Sunday, 2 November 2008

The Pilgrimage

I've just finished reading one of Paulo Coelho's first books 'The Pilgrimage', published in 1986. It is a very personal account of his own spiritual journey of walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (also known as The St James Way) in Spain, a famous historical pilgrimage that is still popular today.

Accompanied by his guide Petrus, Coelho walks the whole length of the road over a period of several weeks, only pausing to sleep in the various villages dotted along the route. As part of the journey, Coelho has to do a number of meditation exercises (that are defined in each chapter) and is faced with many physical and mental challenges. I liked the slow pace of the book and it got me thinking how liberating it would be to be a pilgrim and walk for weeks on end.

Here are a couple of my favourite quotes:

"Time isn't something that always proceeds at the same pace. It is we who determine how quickly time passes."

"Changing the way you do routine things allows a new person to grow inside you."

The camino de Santiago de Compostella has existed for over 1000 years and was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages in medieval times. Tradition has it that the remains of the apostle St James the Great are buried in Santiago. You can start the journey from anywhere in Europe, but the most common route is the Camino Frances which starts in St Jean Pied de Port and finishes in Santiago de Compostela about 780Km later, after traveling along the north of Spain.

Increasingly, the route is attracting a modern day 'pilgrim' that embarks on the road for the joys of slow travel and the challenge of weeks of walking in a foreign country. Pilgrims can buy a pilgrim's passport to get stamped in each town they visit and which allows them to stay in special pilgrim hostels along the way. Once (if) they reach Santiago, they can get a certificate to say they've accomplished the pilgrimage.
There's something really appealing to walking towards a common goal and it may just be something I'll attempt in my lifetime.

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