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Pilgrim Stories

Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago, Journeys Along an Ancient Way in Modern Spain

Nancy Louise Frey
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: 1
Pages: 298
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  • Book Info
    Pilgrim Stories
    Book Description:

    Each year thousands of men and women from more than sixty countries journey by foot and bicycle across northern Spain, following the medieval pilgrimage road known as the Camino de Santiago. Their destination is Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of the apostle James are said to be buried. These modern-day pilgrims and the role of the pilgrimage in their lives are the subject of Nancy Louise Frey's fascinating book. Unlike the religiously-oriented pilgrims who visit Marian shrines such as Lourdes, the modern Road of St. James attracts an ecumenical mix of largely well-educated, urban middle-class participants. Eschewing comfortable methods of travel, they choose physically demanding journeys, some as long as four months, in order to experience nature, enjoy cultural and historical patrimony, renew faith, or cope with personal trauma. Frey's anthropological study focuses on the remarkable reanimation of the Road that has gained momentum since the 1980s. Her intensive fieldwork (including making the pilgrimage several times herself) provides a colorful portrayal of the pilgrimage while revealing a spectrum of hopes, discontents, and desires among its participants, many of whom feel estranged from society. The Camino's physical and mental journey offers them closer community, greater personal knowledge, and links to the past and to nature. But what happens when pilgrims return home? Exploring this crucial question Frey finds that pilgrims often reflect deeply on their lives and some make significant changes: an artistic voice is discovered, a marriage is ended, meaningful work is found. Other pilgrims repeat the pilgrimage or join a pilgrims' association to keep their connection to the Camino alive. And some only remain pilgrims while on the road. In all,Pilgrim Storiesis an exceptional prism through which to understand the desires and dissatisfactions of contemporary Western life at the end of the millennium. "Feet are touched, discussed, massaged, [and] become signs of a journey well traveled: 'I did it all on foot!' . . . Pilgrims give feet a power and importance not recognized in daily life, as a causeway and direct channel to the road, the past, meaningful relations, nature, and the self."

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92246-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. [Maps]
    (pp. xiv-xvi)
  6. INTRODUCTION: Arriving at the End
    (pp. 1-16)

    From the moment I entered the majestic Plaza del Obradoiro in Santiago de Compostela, I was surprised to see that far from having disappeared with the Middle Ages, the pilgrimage was alive and well. I could immediately recognize the modern pilgrims, who represented a mixture of the present and the past. Their backpacks and bicycles were adorned by the pilgrim’s scallop shell, and many carried walking sticks. They ambled in the plaza—some alone, others in groups, all ages and nationalities—while some appeared to know where they were going, others seemed to be in their own private worlds. Their...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Pilgrims to Santiago
    (pp. 17-46)

    Dante suggested in the thirteenth century that distance traveled and foreignness made one a Santiago pilgrim. Today there are many types of pilgrims,¹ many ways of going, and many ways to interpret what it means to be a pilgrim to “the house of Saint James.” Rather than the length of the journey, the central factor in pilgrims’ categories is how one makes the journey. In general terms the division is between human-and motorpowered travel; between those who walk, bicycle, use a pack animal, or go by horseback and those who make the journey seated in a car, bus, or airplane....

  8. CHAPTER 2 Journey Shaping
    (pp. 47-70)

    The pilgrimage does not begin with the first step or ride down the trail. Pilgrims begin to shape their journeys well before they leave the front door. The physical movement of arriving at the Camino is anticipated by some kind of internal movement—a decision, an impulse, an unexplained prompting, a long-held desire finally realized, a promise seeking fulfillment, a hope for change. The internal space is in some way already in flux before the journey begins—anticipatory, eager, confused, exhausted, open. Using myself as an example, I knew after my first visit to Santiago in 1992. that I wanted...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Learning New Rhythms
    (pp. 71-86)

    The above is an excerpt from a letter I received from Marina, a thirtythree-year-old physical therapist from Madrid, three months after she completed the pilgrimage in summer 1994. Marina and I met at the refuge in Belorado one hot August afternoon when she arrived two weeks after beginning her walk. Our first encounter occurred when, in my role as hospitalera, I stamped her pilgrim’s credential as she signed in at the refuge. Catholic by birth but nonpracticing, like many modern pilgrims, Marina originally made the Camino as an alternative to the dreary rhythm of daily urban life and to experience...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Landscapes of Discovery
    (pp. 87-136)

    Before beginning the pilgrimage some participants believe they will find “something”—God, friendship, themselves, others—while on the road. Some people look to the symbols to find meaning, some look to the road or to certain kinds of experiences; others look to faith, to the authentic pilgrim, or to solitude. The meanings that the journey comes to have usually appear to emerge over time and space—forward, backward, inward—through movement.¹ Pilgrims’ stories are not only about moving through the landscapes but also about odd encounters, refuges, and people and pilgrims they meet during the journey. The Camino, which begins...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Arrivals and Endings
    (pp. 137-152)

    An Italian physical therapist sent me a postcard two weeks after she began the pilgrimage in Roncesvalles which announced, “The pilgrimage has just begun in Burgos!” This declaration surprised me, for it implied that her pilgrimage either had never really begun or had ended at some point after leaving Roncesvalles and begun again with new spirit. On learning that she had intended the latter meaning, I began to see how endings and arrivals may or may not be place-or space-specific. Depending on the pilgrim’s goal and motivation different internal endings or resolutions can come at any moment and may not...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Santiago
    (pp. 153-169)

    After leaving my post as hospitalera in Roncesvalles in mid-October 1994 I returned to Santiago to spend the winter. On arrival I went to the cathedral and, as I had hoped, encountered Susan, the young Swiss woman who had begun the Camino in Roncesvalles at the beginning of the month. With tears of joy and fatigue she recounted her journey—the failures, the aches, the triumphs. We spent the day together and the next, too, like old friends. And then one day she left on the train for her home in Switzerland. And I wondered, What now? Not only did...

  13. CHAPTER 7 To the End of the Earth
    (pp. 170-176)

    The Camino officially ends in Santiago.¹ But Santiago is not the only physical or mental goal for many pilgrims. While the majority finish in Santiago and spend a day seeing the city before going home, others feel a need to continue beyond Santiago. Edward, an American scholar, wrote, “I left that city of stone to follow the path toward the sea and the setting sun at the end of the world. . . . Now my body seemed to walk itself, the road walking my body. . . . My old body has died; in many ways I have also...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Going Home
    (pp. 177-216)

    I am frequently asked, What made you focus on the return, or the post pilgrimage? The answer is simple: friendship, curiosity, and loneliness. When I was living in Santiago I met pilgrims on a daily basis. I associated with them and their friends in bars and cafes and heard both their innermost secrets and their favorite public stories, stories of triumph in the meseta, anguish on the Cebreiro mountain, curious synchronous encounters, and ambivalence about the future. From listening to the laughter and the tears it was clear that for most the Camino reached a geographic end in Santiago, but...

  15. CONCLUSIONS: Arriving at the Beginning
    (pp. 217-231)

    Concluding a book is similar to arriving in Santiago: It’s a relief to have made it, it’s a bit anticlimactic, and there’s disappointment that it has to end. Conclusions, though, also resonate with going home, with taking time to stop and look back at what has come before and attempting to draw the disparate stories of the long journey together. In retracing one’s steps one moves both on and off the road once again.

    As I write these conclusions, almost five years have passed since I first set foot in Santiago. Like many others, I came to the pilgrimage by...

  16. APPENDIX A. Fieldwork on the Road
    (pp. 232-236)
  17. APPENDIX B. The Twentieth-Century Reanimation
    (pp. 237-254)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 255-276)
  19. References
    (pp. 277-296)
  20. Index
    (pp. 297-313)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 314-314)