About pilgriming

Jerzy Andrzej Skrodzki

A pilgrimage is a long initiation; it is a period of great efforts. The pilgrimage routes, which brought about the unity of Christian Europe in the Middle Ages, are above all the paths leading to Santiago de Compostela, the tomb of St James the Apostle (the Greater). They led from various parts of Europe to form a large road network that crossed France where the pilgrims' points were Chartres, Paris and V├ęzelay.
On their several-month journeys to Compostela pilgrims visited churches, which gave them shelter in bad weather. The churches were mainly wonderful Romanesque and Gothic sanctuaries. During their long and dangerous journeys pilgrims reached the wild and dangerous Pyrenees. In order to cross the mountains they had to choose two famous passes: Somport and Roncesvalles. At the Somport Pass there was a monastery whose bell rang during a snowstorm and fog in order to show pilgrims the way. From these passes there were roads in the territory of Spain and they joined up in Puente la Reina from where the way was 'only' about 800 km to the destination, Santiago de Compostela. Since in the Middle Ages northern-eastern part of Spain was free from the Moors (Arabs) and there were small Christian countries.
The northeast of Spain, where Santiago de Compostela is located, is called Galicia. Compostela lies relatively close to the Atlantic Ocean, and Cape Finisterre (which means Land's End) is meaningful ( it was the end of the known world in the Middle Ages. How long and difficult must have been the journey of St Bridget of Sweden who pilgrimed to Compostela with her husband. It was already in the 12th century that there was 'The Pilgrim Guidebook' to Compostela. The shrine in Compostela, being the biggest pilgrims' centre in the Middle Ages, holds the body of St James the Apostle (without the head which is in Jerusalem). According to tradition the body was discovered in the year 835 by the local bishop who followed the lead pointed out by the stars. And thus the name Campostela originated, from Latin campus stellae (field of stars).
The sign of pilgrims going to Compostela was a large flat Atlantic scallop shell, placed on the head cover.
In the context of pilgriming to Campostela it is worth mentioning the film Song of Roland (French-Italian production of 1978), which depicts the Mediaeval world with its reality and spirituality. The aim of the film is to show the efforts of pilgrims and the extreme situations they had to face.
The plot of the film has two threads: a group of strolling players amuses pilgrims by reciting the Song of Roland who was the hero of the crusades against the Moors and an ideal of Christian knight. When he was killed on the pass of Roncesvalles his soul was taken to heaven by angels. The fate of pilgrims is dramatic; they are to cover about 1,500 km. At first there are many of them, they have horses and travel with their families; their efforts are heroic. Children begin dying and highwaymen and robbers kill pilgrims. The pilgrims break down. And finally only a small group reaches Santiago de Compostela. They carry only bundles.
But every pilgrimage is a great spiritual and life venture.

"Niedziela" 30/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl