The most beautiful way of the world
The way of St James, like the Cistercian trail, connects European nations to cultivate and deepen the knowledge about the common roots of our cultural identity. A Polish Way of St James, which is being reconstructed now, gives the possibility to revive the specific, experienced in contemplation, loneliness of the pilgrim movement and to play a significant role in peregrinations to the grave of this saint Apostle.
The Way of St James, which has existed since the Middle Ages, runs through the whole of Europe. Many people and organisations have tried to restore the Polish route recently. The interest in walking to Santiago de Compostela led to a national conference in Poland, during which its participants discussed the present situation of the Ways of St James in Poland. The conference was also an occasion to exchange experiences concerning the reconstruction of these ways and their projects in various parts of Poland.
The first pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela in Spain were held in the 9th century. The development of the Way of St James was greatly influenced by Pope Calixtus II who started the Compostelan Holy Years. The Spanish place, which many people called the end of the world, enjoyed many legends, for example about the vision of Charles the Great or that St James followed the Milky Way while travelling over the Pyrenean Peninsula. Undoubtedly, the real worship associated with St James exerted a big influence on pilgrimages. According to the tradition, it is in Santiago de Compostela that the grave of St James, one of the closest disciples of Christ, was located. In 1478, Pope Sixtus IV recognised the pilgrimage to Compostela as equal to the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The intensity of making pilgrimages on the Way of St James has changed throughout centuries. In 1982 and 1989 John Paul II visited Compostela. During one of his visits he asked, ‘Europe, do you want to be what you were in the beginning?’ It seems that restoring the Ways of St James can help Europe find its real, i.e. Christian, identity. Certainly, the Polish authors of the projects of the Ways of St James (scholars, scientists and clergymen) had that in mind when they met in Krakow.
Along and across Poland
The conference, organised by the Institute of Geography and Spatial Management of the Jagiellonian University, the Podhale Higher Vocational State School in Nowy Targ and the Fraternity of St James the Greater Apostle – the Branch of Malopolska w Wieclawice Stare, gathered many representatives of the world of science and those who want to promote the idea of restoring the Way of St James in Poland. Emil Mendyk from the Franciscan Village Foundation presented in an interesting way the ideal of the Polish Way of St James in the past and in the present, showing the range of the undertaken works on this project.
The members of the Polish Club Camino de Santiago were the first to initiate a new way of St James from St James’ Cathedral in Olsztyn to St James’ Church in Torun, i.e. the Polish Way (Camino Polacco). Because of the length of the whole route the project was completed much later – in July 2006 the section from Olsztyn to Gietrzwald was opened; in April 2007 the way from Gietrzwald to Torun was completed. Camino Polacco is to stretch from the Polish-Lithuanian border to Slubice. In April 2007, along that route the Piast Way, stretching from Mogilno via Trzemeszno to Gniezno, was opened. Moreover, the route from Murowana Goslina to Slubice, the so-called Lubusk Way, is being prepared. More or less at same time, in 2004, when the members of the Polish Club Camino de Santiago began working on combining the Polish routes with the network of Camino de Santiago, in another part of Poland, in Lower Silesia, the Fraternity of St James the Apostle initiated the Lower Silesian Way of St James, which was inaugurated in July 2005 as the first officially opened Way of St James in Poland.
A year later, at the initiative of the Franciscan Village Foundation, the Wielkopolska Way of St James (Gniezno – Lednica – Poznan – Lubin – Leszno – Głogow, in total 234 km) was opened. The above mentioned Foundation contributed to the origin of the Way of St James ‘Via Regia’ – the tract from Kiev via Lviv, Krakow, Wroclaw, Leipzig, Cologne, Aachen to Paris. On 6 October 2006, the first section Brzeg – Zgorzelec was opened and on 15 September the section of St Anna’s Mount – Opole – Brzeg was completed. In the north of Poland the route along the Baltic coast to the Polish-German border is being prepared. So far the 90 km long section of the Lebork Way of St James has been ready. Whereas the Fraternity of St James from Wieclawice Stare prepares the Malopolska Way of St James. This route is to stretch from Lublin via Sandomierz to Krakow. Apart from the main trails there are the so-called access trails, which are mainly local initiatives, influenced by the cult associated with St James.
Setting the trail
The course of the Way of St James in Poland is not incidental. The trail is mapped out after historic research. The course of the Medieval trade routes is compared. Dr Franciszek Mroz, one of the designers of the Malopolska Way of St James, justifies its course, ‘The short distances between the places with parish churches of St James, located on the distinct solid line from Sandomierz through Kotuszow, Szczaworyz, Probolowice, Palecznica, Niegardow, Wieclawice Stare, Kazimierz, Sanka, Palczowice to Bestwina, according to the historians, testify to a pilgrims’ trail to the grave of St James in Santiago de Compostela, in Malopolska in the Middle Ages. The historians claim that the churches of St James located along this trail could have been station churches. Their locations, close to one another (not more than 30 km on the section from Sandomierz to Krakow) enabled the pilgrims to cover the next stage within one day.
Moreover, the historic materials that confirmed the efforts of the pilgrims coming from various parts of our country, are being examined. The wanderers have the possibility to be accommodated in the places, set by the organisers, mainly in parishes or agrotourism centres. There are no special networks of hostels like in Spain because the needs in Poland are still small. Before leaving pilgrims get their ‘pilgrim’s passports’. Some Polish Ways of St James have already published their guides and the district authorities, schools, scouts as well as tourist organisations and parishes decide to look after given sections.
New beginning of the old tradition
As the conference participants stressed the Way of St James in Poland was not competitive to the traditional walking pilgrimages to Jasna Gora and other pilgrims’ centres. The followers of Camino usually travel individually or in small groups. It is worth making efforts in both forms. It is estimated that in 2007 ca. 200 people walked the Way of St James in Poland. It is not a big number as compared with 100,000 people walking to Santiago de Compostela but we hope that this pilgrims’ tradition will develop here, especially that it has attracted enormous interest.
I want to refer all those who are interested in the initiative of the Way of St James in Poland to the publications, for instance the book ‘Droga sw. Jakuba w Polsce. Stan badan i organizacja’ [The Way of St James in Poland. Research and Organisation], published on the occasion of the conference. It includes all speeches delivered during the conference. The texts of special interest are those by Pawel Rozycki who spoke about the motives of making pilgrimages on the Ways of St James and several articles concerning the trail in various parts of Poland. It is worth recommending the web site of Polish members of Camino Club www.camino.net.pl. Finally, one should wish all those who make pilgrimages, seeking the scallop symbol on the way, ‘Buen camino’ – good way!