El Camino de Santiago has a long history pre St. James the Apostle. According to the camino “Bible” A Pilgrims Guide to the Camino de Santiago by John Brierley, “The earliest human remains ever discovered in Europe are to be found on a small hill directly on the camino”, dated over 900,000 years B.C. during the Pleistocene Age. Traveling through the Paleolithic period brings rock art in cave dwellings described as the “Sistine Chapel” of this period. Then the Megalithic period brings “mega stone structures aligned to the winter solstice sun,” the best being around the camino in Galicia. The Early Celtic period brought fortified villages mainly around Galicia with remains still seen in the countryside. The early Roman period brought Roman occupation. “Brutus fought his way to the end of the world finisterrae, a place of immense spiritual significance at that time.” Our journey on the camino will end at Santiago with a bus ride to the coast at Finisterre.
Legend has it that St. James preached in Galicia and Finisterre but that his mission met with limited success and he returned to Jerusalem. “Following his martyrdom, St James disciples brought his body back” in order to be buried at Finisterrae. Many centuries of religious wars were fought in this area. Today, statistics show that Spain, “until recently seen as a deeply religious society, has now just less than 20% population actually practicing Catholicism.” Yet, the numbers who venture into the Camino de Santiago as pilgrims from around the world “has risen tenfold in a decade.”
Of special note for me is the presence of the Knights Templar dedicated to the protection of the pilgrim, and with their mystery tradition became ”a corner stone in this ‘hidden’ heritage of the camino”. As their influence became a threat to the Papacy, their Grand Master and many of the Knights Templar were arrested and put to death. With this loss of life was also loss of the esoteric knowledge, which is now preserved and honored as a fraternal order affiliated with Freemasonry. My son Brian has chosen the path of a Freemason in his spiritual quest and structure for education and service. He is not a member of the Templar order, but has filled the role of Lodge Master at his Masonic lodge in Minneapolis and continues to be involved in various charitable ways. I will think of Brian when I reach the highest peak on the whole Camino at Alto Altar Mayor 4,920 ft. where the Knights Templar protected the Pilgrims, as the descent is a challenge.
It is all very humbling and gives me pause to be walking an area of earth with such a history of Crusades, warring, and the constant struggle between faiths. One of the first bits I will acquire when I arrive in Leon is a pilgrim passport. This passport will be stamped at every stop along my way until I reach Santiago and the Praza Obradoiro Cathedral and receive my final stamp and certificate for walking the camino. The certificate is given to those who walk at least a hundred miles. I will be walking about 200 miles from Leon. We will then attend a pilgrim mass in the Cathedral and hopefully be witness to the Botafumeiro (incense burner) swung high from the rafters by the monks.
To receive my certificate, I will be asked, “Why did you walk?” That is tomorrow’s reflection.
For a lovely short clip on the Camino and the swinging of the Botafumeiro watch on YouTube:
The shape of my heart: Redemption on the Camino de Santiago: