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News and views from St. Mary's Woodbridge
Issue 3 Summer 2007
going on a pilgrimage

To be a pilgrim ...

Theres no discouragement,
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.
  John Bunyan

We have probably all sung these words, but how many of us have actually been on a pilgrimage on foot? The answer is that more and more people are taking up the challenge to walk the ancient pilgrimage routes, which have been revived and pilgrims are now offered a great deal of practical advice to achieve their goal.

shell symbol

The most important destination for pilgrims, after Jerusalem and Rome, is still Santiago de Compostella in Northern Spain. Its cathedral houses the tomb of the patron saint of Spain, the apostle St James the Great. His symbol, the scallop shell, was so often worn by pilgrims there that it became the pilgrim badge in general. The Camino Francès is the best known of the Compostella routes, starting from Paris, Le Puy–en–Velay or Vézelay, taking a 2,000km route across the Pyrenees to Spain.

So what does a pilgrim wear? The traditional garb is still practical: a large-brimmed hat to protect against sun and rain, a staff and scrip (wallet), while a scallop shell badge keeps one focused. A small backpack with a couple of water bottles and a change of clothes completes the kit. Food can be picked up in villages and towns along the way, and in Spain its never more than 5km between freshwater springs, established for pilgrims by Charlemagne.

shell symbol

And where to stay? In France, guest-houses, cafs, inns and monasteries, but in Spain there are also refugios (hostels) specifically for pilgrims. Here a bed or mattress, usually in a dormitory, and washing facilities are offered quite inexpensively. Clothes can be washed and dried on a tree or hedge (take safety pins instead of clothes pegs, much lighter to carry). Each night, the pilgrim must get his Pilgrims Record officially stamped at the local church, monastery or tourist office (the scallop shells on this page are examples). Next day, the daily routine begins early, often at sunrise, to avoid the intense heat later on.    (continued ...)