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El Camino Primitivo

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Pilgrimage to Santiago

T.W.B

Text © TWB 2010

Oviedo with its statues of bronze, memories of the past;
And at its heart, hidden in the Cámara Santa, the Sudarium.
The head-cloth from the body of Jesus
seen lying in an empty tomb in a place by itself.
Revered down the centuries:
Kept safe from unbelievers:
Brought north away from the invader, and here
In the Cámara Santa it lies, almost unknown: and yet
an object of devotion to those who seek and find.

And that seeking is the reason
For this journey, this road,
The way to Compostela.
Echoing the journey we all must take,
The road through life.
From womb of mother
to womb of earth.
On that road
We touch the lives of others
And if we let them
They touch ours, for good or ill.
This opening of our lives takes courage;
Often more than we can find.
It is far easier we think
to close our hearts and minds
and take our solitary way.
But soon or late there comes a time
When need can no longer
Be denied. What then
for the solitary one, friendless
and alone; lost on a lonely road
which winds uphill for ever?

But not lost and not alone
For on that road the pilgrim finds
His every need is satisfied
(but maybe not his 'wants').
On that road there is provision for his thirst.
"El Fuente de Santiago"
"The Well of Saint James"
How many are there of these wells?
On how many roads to Compostela?
And each one has been needed
Down the centuries,
To refresh the weary pilgrims in the heat
On the long and dusty road.
From town to town,
Village to village,
Church to church.
Seeking hospitality wherever
It may be found.
And always after him comes the cry
"Buen Camino!"
"Say a prayer for me to the Saint!"
"A hug for the Apostol!"

The pilgrim's pack,
A modern rucksack now,
Contains his few possessions
Necessities for the journey.
The weight is all important
And the temptation to hoard
Those extra things, which hinder progress,
Must be overcome.
A lesson here for Christ's Church!
In accumulating wealth
She has lost the freedom needed
To be part of God's pilgrim people.
Easier by far it is to sit
And defend one's pack.
Build a wall around it
Make it permanent.
But here we have no abiding city, and
Along with pilgrims down the ages
We journey on.
Day by day.
Step by step.
Seeking, always seeking our first love.
The reality of the presence of the Living God.
And He is here,
Walking the Way with us.

So the pilgrim must go on!
Out of town, up the hill
Into the mist and the rain.
And at the summit of the pass?
Nothing! Just silence
And the dim light through the mist.
Now downhill
Into the mist and the rain.
Until at last a few dwellings
And an open door into a bar.
The silence as he enters speaks volumes! Then
A sentence in bad Spanish by this stranger
Brings laughter, and willing hands
To help with poncho and sombrero,
Backpack and staff.
The ability to laugh at oneself,
"I'm like a drowned rat . . . !"
Gives others permission to laugh with you.
Sharing joy and pain is part of life.
Part of the pilgrim journey.

From the damp and steamy refuge
In the tiny village of Berducedo
The pilgrim's Way lies through the hills
And forests, down to the lake
Where the ancient village of Salime with its bridge
Lies hidden beneath the waters.
Though the sky is clearing the mist
Still hangs in the branches,
Almost hiding some forest denizens;
A black squirrel and a wren,
His wife's favourite bird,
Keep him company along the Way.
At the bottom of the valley
The river Navia goes
On its long road to the sea.
No easy journey now, for
Man-made obstacles hinder its way.
The barrier formed by the dam means power
For a power hungry country.
The detritus and abandoned buildings left behind
By a cost cutting construction company
Show what the outcome can be
When no-one cares about appearances.
Few tourists here to see or to complain
At this defilement of the beauty of the valley.
Only the pilgrim who must avert his eyes
From this abuse of nature, and the tranquillity
Which lies at the heart of northern Spain.

If the modern pilgrim follows
The itinerary and timing of his forbears
He will find that often in his daily march, he
Will arrive at a 'Capilla de Animas' or
A small wayside shrine at twelve noon.
No clocks or watches then,
Only the sun tells when it is midday
The hour of the Angelus.
"The angel of the Lord
"Brought tidings to Mary . . .
"And the Word was made flesh
"And dwelt among us."
The rhythm of the prayer fits well,
The rhythm of the pilgrim's feet upon the road.
But better still to pause;
Be still and remember,
That our incarnate Lord once walked
The roads of Galilee.
And still He walks with us
On this our daily pilgrimage through life.

To arrive in Lugo with its ancient walls,
Its gates, streets and bridges;
All showing signs of its old foundation
By Rome aeons ago.
To stand on its walls
Is to stand where pilgrims have stood down the centuries,
Looking ever westward to the setting sun,
Westward down the Via Lucia Iria Flavia
The Roman Way to Santiago and beyond.
To Padron, landing place of the saint;
To Finis Terra, the end of the earth,
The end of the Milky Way.
And now the pilgrim must
Set forth once more,
Refreshed by fellowship and worship
In the cathedral church.
Encouraged to journey on
To that greater Church;
His destination on this earthly road,
A preparation for that final stage
Of life - and death.

Out through the Gate of Santiago
The Way lies.
Downhill to the Minho.
Still the crossing is by that arched bridge
With its ancient Roman piers.
Still the mighty river flows smoothly
As it must have done when
Priscillian, that doomed bishop
Was called to his short ministry.
As it must have done when
King Alfonso made this
The first pilgrim route.
Then, as now, the destination Compostela.
The Way now follows the road.
Pavamiento! But for relief there is
A track alongside; easier
On the feet for modern pilgrims.
A road boringly straight
Made for legions long since vanished.
But the shortest distance between two points:
Where we are
And where we long to be.

We count the miles, as those
Marching legions must have done.
At San Roman still there is
A Roman milestone, and further still,
After forest tracks and byways
The little Roman bridge
Crossed by how many pilgrims
Down the ages?
Here in the Casa Da Ponte there is
A welcome, a hot supper,
A warm room out of the rain
And after deep slumber
A lavish breakfast.
Ahead there lie open stretches of moorland,
Granite tors and buildings: a landscape
Unchanged for centuries.
Over the moor to Hospitales!
There are many so called
Hamlets and ruins along the Way.
Here before we reach Melide
Is one which lives up to its name.
Barking dogs! But no aggression here,
Warning their owner Mapi of the approaching Pilgrim.
Milky coffee and a hand-drawn
Coloured 'sello'; for his Credencial
Are part of the memories he carries with him.

Melide heralds a change of life
and pace on this pilgrimage.
Here there are crowds
All heading westward.
Some with heads bowed down
Concerned now only with food and rest.
Some with a spring in their step
Their sole concern their destination,
Santiago de Compostela.
And this stranger pilgrim,
Drifting down from off the Primitivo,
Is unknown to all, who
Have found companions and friends
On the long road from Roncesvalles
And beyond.
Here in Melide the pilgrim refuge
Is full, with those who made
An early start on the Camino Frances.
A friendly bar owner points the pilgrim
To a lodging house,
Where he is first through the door.
Followed quickly by two youngsters
And many more, all wanting beds.
"You wait your turn!" is the reply
to a strident demand, in broken English
from the back of the crowd. I wonder,
Will there be an orderly queue
At the gates of paradise?
Or will we walk straight in
Knowing that we are home?

The way out of Melide is wide and clear.
From here to Compostela
There are many waymarks, pilgrims,
And their rubbish.
Why is it that human beings
Find it necessary to drop,
Discard and throw away
Wrappings, plastic, tins and bottles?
Expecting someone else
To clean up after us.
But nature is all around.
Stepping stones across a stream:
The smell of eucalyptus
Mingles with the tang of pines.
Here the pilgrim hears again
His native tongue.
English pilgrims jostle
With Germans, French, Italian
And the Spanish nationals.
How different to the quiet peace
Of the Camino del Norte
And the Primitivo.
Where solitude was bliss
And the presence of God a reality.

To Lavacola with its church
and washing place.
Here the pilgrims of old
Cleansed themselves, before
The final day's walk to Compostela.
The way goes past the stream
With its pool and rock
On which to sit and wash.
How important it is to prepare,
Body and soul for arrival
At the sacred place.
This is why time is needed
On this journey.
Time spent alone and with others
Knocking off the rough corners.
Finding what is necessary to life
And what we can slough off.
Time to discard the clutter
Collected over a lifetime.
Getting and spending inhibits
Our appreciation of God
And of his creation.
Here it is the essentials only
Which count. The rest is as dung
Thrown away for the love of Christ our Lord.

Monte de Gozo, Mount of Joy.
From the top of the hill
Pilgrims of old
Had their first glimpse
Of the spires and cathedral of Compostela.
And on their knees gave thanks
To the Lord God who
Had brought them to this place.
The joy experienced
At this first sight of their destination
Gives the hill its name.
This pilgrim found the noise,
Holiday camp atmosphere,
Ugly buildings and advertising
A disappointment and distraction in this place
Where so many had knelt
In prayer and thanksgiving.
Where to find a place of quiet
To pray in this maelstrom of humanity?
Only one answer,
Walk straight through!

From here it should be downhill all the way!
Small things make an impression,
A garden full of strange sculptures
And traffic -
The ring road around Compostela
brings a realisation of the noise
And bustle of civilization.
Care is needed now in following
The marker shells.
Sometimes these are on posts for all to see
Sometimes set in the pavement.
Easy to miss if some small group,
Busily talking among themselves,
Hide from view the information needed
For the pilgrim to reach his destination.
How often is it that we,
Thoughtlessly going about our business
Can hamper others on their journey?
How often do we by word or deed
Hide the God-given waymarks?
On the pilgrimage through life,
without a clear guide and pathway marked,
It is easy to go astray.
Even at the gates of Paradise.

So the Pilgrim nears his goal.
The end of his Pilgrimage is heralded
By the narrow streets of the old city.
His first sight of the cathedral spires
Is over the roof tops.
The day seems to get darker
As the streets become narrower.
And then, out into the sunshine
Of the Obradoiro square under
The great west front of the cathedral.
Now comes the realisation that
This is the moment longed for
The moment of arrival.
Tears are not far away!
Joy and relief mingle
with a strange sense of sadness
At this, the end of the Journey.
All the effort of the past few weeks,
The stresses and strains,
The Anxieties and the cares
Fall away. Now there remains
The worship in this great Cathedral Church;
The fellowship of God's People
And the One-ness
with the Creator and Redeemer of the world.

And so to the end where we begin!
Santiago de Compostela. Sant Iago,
Saint James, Son of Thunder.
Disciple of our Lord, the Christ.
The Holy Saviour, San Salvador.
And we return in heart and mind
To Oviedo. The Cámara Santa and
a headcloth lying in an empty tomb
in a place by itself.
Witness of a glorious resurrection
And our new life in the Spirit of Christ.


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