full of emotion in front of the cathedral in the old town. They praised and hugged each other. Some had tears in their eyes. I finally attended a mass given at noon at the Santiago cathedral. I stood behind the statue of St James and hugged it, thanking him that my journey ended without any trouble.



  The pilgrimage gives us a chance to think deeply about ourselves. In my own case, it made me think over what I have been and what I will be. While I had tough experiences, saw the beautiful landscape and enjoyed nice foods, I could ponder over the matters I had not taken seriously before and take a look at myself again. I think the pilgrimage to Santiago will give people an ideal opportunity to rediscover themselves. Regardless of nationality and religion, anyone can walk along Camino de Santiago. But, you have to observe Christian manners. You should be careful about that.


(Written by: Toshiihiro Horibe)