In this blog post Open Treasure Gallery Attendant, Anna-Rose Shack, recounts her enriching experience of the pilgrimage she took in 2013, when she walked the Camino De Santiago in Northern Spain. We hope you enjoy this pilgrimage related post, at a time when when we are all dreaming of the journeys we plan to take in calmer times. We look forward to welcoming pilgrims back to Durham Cathedral when it is safe to do so.

When in doubt, just take the next small step” – Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage

In 2013, equipped with an excellent pair of sturdy walking boots, the John Brierley “Practical and Mystical Manual for the Modern Day Pilgrim” and an abundance of naïve optimism, I set out to walk the Camino de Santiago.

The Camino de Santiago is really a network of pilgrimage routes that start all over Europe and converge at the tomb of Saint James in North Western Spain. The symbol of this pilgrimage is the scallop shell; the lines of the shell converge at a central point. Images of this shell, along with cheery yellow arrows, keep pilgrims heading in the right direction along the many hundreds of kilometres they walk.

Having decided to follow the popular Camino Francés route, my pilgrimage began in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the foothills of the Pyrenees. As I was living in Australia at the time, unlike pilgrims in the Middle Ages it wasn’t possible to start walking from my home. However, in some sense it remains true that when you set out to do a pilgrimage, it begins the moment you leave your front door, even if the initial step involves catching an aeroplane half way around the world.

On the second night, having arrived at my albergue (pilgrim hostel) in Roncesvalles, we were asked to complete a short questionnaire on why we were walking the Camino. Suggested reasons included spiritual, religious, recreational, cultural or sporting. Unsure of my purpose at this stage, or perhaps in another way certain of my zest for all categories, I ticked all options. Having done this I received my first stamps in my Pilgrim Passport which would accompany me for the rest of the journey. Getting it stamped each day would enable me to receive a Pilgrim Certificate upon arrival in Santiago de Compostela.

Each day involved walking 20-30km, often starting early to avoid the heat of the day. Some days I walked more, some days less, and that in itself was one of the most important lessons of the Camino: to listen to your body and to follow your own rhythm. Another important lesson was that the more baggage you have, the harder the walk is. The same may be said about life. It’s not always easy to leave your baggage behind but conscious choices about what is important to carry and what is not, can make the road considerably more enjoyable.

Picking up friends at each stage of the journey, falling into step with some for days and others only for an hour or so, it was a cavalcade of the United Nations. The oldest pilgrim I met was 93 and so the story went, he was prepared to die on this final pilgrimage, walking alongside sun-drenched fields and drinking sangria in cobbled plazas at dusk. One elderly couple was walking the entire journey hand in hand, for reasons known only to themselves. I saw a man walking with a suit and briefcase and I heard of someone travelling on a unicycle, although that remained unverified. I met two sisters who had designated themselves the ‘Blister Sisters’ as they offered to bandage and treat the aching and blistered feet of their fellow pilgrims.

As we passed fellow pilgrims on the road the mutual acknowledgement, without fail, was ‘Buen Camino!’ I wish each and every one of you Buen Camino as we continue on our own journeys, perhaps separately and individually, but never alone.

We hope you enjoyed this blog post from Anna-Rose. We hope get back to sharing more #Pilgrimage2020 related content once it is safe to do so, but in the mean time why not use your hour of daily exercise to go on your own mini pilgrimage, whatever baggage you’re carrying with you (and if you’re local to Durham and happen to pass the cathedral, please tag us- @durhamcathedral in your photographs… we love to see them)


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