PILGRIMAGE to SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELLA
Led by Peter Sills
On July 11th, a handful of local parishioners met up with over 20 other pilgrims
from around the UK and two from Houston, to start our pilgrimage from Arles,
France. We were to spend 16 days travelling westward following the Via Tolosana
initially, the most southerly of the French routes, to Castres and Toulouse, crossing
the Pyrenees at Somport and joining the Camino Frances at Puente La Reina, and
on to Spain and Santiago.
The Camino is a Holy Way, hallowed by the prayers and devotion of the faithful, and
that is why so many people are drawn to follow it.
At Santiago we joined many foot pilgrims and attended one of the many services of
Mass on St James’ Day, in St Francisco Church. James was the first of the apostles to
die for his faith, beheaded by King Herod. (Acts 12.1-2)
Peter led us in services of Prayer, and Eucharist in places of worship as varied as a vast cathedral, a monastery, in sunset beside the Grand Rhone river, or the natural environs of a garden at our hotel.
Each day had a framework of worship, within which we might be exploring a hilltop Romano-Gothic cathedral in a small village at Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, or a large city such as Burgos in Spain, noted for its Gothic Cathedral, a World Heritage Site.
Everyone participated in either sharing a “Thought” or a reading. Some shared their professional expertise in either describing the landscape or interpreting medieval symbolism and architecture.
Mealtimes and walking were essential opportunities to share stories and more of ourselves, which gradually led beyond superficialities to insights into the varied lives of our companions. New friendships were created.
I mention walking. Nine of us who felt encouraged enough, walked nearly 5 miles on one sweltering day, led by Carl, along the Camino, and arrived at Saint-Croix Church, Oloron. Extremely hot and tired and probably not smelling our best, we entered the darkness of the church, after the brightness of the sun, and were greeted by applause from the remainder of our pilgrim party. It was a wonderful welcome. Finally, in the heat, some of us walked a distance into Santiago.
At Tournay we savoured the monks chanting Evening Vespers, the acoustics of the abbey enhancing the rich resonant sound. Another time a CD of Vittoria’s Requiem was played during a coach journey through spectacular landscapes of wheat fields and acres of sunflowers. I think it was a new experience for the Spanish coach driver who said he enjoyed it. A professional singer amongst us enhanced the end of a service by singing a simple line in a pure voice which was taken up by the acoustics of that church. Kate was even given the opportunity to play on the organ at Castres Cathedral.
In contrast, the cable car to the Petit Train to visit Lac d’Artouste was utterly spectacular. We emerged through the clouds at 6,000 feet high. Climbing on foot up to the lake, which was in fact a dam. As we sat eating our picnic, the clouds lifted and revealed the most wonderful colours of the water and the mountains surrounding us.
Accompanying us throughout the journey was Peter’s daily reading of his story of Medard and Robert, imagined pilgrims, based on the origins of pilgrimage from roughly C11th/C12th, the Great Age of Pilgrimage and whose route we were following. It gave an insight into their world and what they thought and talked about as they travelled.
Fittingly, we concluded the spiritual aspect of our pilgrimage with a service on the rocks at Finisterra (the end of the Earth), below the lighthouse with a panorama of the sea below.
We all greatly appreciated Peter's leadership through his ministry and guidance which enabled us to focus on the key aspects of our pilgrimage.
Kate Belfield 1.08.19