There are as many reasons why people flock to the Camino de Santiago as there are pilgrims along the Way. Some, like me, feel ‘called’ to make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in the northwest corner of Galicia, Spain. Others go in thanksgiving, in supplication, in penance or just because it is there and they feel the need to walk.
Everyone who makes the Way to Santiago is changed by the experience. Some even find love.
This month, in honor of St. Valentine, my friend and fellow blogger Laurie Ferris, whose blog is The Camino Provides, is collecting stories about romance on the Camino de Santiago. If you have a story of romance to share, please be sure to contact her!
Calling all Camino Couples! You know who you are. Perhaps you met on the Camino and fell in love. Maybe you were newlyweds who walked the Camino for a honeymoon. Or an established couple who wanted to mix things up and test your relationship. Perhaps you walked alone and came to the conclusion that someone back home is your true love. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so they say.
I wonder how many marriage proposals happened as a result of the Camino. It seems the Camino works in mysterious ways. Is it something in the water or the Spanish wine? I think there’s something in the air.
For the month of February, I’ll feature a few Camino love stories. I certainly respect the premise of what happens on the Camino stays on the Camino. However, love is a splendid thing that should be celebrated. Has the Camino provided you with more than just a long walk? If you have a Camino love story to share, email me or use the form below. Photos and video links welcome.
Frankly, I love being snowed in. We have heat, electricity, food and…time.
Some of that time I spent wandering through photos from my pilgrimage on the Camino Portugués in 2010. Among them, I came upon these of the most wonderful, little church in Pontevedra, Spain, La Iglesia de la Divina Peregrina (The Church of the Divine Pilgrim).
La Iglesia de Nuestra Senora del Refugio
While other depictions of the Virgen Mary as a pilgrim exist along the various Camino routes, they are few and in my opinion, this chapel in Galicia is the most beautiful. It is easy for pilgrims to find, as it sits right on the Camino Portugués in thePraza Ferreira.
As you arrive in the Plaza, the first thing you notice is the unique design of the sanctuary. It is shaped like the vieira, or scallop shell that is the universal symbol of pilgrims and pilgrimage. In the front is a large fountain, graced on either side by matching staircases that lead to the glass doors of the main entrance.
Above the balustrade, La Divina Peregrina, Santiago, San Roque
Looking up, slender twin towers – the left, a clock tower and the right, the bells – flank an allegorical representation of Faith. Just below this there are three niches. In the center, is a sculpture of Mary the Pilgrim. On either side of her are two of the most iconic figures of the Camino – Santiago (St. James) and San Roque. It reminds me very much of the sculpture of St. James on the Cathedral of Santiago, which of course if you are walking this Way, is your ultimate destination.
This is one of the most important churches in Pontevedra since Nuestra Señora del Refugio (Our Lady of Refuge) or La Divina Peregrina (The Divine Pilgrim) is the Patroness of the city. So unlike many rural churches, you will nearly always find it open.
Built specifically as a sanctuary for La Divina Peregrina, symbols of the Camino de Santiago appear everywhere! On each of the plate glass doors, a large, etched, vieira welcomes pilgrims. These are crossed by the bastón (staff) and gourd and accompanied by a pilgrim hat also bearing a shell.
Stained glass – bastón y calabasa
Just inside, a huge oyster shell forms the Holy Water Font. The elegant, stained glass windows, the doors of the confessionals and the benches also all bear the symbol of the vieira crossed with the staff and gourd.
Above the main altar is the image of the chapel’s namesake, the Divine Pilgrim. She is dressed in the style of a French pilgrim and her dark curls contrast with the vivid green dress, cape and hat. In her right hand, she holds the staff and gourd of the pilgrim, in her left, the infant Jesus. At the highest point, suspended as it were by cherubs, is a lovely relief of the flight into Egypt.
Main altar – La Divina Peregrina
Nuestra Señora del Refugio
Construction of this unique chapel began in 1778 – it was consecrated in 1794. The style is late baroque with neoclassical elements. In 2008, the church underwent a major renovation to repair the main altar, the paintings, stained glass and the clock, which originated (1896) at the Hospital of San Juan de Dios, now demolished.
Historically and artistically, the church is a designated monument. But for the pilgrim, it is a special place of great beauty and refuge. Pilgrims always ask, “Is there any place that I must see?”. When on the Camino Portugués, this is definitely one.
Do you have a “must see” place on the Camino Portugués? Tell us about it in the comments.
Whenever I see those words, they jump out at me. I’ve walked the Camino de Santiago – the 500-mile pilgrimage route in northern Spain – four times. It has and continues to play an important role in my life. Known by various names, El Camino, The Pilgrim Road, The Way of St. James – and for those who are intimately familiar with it, it is simply The Way.
In 2010, Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez heightened awareness, particularly in the United States, of the pilgrimage with their fictional, yet inspiring film by the same title.
Recently, when I was in Adare, Co. Limerick, I ducked into the cool interior of one of my favourite churches in Ireland, Holy Trinity Church. Centrally situated on the main street, it is a stunning 14th century grey stone structure with simple yet elegant lines. On this visit, I was immediately intrigued when I spotted a cone-shaped, bronze sculpture tucked into a corner at the back of the church.
On first glance it reminded me of the Sorting Hat of Harry Potter fame, so, curious as to why something pertaining to Harry Potter would be in the church, I had to appease my curiosity by getting a closer look.
It was clearly NOT a Sorting Hat.
The Camino de Santiago – near Cacabelos
However, due to the title The Way, my next assumption was to associate it somehow with the now famous Pilgrimage route. The popularity of the Camino has grown immensely in Ireland as well. Wrong again. Despite the title, the fascinating sculpture had nothing at all to do with the Camino de Santiago.
Approximately two feet high, its conical shape represents the hill of Jerusalem. There, the sculptor, John Blakely, obtained a 5 million-year-old piece of marble excavated from the city walls. It is one of only three such stones to have been taken out of Jerusalem adding to the unique nature of this bas relief. The marble stone is embedded near the top of the bronze sculpture, which is actually a representation of a staircase and path leading through the city of Jerusalem, a path which Jesus would likely have used.
So in a manner of speaking, the Camino de Santiago and the Irish Sculpture are related. Pilgrims making their way to Santiago de Compostela often make reference to Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth and the life”. Or perhaps it is just me – I seem to find correlations to the Camino de Santiago in many strange places.
Nonetheless, this piece is one of many treasures found in Holy Trinity Church. When visiting Adare, with all there is to do and see, it is easy to overlook this beautiful church. Don’t.
My eyes opened wide and I burst into tears as my front tooth dropped out of my mouth and into my hand. Broken off at the gum line.
Three weeks prior in Madrid, I had cracked the tooth. Nothing special, just an aging tooth after a 30-year-old root canal. I was previewing a film for my students, mindlessly nibbling on my thumbnail. Suddenly I heard an odd noise and thought I had broken my nail. Unfortunately, the nail was just fine.
The young Spanish dentist who tended to me on an emergency basis was wonderful. He did his best to explain clearly what was happening – my Spanish is good, but the medical/ dental terminology wasn’t exactly part of daily conversation. Still and all, there was no mistaking his conclusion: “No podemos salvar este diente hoy.” “We cannot save this tooth today.” The most he could do was to try to stabilize it until I got back to the States to have it properly looked after. Read: replaced.
“Cuando vuelves a los Estados Unidos?” “When do you return to the States?” he queried. “Perhaps a week or two,” I replied, both uncertain and confused. This little episode was unexpected.
I neglected to inform the nice dentist that it was my plan to walk the Camino de Santiago, the 500-mile pilgrimage route across northern Spain – a journey that would take a minimum of 30 days.
He assured me that if I were careful with what I ate and drank, the tooth would probably stay put until I returned home. So I cut my food into tiny pieces, fastidiously chewed in the back of my mouth and carefully made sure all potentially damaging ice cubes remained firmly in the bottom of the glass.
But I noticed that each day, notwithstanding my diligent care, the tooth was bailando – dancing – a little more.
So there I was, in the tiny village of Azofra, seven days into my Camino adventure when a single strand of spaghetti al dente threatened to bring my dream to an end.
Despite my valiant efforts to cut the spaghetti into small bits and chew in the back, one brazen little piece worked its way to the front and when I bit down, the already fragile tooth gave way.
“I have to go home!” I sobbed to the other pilgrims who gathered ‘round to see why I was crying.
“Does it hurt very much?” asked one.
“No,” I snuffled through my tears, “it doesn’t hurt at all.” The errant tooth stared back at me from the palm of my hand. “But I can’t walk to Santiago with a hole in the front of my mouth!”
“Why not?” one of the women asked. “If it doesn’t hurt, then why not just keep going?”
I stared at her blankly. That was absurd. Of course I couldn’t keep walking to Santiago, a distance of at least three weeks walking time, with a gaping hole in the front of my mouth. No one walks around like that unless they are…well, unless…well.
Hang on a minute. I had to walk at least 2 days just to get to a town that had a bus station. And maybe 8 days to Burgos to catch a train back to Madrid. If I could walk that far, what, exactly was keeping me from finishing my pilgrimage? Pride? Vanity? Fear?
Yes, yes and yes.
The gathered crowd began to drift away. Nothing to see here.
Deirdre Y Ana
I wiped away my tears and tried to comfort the poor Italian woman, Ana, who had been walking with me and was so excited to make her spaghetti al dente for our dinner. She felt terrible – somehow responsible. I laughed my toothless smile as I self-consciously moved my hand to cover my mouth – a gesture that became all too familiar in the ensuing weeks.
“Vino,” I said. “We need some wine!” Everything appears better after a glass of Spanish Rioja.
For reasons that I cannot explain, I deposited the broken remnants of my tooth in a zip lock baggie and tucked it safely into my rucksack. In the morning, I strapped on the pack and headed out the door with all the other pilgrims making our way west.
There are many photos of that journey and in each and every one of them I managed to develop a calm, soft-looking, closed-mouth, half smile. When people spoke to me I had a rather unusual habit of resting my elbow on the table and placing my hand lightly across my mouth as if I were contemplating my response.
I made it all the way to Santiago de Compostela – 500 miles and none the worse for the wear.
Cruz de Hierro
And the infamous tooth? There is a place on the Camino called the Cruz de Hierro – the Iron Cross. It is a spiritual place where pilgrims often leave a stone that they have brought from home. The stone represents the burden they carry with them as they make their pilgrimage. I had forgotten to bring a stone, but as I stood in that place, I suddenly recalled the tooth, buried in my backpack. I dug it out, said my small blessing and left it there among the stones and ephemera. A very personal contribution to the Camino de Santiago.
12 hours after my flight from Spain touched down in the US, I was firmly ensconced in the dentist’s chair. Because it’s obvious that you simply cannot walk around for weeks with a gaping hole in the front of your mouth!