The “Camino de Santiago”, known in English as the “Way of Saint James”, is a network of pilgrims’ ways to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where the remains of the apostle are buried.
In the Middle Ages, the Way of St. James was the third most important Christian pilgrimage site, after Rome and Jerusalem, and a pilgrimage route on which a plenary indulgence could be earned.
The pilgrimage to Santiago has never ceased from the time of the discovery of St. James’s remains in 812 AD. The Way can take one of dozens of pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela, and 100 km is the minimum distance required to receive the certificate of completion of the pilgrimage.
This year’s Way of St. James pilgrimage begin’s in the medieval town of Sarria, 100 km or 70 miles from Santiago de Compostela. We are excited to have Fr. Scott Graves with us as chaplain, since he has walked the Way of St. James several times. His expertise and spiritual input will be our strength and encouragement as we take on this 6-day walk in spirit of prayer and reparation.
Please pray for us, as we pray for you!
Day 1: Tuesday, April 2, 2019. Transatlantic flight to Santiago de Compostela
Pilgrims begin to arrive at the airport to take their much anticipated flight to Madrid and on to Santiago de Compostela! We have been preparing for weeks to walk the last 110 km of the French Way (Camino Francés). We will walk 70 miles in six days, passing through charming villages that have seen Camino pilgrims since the 10th century. Our Camino passport will be stamped along the way, thus earning our “Compostela” certificate.
Day 2: Wednesday, April 3, 2019. Santiago de Compostela – Sarria
Welcome to Spain! Upon arrival, we took a private motor-coach to the medieval town of Sarria, a common starting point for pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela, which lies 110 km (70 miles) away (100 km is the minimum distance required to receive the certificate of completion of the pilgrimage). The town was established by Alfonso IX (1171-1230), who died en route to Santiago. Due to its location, Sarria had many hostels for pilgrims. The town houses the beautiful Monastery of La Magdalena, which has been transformed into a hostel. It has a Renaissance façade and a late Gothic cloister. Another building that spans Romanesque and Gothic styles is the 13th-century Church of San Salvador, beside the fortress of the same period, of which only the tower remains. We enjoyed our first dinner together as a group and went to bed to rest up for the next day – the first day of our walking pilgrimage!
Day 3: Thursday, April 4, 2019. Sarria to Portomarín (13 miles)
On a cold, rainy morning, we began our 70-mile walk to Santiago de Compostela. The day was dreary but our hearts were eager to begin the journey, carrying our intentions and those of our loved ones. We have a joyful, energetic group of 32 pilgrims led by Fr. Scott Graves, who has walked the Camino three times already. Father gave a short sermon before we began the walk. Our starting point was the Church of Santa Mariña located in downtownn Sarria. There, our tour escort Carlos explained the importance of the Santiago pilgrimage throughout the centuries; he will accompany us throughout the 6-day walk. And so we set on! We walked along forest paths and small villages. Some of the hikes were steep and challenged us all! We prayed and encouraged each other. The scenery was so beautiful, especially when the sun, which hid for most of the day, peeked through the clouds. Finally, at the end of the day, we crossed the Miño river and arrived in Portomarín. For centuries, the town of Portomarín has expressed a special devotion to “La Virgen de las Nieves” (Our Lady of the Snows) who protects her devotees from drowning. Fr. Graves celebrated Mass in the 12th-century Church of San Xoan de Portomarín. This church is a temple-fortress of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, a Catholic military order founded in the 11th century. It is of Late Romanesque style and was designed to be both a church and a castle. After Mass, we enjoyed a very well-deserved Spanish dinner before retiring to gear up for tomorrow!
Day 4: Friday, April 5, 2019. Portomarín to Palas de Rei (15 miles)
We woke up today and couldn’t move! We were so sore from yesterday! And today we faced another difficult day full of steep climbs and uneven terrain. But Fr. Graves lifted our spirits to begin the day, even though it had greeted us with rain, with a sermon on St. James the Apostle. Father explained that St. Peter is the apostle of faith, because he told Our Lord that He was the Son of God. St. John is the apostle of charity because he would always speak of charity between men. And St. James is the apostle of hope, and that our hope on this Camino pilgrimage is not only to reach Santiago de Compostela, but also to reach heaven – this is our true hope.
Although cold and windy from start to finish, the day showed a variety of clouds, rain, and sunshine, offering us an opportunity to offer up our torment under the elements, and then rejoice and be thankful for the bright rays of the sun. We heard that it is snowing in other parts of Spain, so we are grateful we didn’t have to face that!
The first village passed was Castromaior, a hamlet named after the large pre-Roman fortified town “castro” that once stood across the river. We continued to the Sierra de Ligonde, the highest point of the day’s route, around 2,480 feet above sea level. After the grueling climb, pilgrims were rewarded with spectacular views over the valleys below. The descent was equally as arduous, and we passed through the villages of Eirexe (meaning “church” in Galician) which boasts a church with Roman and Romanesque remains, and Ligonde, where one finds an ancient “cementerio de peregrinos” (pilgrim cemetery). Finally, we arrived at Palas de Rei, “Palace of the King” named after an 8th-century Visigoth king who once ruled the lands. Here, at the Romanesque church, our Camino passport was stamped. An outdoor Mass was scheduled, but due to the wind and rain, Father offered Mass at our hotel.
We are all terribly tired, but our joy greatly surpasses our soreness, knowing we have walked this far and gained many graces for ourselves and for our intentions.
Day 5: Saturday, April 6, 2019. Palas de Rei – Melide (9 miles)
After enjoying a hearty Spanish breakfast, we went out to greet the day – and it was another cold and wet one! Today’s hike was not as long or arduous as the two previous days, but our sore legs and aching bones still had to bear the harsh Galician spring weather.
Our starting point was the Church of San Tirso in Palas de Rei. After a morning sermon and an opportunity to offer up the day’s walk for our intentions, we set off with joyful spirits – but no one more than our chaplain, Fr. Graves, whose spirits were not dampened by the pouring rain! The smile was still on his face and words of encouragement are always on his lips.
Our walk took us past the hamlet of O Coto, a simple village full of rustic charm, and whose name means “the top” or “the high place”. We also passed San Xulian do Camiño, Casanova, O Leboreiro, and Furelos, which boasts a beautiful medieval bridge, and finally we arrived at the day’s end point: the Church of St. Roch in Melide.
Today was very special because we visited the church where a miracle of the confessional took place. A sinner who always confessed the same grievous sins went to confession, and the exasperated priest told him that he would not grant him absolution. At that moment, a crucifix hanging in the church extended His hand, blessed the sinner and said to him, “Your sins are forgiven.” This very confessional is still there, as well as a replica of the miraculous crucifix that forgave the sinner! Such a beautiful story confirms God’s mercy and love for the truly repentant sinner.
We ended the day with Mass at the hotel and a very well-deserved dinner! We are half-way to Santiago de Compostela!
Day 6: Sunday, April 7, 2019. Melide – Arzúa (9 miles)
Today was a beautiful day. The rain held off until about an hour before reaching Arzúa. The paths are so muddy that at times we have to walk single file to avoid getting stuck in the mud! Gorgeous landscapes and lush valleys greeted us along the way.
In his morning sermon, Fr. Graves said that many do not understand why pilgrims walk the Way of St. James. The world is horrified and scandalized by the Cross. The world does not understand its meaning, and it avoids suffering as much as possible. It does not see the cross as the means to heaven. So in order to carry our cross, we must look to Our Lord on His Cross. Otherwise, the cross has no meaning; why suffer if there is nothing to be obtained? We must make reparation for our sins with our sacrifices, with our acts of penance, always thinking of Our Lord on the Cross.
Father also reminded us that we can obtain a plenary indulgence by walking the Way of St. James, and listed the conditions to gain a plenary indulgence, as long as one is in the state of grace:
– have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin;
– have sacramentally confessed one’s sins;
– receive Holy Communion;
– pray for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff.
We also learned a little bit about Melide before leaving it. Since its foundation in the 10th century, Melide has been linked with the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. It is the only town where two Camino routes meet: the Camino Primitivo (Original Way) stops in Melide and the Camino Frances (French Way) passes through Melide. Due to the two routes meeting in this town, it is well equipped and accustomed to helping pilgrims. From Melide these two routes become one to Santiago de Compostela. The 11th-century “cruceiro” – stone cross at the start of The Way in Melide – is thought to be the oldest in Galicia.
Today’s walk was similar to yesterday’s in the sense that it was less walking and less steep slopes than the first two days. A very beautiful valley along the way was the one formed by the Iso river in Ribadiso, a tiny and idyllic hamlet featuring a medieval bridge.
The beautiful group photos taken today reflect the energetic and charitable spirit of our pilgrims. Everyone is having a wonderful pilgrimage and is looking forward to the final two days of our walk! Thank you for all your prayers; we keep you in ours.
Day 7: Monday, April 8, 2019. Arzúa – Rúa (12 miles)
This morning, before we left Arzúa, we visited several churches and prayed a decade of the rosary in each one. Among these churches was the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, which housed beautiful statues of St. James the Apostle. Leaving Arzúa behind, we each set off at our own pace and then met again when stopping at a café to rest and have a refreshment.
We continued our pilgrimage along green hills, and bumping into a herd of cows along the path! until we arrived at the town of Pedrouzo. We walked past lovely hermitages, such as St. Irene’s, before finally reaching Rúa for Holy Mass and dinner at the hotel.
We all retired exhausted, but excited that tomorrow we arrive at our final destination: the relics of St. James in Santiago de Compostela!
Day 8: Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Rúa – Santiago de Compostela (12 miles)
The last day of our walk! And it was the most rainy day of all!
Our starting point was downtown Rúa. We courageously ascended through Armenal and then descended into Lavacolla. There are many theories in relation to the origin of the name Lavacolla. One of the theories claims the name comes from the fact that pilgrims in the Middle Ages used to wash in the stream that crosses Lavacolla to arrive clean in Santiago. The name Lava-colla could come from the words “lavar” (to wash) and “cuello” (neck), meaning “to wash the neck”. Another theory would refer to pre-pilgrimage times and would have more to do with the geography of the place: the name Lava (low pasture or field) and Colla (hill) would mean the low pasture by the hill. Whatever the origin of its name, Lavacolla still sees thousands of pilgrims walking by every year, getting closer to their Camino final point: Santiago de Compostela.
We ascended again until reaching the top of Monte de Gozo (Mount of Joy), a hill where pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago enjoy their first views of the three spires of their destination, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Only 2.5 miles more to Santiago!
Once we reached the city, we crossed the Barrio (neighborhood) de San Lázaro, the Puerta del Camino (Door of the Way), along the Plaza Cervantes, and through the beautiful compostelan streets until reaching the much-anticipated Cathedral of St. James.
We arrived! There is a lot of renovation inside the Cathedral, and therefore a lot of scaffolding around the main altar and the tomb of St. James, unfortunately. Nevertheless, our hearts were overjoyed to kneel before his relics and thank him and God for allowing us to make this pilgrimage and get there safely.
After our thanksgiving in the Cathedral, we went to our hotel for Mass and dinner. Deo gratias!!
Day 9: Thursday, April 10, 2019. Santiago de Compostela
We woke up to a cold but beautiful, sunny day in Santiago de Compostela. In the morning, we returned to the Cathedral for an official guided tour and for more time to pray before the relics of St. James the Apostle. Afterwards, we visited the Convent of San Martino Pinario and its beautiful Museum of Religious Art. We enjoyed a free afternoon and met up again for a farewell dinner at the hotel to celebrate the end of such an amazing pilgrimage!