Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Camiño de Santiago

First some updates:

Beer bottled!

Sales contract on the ruin signed by us and one of the sellers - it´s on its way back to the lawyer in Galicia who´s supposed to get the final signature Friday. Once the deposit has been paid, we should be good to go on to closing. Whew!

So since I feel slightly more confident that we´re actually going to buy a property this time. I thought I would go ahead a reveal a bit more about its environs at least.

The house is near the town of Melide, in the Province of La Coruña, not far from the border with Lugo.

Melide is a market town, dating from the middle ages. It´s about 75 kilometers from La Coruña, 50 from Santiago de Compostela and 50 from Lugo. It also happens to be on 2 of the major routes of the Camino de Santiago, Jacobeo, or the Way of St. James.

The Camino is a pilgrimage dating to the 9th century, when the bones of the apostle St. James were supposedly discovered in Santiago de Compostela. A small church was built by Alfonso II (protagonist of the Reconquest underway in Asturias).

It grew

Over time, the route was supplied with hospitals, bridges and protection (Knights Templars!)for pilgrims by the Church and Asturian Kings. By the 12th century, Santiago was designated by Pope Calixto II in 1270 as a pilgrimage of plenury indulgence (along with Canterbury, Rome and Jerusalem )the completion of which would absolve you from all sin. In 1139 the Monks of Cluny publish the Codex Calixtinus,a sort of medieval ¨Rough Guide to Santiago¨ for the traveller.

As I mentioned, there are various routes to Santiago. By far the most famous and usual is the so-called French Way, which starts out in St Jean Pied de Port, France, crosses the Pyrennees, and moves across northern Spain. Apart from that one, there is the northern route, which follows the coastline through Asturias and into Galicia before cutting down toward Santiago. Alternatively, there´s the ¨Primitive¨ route over the mountains through Asturias and Galicia. There´s also a route up through Portugal. And the cheeky English just hopped on a boat and landed in Ferrol, which is just a hop skip and a jump to Santiago following the English route.

There are a lot of theories floating around about the existence of a route pre-Christian Spain, used by the Celts and/or Romans. The goal was Finisterre on the Atlantic coast, to watch the death of the sun on the western horizon and thus be ¨reborn¨. One of the euphamisms for the camino is the ¨Via Láctea¨ or Milky Way, clearly visible and parallel in the night sky and was supposedly used to guide ancient travellers east to west. Sadly, has convinced me that most of that is completely unsubstantiated by archeological evidence and likey to romantic ¨Celtic¨ new-agey nonsense. Which is a huge shame because I´m a sucker for romantic celticism.

The scallop shell is the traditional symbol for the pilgrim, representing various lines all converging in at the same destination point.

Anyway, the pilgrims have been passing through for a long time, although it was much more popular early on and had fallen into disuse by the 19th century. Given political events of the 20th century, I suppose it´s not surprising that walking across Spain was considered unappealing, but even up until 1985 there were only about 700 pilgrims noted annually. Approved methods of travel are on foot, bicycle, and horseback. You are provided with a ¨passport¨ or credencial and can receive stamps at approved shelters, refugios and sanctioned offices to prove you´ve gone the distance. The Camino was declared a part of World Heritage by UNESCO.

Lately, a big tourism push has pumped up those numbers to 200,000 this year - a so-called Jubilee year (when St. James´ Day falls on a Sunday. The next will be 2021, 2027, and 2032). There has been a huge amount of money spent on infrastructure for the Camino for albergues/hostals, restaurants, bridges and path maintenance, etc, over the years. When we were house hunting we were told that within a certain distance of the Camino, the appearance of your house had to conform with certain historical/planning regulations. There are also subsidies for improvements.

Of course the Camino is no longer strictly religious. It´s highly convenient for enthusiasts of long-distance biking or hiking, family vacations, and for those who just want to escape and like to walk.

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  1. The explanation given to us by an old priest at Samos Monastery about the shell was that the pilgrims would pick them up on the sea shore at Finisterre to use on the journey back as a drinking vessel, when they grew weary they would discard them along the route, thus marking the route.

  2. The shells were certainly proof that you´d made the trip. And they´d certainly be handy. I´m not convinced people would discard them from fatigue.

    To me, the shell thing lends weight to the theory that the pilgrimmage to Finesterre existed prior - mainly because the relics are in Santiago, which is definitely not on the coast. You could visit the cathedral and save yourself the additional walk.