Walking The Way

Staff PicksNortheast Library

Walking The Way

The Allure of the Camino to Santiago de Compostela

For centuries pilgrims have walked the Camino to Santiago de Compostela (The Way) in northwestern Spain. The cathedral in Santiago is believed to be the resting place of St. James the Apostle, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. During the Middle Ages making a pilgrimage was a popular form of piety. Pilgrimage to Santiago became one of the three main pilgrimage destinations after Rome and Jerusalem. Today the Camino to Santiago de Compostela is more popular than ever with people of all religious creeds and backgrounds setting out on the 500-mile-long journey. Many embark upon it for religious reasons, others after a life changing event or to celebrate a life milestone, and some, to just accomplish a remarkable physical feat. Below are five items of note that will give you an idea of what “The Way” is all about.

The Way [videorecording] by Emilio Estevez
Emilio Estevez’s feature film starring his real-life father Martin Sheen has probably done more than anything else in recent years to bring the Camino to a wider consciousness. This inspirational film traces a father’s journey overseas to recover his son’s body who died in the Pyrenees while beginning the Camino. The father decides to walk the Camino with his son’s ashes and along the way meets three individuals with whom he completes the pilgrimage. Poignant, moving and funnythis film is a good introduction to what the Camino is all about.

Walking the Camino: A Modern Pilgrimage to Santiago by Tony Kevin
Tony Kevin, a 63-year-old former Australian diplomat, combines his insights and experiences along the Camino with rich observations of Spanish history, culture and contemporary politics. Unlike most peregrinos, or pilgrims, who travel along the more popular Camino Frances, Kevin chooses the Via de la Plata which originates in Seville and travels northward through the arid and hot tablelands of Spain before reaching the more lush region of Galicia.

On the Camino by Jason
In honor of his 50th birthday, Norwegian cartoonist and graphic novelist Jason decides to walk the Camino to celebrate this milestone. This graphic work combines the mundane and ordinary of much of The Way with a bit of whimsy. As Jason embarks on the Camino Frances he finds that the ordinary often leads to extraordinary insights. Written in comic-book format with delightful black and white drawings.

Death of a Pilgrim by David Dickinson
Walking The Way can have its mysterious side so what better way than to add a little mystery to the mix. This work of fiction, part of Dickerson’s Lord Powerscourt series, is set in 1907 France and Spain. When an American tycoon’s son is amazingly healed of a grave illness he believes it to be a miracle and in a gesture of thanks organizes a family pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Soon a member of the family dies in mysterious circumstances and Lord Powerscourt is called in to investigate. More deaths ensue before the mystery is solved. Many historical and cultural highlights of the Camino are peppered throughout the book.

The Lore of the Camino de Santiago: a Literary Pilgrimage by Jean Mitchell-Lanham
Jean Mitchell-Lanham began the Camino for many of the same reasons that others do but her book approaches The Way from a unique perspective. Unlike many of the other books which are written in the form of a memoir, Mitchell-Lanham takes a literary vantage point illuminating the many sites along the way that have been visited by and celebrated in the works of John Steinbeck and others.  

The Pilgrim Journey : A History of Pilgrimage in the Western World  by James Harpur
Harpur’s work is a fine introduction into the history of pilgrimage examining its various facets from the ancient times through the early church to the Medieval period. He looks at some of the more popular destinations from Rome, Canterbury, Jerusalem and, of course, Santiago de Compostela. Whereas pilgrimages were at their peak in the late Middle Ages, he covers the resurgence of interest in modern times with focus on the Taize community in France and the amazing popularity of the Camino. This a fine survey and introduction of the why, who and where of what being a pilgrim is all about.