A Message From Lydia
April, 2011 Dear Ones,
In the 9th century, a hermit in western Spain saw a glowing light in a field. Upon investigating, he discovered a small sarcophagus containing human bones. These were later determined to be the bones of St. James (Santo Iago), who had been martyred in Jerusalem, and whose body had been smuggled out by his followers and secreted away to Spain. Upon this site the city of Santiago grew, and pilgrims began to travel from far and wide to revere the bones and to receive miracles of healing and revelation.
In the 12th century, the world’s first travelogue was written. The Codex Calixtinus is a compilation of travel advice, cultural lore, and spiritual inspiration, compiled by the French scholar Aymeric Picaud, to guide pilgrims as they traveled to Santiago. The book, also called the Liber Sancti Jacobi, or Book of St. James, helped to establish certain well-traveled routes in Spain that have come to be known as the Camino de Santiago. Records kept in the monasteries and hostels that offered lodging to pilgrims show that in the high middle ages, as many as 100,000 pilgrims made the journey each year.
By the 20th century, the Camino had all but disappeared, and only a handful of pilgrims made the journey each year. But during World War I an American art historian used the Codex Calixtinus to retrace the original Camino, as she researched art and architecture along pilgrimage routes. And then a few decades later, a Spanish priest took up the Codex Calixtinus to help him reconstruct the Camino and mark the path for 20th century pilgrims. One such pilgrim wrote about her journey and the history of the Camino, and describes the priest’s work this way:
[H]e began to reconstruct the original route, finding the old wells, churches, and standing crosses mentioned in the coex. He bushwhacked his way through the overgrowth, freeing the roads. He marked the route by painting yellow arrows on rocks, trees, or the ground. Then something remarkable happened. Once way-marked, people began walking the Camino again, following the arrows pointing to Santiago. The Camino is a living pilgrimage again, with modern pilgrims journeying sometimes on the old Roman roads, some of which have sunk five or more feet below the level of the surrounding fields but with their smooth engineering still intact. (Fumbling: A Pilgrimage Tale of Love, Grief, and Spiritual Renewal on the Camino de Santiago, by Kerry Egan, page 75.)
Now in the 21st century, thousands of pilgrims walk the ancient route to Santiago. They walk for cultural interest, for vacation, and for spiritual reasons. Everything I have read indicates that no matter why they walk, they find it to be a transformative experience. Every journey is unique, and the Camino itself is just as important as the final destination.
On May 29, 2011, Mark and I will lace on our walking boots in St. Jean Pied de Port, France. We’ll strap on our backpacks, and take the first steps of our 500-mile trek to Santiago, Spain. We’ll carry the Pilgrim’s Credencial, a kind of “passport” which will be stamped at the hostels, monasteries and inns where we stay, and will identify us as pilgrims who complete the journey. We’ll walk for 33 days, about 12 to 18 miles a day. We are walking for cultural interest, for rest and companionship, and for spiritual renewal. In the grant proposal to the Lilly Foundation, I described the reason for the pilgrimage this way:
As I prepare for sabbatical leave in 2011, the metaphor that keeps coming to mind is of life as a pilgrimage journey. On any long journey, it is important to stop every now and then long enough to assess where you’ve been and where you’re going, to make adjustments to the route or the schedule, to let sore feet heal and to gain strength through rest and appropriate exercise. It’s good to unpack and repack the duffel bag, leaving behind what’s no longer needed and picking up again what will be needed for the next stage of the journey.
I am at such a stage in my journey... In my personal life, I am ending the long chapter of raising my children. I have been married to Mark Brown for 33 years. We have raised four sons, the youngest of whom just graduated from college. By the end of 2010 all four will be married; we have one grandchild. This is an important time in our marriage, and a good time to spend concentrated time together renewing our relationship as we enter the “empty nest” years. We hope to walk the Camino de Santiago together, taking [time] to journey the entire 500 miles by foot. We will share adventures, challenges, and the joys of discovering new vistas. We will have hours to talk together, to dream and plan for the future.
Walking the Camino de Santiago, I will join pilgrims from throughout the ages in sacred journey, self-reflection, and physical challenge. For me, walking is part of how I process my life. When I walk, I am thinking, praying, processing and reflecting. Walking the 500-mile Camino, far away from St. Anne’s, I will inevitably process from a distant vantage point the past years at St. Anne’s and think about what will make the coming years life-giving and fulfilling.
Blessings on the journey, Lydia +
Lydia is on sabbatical May 27-October 10, 2011